Megan Janikowski’s journey has been a testament to her resilience, marked by both personal and athletic triumphs amidst the shadow of her mother’s death and her resulting mental health challenges.
Wrestling with the profound loss of her mother to metastatic brain cancer in January 2021, Megan found herself at a crossroads. The impact on her mental well-being was immense, casting doubt on her ability to continue playing college soccer and leading her to grapple with the reality of navigating life without her best friend and role model. In the throes of grief, Megan initially distanced herself from friends and family, struggling to rediscover happiness.
Megan was a freshman at Eastern New Mexico University when she learned of her mother’s diagnosis. She subsequently transferred to Cal Poly Humboldt to be closer to home. In turmoil, she found solace and success on the soccer field. The camaraderie and support of her teammates did not replace that of her mother, but it did help rekindle her passion for the game and life.
Despite the toll on Megan’s mental health, her mother’s memory remained her guiding force, motivating her to uplift those around her. With the support of eight of her mother’s best friends, Megan 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. In honor of her mother’s legacy, the foundation sponsors numerous events, including 5k runs, hikes, “Kicking for Cancer” educational initiatives, and the annual Cal Poly Humboldt Soccer “Pink Game”.
This season, Megan purchased pink jerseys for the women’s soccer team. The night before the “Pink Game”, her teammates dyed their socks pink and decorated the field as a symbolic gesture of their support for those affected by cancer.
On the field, Megan earned All-California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) second team recognition as a center-back, contributing to a record-breaking 11 shutouts and 13 wins – the most in the program’s history. The team’s historic victory in the CCAA tournament further underscored their remarkable year. Megan started all 20 games, averaging 87 minutes per game.
“Throughout these past few years, I’ve realized how important it is for your mental health to keep family and friends close,” said Megan. “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.”