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Championing Mental Health

Title-Winning Soccer Player Focuses on New Goals After Battling Depression

By Annie Krakower

Series of photos of soccer player Paul Bin showing different facial expressions

Photos by John T. Consoli

Photos by John T. Consoli

When the Terps men’s soccer team upset No. 2 Indiana to advance to the NCAA championship last December, the underdogs huddled in a jubilant embrace on the field.

Paul Bin, though, crashed to the ground alone and wept.

To the senior forward, the victory was also a highly personal one after a battle with depression led him to leave the team, the country and the sport. Now, as the team defends its first national title in a decade, he’s sharing his story to shine a light on mental health issues, especially in athletics.

Born in South Korea, Bin moved to London with his family when he was 6 and came to the U.S. as a teen to play for Real Salt Lake, a top youth academy. Maryland was the first of his college visits, and the program wowed him so much that he canceled the rest of his trips.

After Bin arrived on campus in Fall 2015, though, Head Coach Sasho Cirovski noticed that something was off.

“He was missing some classes. His smile had sort of gone away,” says Cirovski. “I knew that there was something going on, but it wasn’t until much later that I really understood the depth of the problem.”

Bin had suffered from depression during his senior year of high school, which escalated to the point that he considered jumping from a hotel balcony to end his life. He thought the change of scenery at UMD would help, but soon found himself losing motivation, holing up in his room and crying every night.

Sitting on McKeldin Mall around 11 one night, he realized he needed help. He called then-athletic trainer Matt McKelvey, who, to Bin’s surprise, picked up and calmed him down. Not long after that call, Bin received another—from Cirovski, asking to meet in his office.

“He just asked me, ‘Do you have anything to tell me?’” Bin says. “My right leg started shaking uncontrollably, and I didn’t even answer him—I just started bawling.”

Cirovski and other staff reassured him and helped set up meetings with psychologists and counselors, but Bin didn’t feel a connection. After a long talk with his family, he decided to return home to South Korea.

What was supposed to be a semester turned into a year. Bin met three times a week with a mental health specialist, who was able to help him open up. Terp coaches and players stayed in touch, letting him know he’d be welcomed back, but he wasn’t sure he’d ever play soccer again.

That changed when the FIFA U-20 World Cup came to South Korea in spring 2017. Eryk Williamson, Bin’s UMD teammate, was on the U.S. roster and invited him to watch. He was hesitant at first, but as he took in the match, his right leg started shaking again.

“I needed to go back,” Bin says. “I wanted to prove to Sash and to my teammates that I wasn’t just going to be a body on the team. I wanted to be someone that everyone could
count on.”

Bin returned to UMD that fall, competing in eight games. He broke out the next year during the Terps’ title run, playing in 21 matches and tying for second on the team with four goals, including a pair of game winners.

After hoisting the championship trophy, Bin also earned recognition for his triumph off the field with the N4A Wilma Rudolph Student-Athlete Achievement Award, which honors players who overcome personal, emotional or academic obstacles. Sitting out this season with an ACL tear, he’s spreading his message to people who might be going through something similar.

“Hopefully they can learn a little bit about their mental health journey from mine,” Bin says. “(The athlete is) often portrayed as this emotionless creature. I think it’s important to understand and realize that we’re not.”

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