Dan Moeller Foundation supports mental health awareness in child athletes

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HOLLAND, Ohio—As the Dan Moeller Foundation (DMF) approaches its first anniversary, the foundation’s mission remains strong. The foundation aims to help break the stigma on pediatric grief to help both children and parents understand that mental health is a serious issue in every stage of life, not just adulthood. Mental health in children is often overlooked and the foundation helps people to understand that help is available.

“Dan through his own struggles learned how to be vulnerable and learned the importance of taking care of your mental health,” said Marie Moeller, wife of Dan Moeller and founder of DMF. “He quickly realized that seeking counseling was nothing to be embarrassed about and also discovered that his feelings were real. He loved children and especially loved watching them succeed, specifically in sports. He knew that it was crucial that they were in a good mindset to do their best.”

Dan Moeller was a lot of things, including a coach who genuinely cared about his athletes. Those who knew him described Dan Moeller as a coach who prioritized letting his kids know they felt loved and appreciated.

“I think that mental health defects in athletes definitely carry over onto children,” said DMF board member Joe Fisher. “Children not only look up to athletes as role models, but they look up to them as a person as they learn their life stories.

Fisher used the example of Cleveland Cavaliers player Kevin Love leaving a game abruptly in the 2023 season, surprising his teammates. But Love later shared his struggles with depression and anxiety, using them as motivation to perform better.

“His openness reassured children that it’s normal to feel such emotions and encouraged them to seek help,” Fisher said.

After Dan Moeller died in 2022 after a long battle with cancer, his family and friends knew that his work was not yet completed.

“Our goal is to provide a better pathway for individuals that need patient-focused advocacy and this will incorporate mental health facilities for pediatric care,” Fisher said. “We want to provide assistance for that and eventually raise the stigma and help other organizations that could strive to help any children.”

To DMF president Emily Szafran, Dan Moeller was one of the strongest people she knew.

“He was always a face on the cross country coaching staff who wanted to make sure his team was doing okay, not in the sense that they were winning every race, but that they were enjoying themselves,” Szafran said. “He did this in different ways, whether it be popsicles after a hot practice, or buying as much candy money could buy and being at the finish line to reward every single child on his team.”

Szafran, along with the rest of the foundation board, thought deeply about what mental health issues in children looked like when formulating the organization’s mission and programs.

“I think we tend to dilute a child’s grief and mental health because as adults we think that kids don’t really understand or can’t relate which in the long run leads to unexpected moments of grief,” Szafran said. “Kids get pushed aside and I feel like those moments of struggling hold more and more evidence and appear down the road in a severe manner.”

Szafran was also a Division 1 college athlete and a current member of the LPGA. She has long understood the issues child athletes and college athletes face mentally and wants to break the stigma.

“Looking back, I didn’t even realize it was mental health I was struggling with in college but thought it was just my job to ‘get through it,’” she said. “I was expected to be the best in my sport as were all of my teammates so with mental health it was never discussed or worked on.”

While Dan Moeller may be gone, his work is far from completed. The DMF has only just begun an incredible journey towards acceptance and understanding what struggling looks like for different people and how they can be heard.

Dan Moeller looks over the bow of his fishing boat shortly before his diagnosis. Photo courtesy of the Dan Moeller Foundation.
Dan Moeller stands with his family, including his two daughers and his wife Marie Moeller, founder of the Dan Moeller Founation. Photo courtesy of the Dan Moeller Foundation.

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