Above, student athlete Maya Richardson aspires to study kinesiology after graduating from San Pedro High School.  

Maya Richardson competed in the CIF state championship in an individual event and as a member of the 4-by-400 relay team.

Say this for Maya Richardson: She is one brave soul.

The San Pedro High senior graduate in June as one of the school’s top sprinters in recent memory.

She qualified to compete in the CIF State Championships in an individual event, and also as a member of the Pirates’ relay team. Although she was fighting bronchitis and had just recovered from a bout of asthma, she dove for the finish line in the 4-by-400-meter relay against a rival school, putting her team into the state championship for the first time.

Maya is thriving academically. She is set to sing a solo during the graduation ceremony – her first time ever to perform in public. She also is also raising money to benefit athletes who suffer from anxiety and depression disorders – conditions that hit very close to home.

“I deal with it myself, and I know it can be hard to talk about, especially being a teen and an athlete,” Maya said. “I don’t think most people expect us to feel that way, when running in front of crowds and talking to people. But those things can be hard sometimes.”

May has been designed as Mental Health Month, and the issue has become a high-level topic for discussion among professional athletes. Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers recently wrote an essay about his efforts to overcome panic attacks. Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan and Olympic swimming icon Michael Phelps have spoken about their battles with depression, and New York Giants wide receiver Brandon Marshall has discussed coping with a borderline personality disorder.

For these pro athletes, talking publicly about their struggles was not an easy decision. But despite her youth, Maya is ahead of the curve.

When describing her vulnerability, she smiles brightly, putting listeners at ease. Her personality bursts with charisma, while openly discussing such struggles.

“I just wanted to make it known that it’s not just some people who have traumatic experiences who get depression and anxiety, It can be everyone, including athletes who are successful.” As for her money-raising efforts, she added, “I wanted to help with an organization that raises awareness so that athletes won’t feel as different as everyone else.”

San Pedro High School Principal Jeanette Stevens described Maya as a scholar and champion at San Pedro High School.

“Her calm demeanor and positive outlook have enabled her to succeed in sports, as well as academics.” Stevens said. “We are inspired by her energy and her goodwill toward all students.” Moreover, Maya believes she continues to improve in the classroom, especially in asking questions–which she had been reluctant to do in the past–and using the Internet for research. About her studies, she says: “I’ve been able to keep up with everything, and have done pretty well.”

Maya Richardson shows off the medals she won as a sprinter for the San Pedro High Pirates.

During track meets, Maya said, she sometimes wanted to shut down and go home. She recalled that her body stiffened, her voice shook and her fear of losing closed in. She worried that her condition might distract her teammates and prevent them from performing at their best.

But she says she’s improving at opening up with teammates, who remind her of her training, and encourage her to do her best. Trusting others, she said, has helped her develop closer friendships.

“People have been very accepting of me,” Maya said. “At first, it was kind of scary thinking people might think differently of me. But people are talking to me more, not just about anxiety and depression. Since they know me more now, it feels like I have closer friends and we talk about anything. Opening up to other people has helped me with everything.”

For Maya, learning to expand her comfort zone and develop trust in others has helped her climb new heights in life. She plans to pursue a career in kinesiology at Cal Poly Pomona, Portland State University or West Los Angeles College. Wherever she chooses, she wants to continue competing on the college’s track and field team.

She will forge ahead, helping herself and others, remaining undaunted and undeterred. “If this is a part of me, then I wouldn’t necessarily change it,” she says of anxiety and depression. “I have to deal with these things because it makes me stronger. That helps me to help others, and it makes me a happier person to do that.”

Say this for Maya Richardson: She is one brave soul.