SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Megan Janikowski of the Cal Poly Humboldt soccer team and Jamel Pink of the Reedley College football team have earned the CalHOPE Courage Award for November for overcoming personal adversity.
Janikowski worked through the loss of her mother to cancer and Pink persevered through the death of a brother and then an injury.
The CalHOPE Courage Award is presented by College Sports Communicators (CSC) and CalHOPE, a crisis support resource for communities impacted by public health emergencies or national disasters, operated by the California Department of Health Care Services. The award recognizes student-athletes at California colleges and universities who have overcome the stress, anxiety and mental trauma associated with personal hardships, injury or life circumstances.
CSC and an Associated Press panel selected the winners.
Janikowski struggled following her mother’s death from metastatic brain cancer in January 2021, distancing herself from friends and family and questioning whether she could continue to play soccer.
She was a freshman at Eastern New Mexico University when she learned of her mother’s diagnosis and transferred to Cal Poly Humboldt to be closer to home. While her teammates' camaraderie and support did not replace that of her mother, it did help rekindle her passion for the game and life. Despite the toll on Megan’s mental health, her mother’s memory helped guide her and motivated her to uplift those around her.
With the support of eight of her mother’s friends, she established the Heather Janikowski Foundation to assist families affected by cancer. During the past two years, they have helped cover the treatment and medical costs of 20 families and groups through events such as Cal Poly Humboldt’s annual “Pink Game”.
Megan purchased pink jerseys this season and her teammates dyed their socks pink and decorated the field before the “Pink Game” to show their support for people affected by cancer.
Janikowski started all 20 games and averaged 87 minutes per game to earn All-California Collegiate Athletic Association second team recognition as a center-back. The Lumberjacks had a record-breaking 11 shutouts and 13 wins as well as a historic victory in the CCAA tournament.
“Throughout these past few years, I’ve realized how important it is for your mental health to keep family and friends close,” Janikowski said. “I want to continue to share my story so others going through what I went through can see that things will get better. I hope to continue to advocate for student-athletes facing mental health challenges.”
Pink’s journey from Reading, Pennsylvania, to Reedley College in Fresno County is a testament to his resilience to overcome tragedy, injury and debilitating mental health challenges.
Pink was inspired by his older brother Jamain’s success playing football for Lincoln University near Oxford, Pennsylvania, However, both were shot in August 2020 and Jamain died. Jamel resolved to honor his brother and play college football. A friend suggested that he ask a coach at Reedley College for a tryout. He was accepted a week before the spring 2021 semester began.
After recording three sacks and six tackles in four games, his freshman season of 2021 was cut short due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in practice. Following surgery, Pink returned home for two semesters to rehabilitate while taking online classes. He experienced headaches, insomnia and lack of appetite, and he spent most of his free time secluded.
He returned to Reedley focused on playing football and earning his degree. When athletic trainer Stacey Mendoza identified Jamel’s symptoms of depression, she encouraged him to seek professional help. Pink has followed a treatment plan of medication and therapy. While he admits he is still working through his challenges, he is feeling much more like himself.
The 6-foot-4, 270-pound defensive end has appeared in seven games this season, with seven tackles, including 1.5 sacks and two tackles for a loss. He will graduate in December and hopes to transfer to a four-year school and continue playing football.
“Throughout this journey, I have become very aware of how important your mental health is, and it shouldn’t be taken lightly,” Pink said. “That’s why I advocate for seeking professional help. I aspire to be a role model for those dealing with mental health issues. My story is proof that resilience can triumph over despair.”