Olympic Competitor Gabbi Cunningham On How Her Relationship With Her Fans Impacts Her Mental Health - Exclusive

According to Olympian Gabbi Cunningham, social media has completely changed the relationship between elite athletes and their fans. Namely, social media gives fans direct access to their favorite athletes, which can be a blessing and a curse. Sometimes, that results in heartwarming and inspiring interactions. Unfortunately, easy access can also promote toxic connections.

Cunningham has experienced both while interacting with sports fans on social media. She's had wonderful conversations with young athletes and their parents, and social media gives her the opportunity to offer advice, encouragement, and leadership to upcoming stars in the running world. She's also been overwhelmed with negative comments and criticisms that can make it hard for her to stay positive.

In an exclusive interview with Health Digest, Cunningham talked about how good and bad relationships with her fans have impacted her mental health and how she takes care of herself in the age of social media stardom.

Cunningham loves connecting with fans

Cunningham emphasized that, overall, she's grateful to have the opportunity to connect with fans on social media.

"I like having the platform because I know that there are athletes out there, younger people, younger generations, that are looking up to me and fans, no matter what age group, that support me," she said. "I like the ability of being able to post and have a platform and be able to speak to them and reach out and share what's going on in my life and different things with what's going on in the world."

Cunningham shared an example of when social media allowed her to connect with a young fan who was doing a school project about the Olympian. The girl's mother reached out, they chatted, and the runner sent the girl a signed T-shirt to wear for the presentation. 

The star athlete also revealed that positive comments from her fans keep her going when things get tough. "Being able to see their comments and their encouragement and everything, [including] being able to have the ability, in those down moments, to go back and look at that and know that there are still people out there that support you — those are a few of the positives of having that close engagement."

The downsides of social media interactions

Unfortunately, not all of Cunningham's interactions on social media are always positive. She shared with Health Digest that she didn't understand how overwhelming the toxic side of social media can be until she was chosen for the Olympic team.

"It wasn't a very sad time because I had made the team," Cunningham said, "but the emotions for me were happy [and] sad at the same time because I'm like, 'Wow, this is a big moment for me,' and all these people are in my comments, going in on me for no reason during a time that's supposed to be happy." Cunningham revealed that, for a while, she read every single negative comment and message. But she quickly learned that she couldn't engage with the online negativity.

"I try to take a step back. I will delete the app off of my phone or not get on it during those times, because it can be a lot," Cunningham explained. "It's hard because you can't take too much time away from it, but I, at least when moments like that happen, try to take a step back and regroup for myself."

Now, she takes regular breaks from social media, especially when she's preparing for a big competition. Though she loves having the platform that social media gives her, Cunningham has learned that her mental health is paramount.

Find your local station listings and air times for the documentary, "I'm Fine, (Not) Really," about the relationship between athletes and their fans at imfinenotreally.com. You can also visit mondocares.com to keep up with current initiatives, and follow them on Instagram at @MondoSportUSA and @MondoCares, and on Twitter at @mondocares.