Jedidiah McCloud Brings Hope and Inspiration to All Athletes Who Contend with Mental Health Issues
By S.T. Weller
In the sports world, heroes don’t just happen on the field. Sometimes, it’s what our greatest sports inspirations do off the field, away from the court, off the ice and away from the roar of the crowd that make them truly heroic.
May is mental health month, and Gold Star FC Detroit’s newest addition—midfielder Jedidiah McCloud—is speaking openly about his own longtime struggle with depression, Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and emetophobia, a very rare, but extreme fear of vomiting.
At just 22-years-old, McCloud is helping destigmatize mental health in a huge way, speaking courageously about his struggles, while serving as an athletic inspiration to all who see his dazzling work on the soccer field.
“I realized I had emetophobia when I was around ten-years-old,” says McCloud, “and was definitely showing signs of OCD, but at the time I didn’t know what those things were.”
By the time McCloud turned eighteen, he was experiencing depression, primarily due to his emetophobia and the related OCD. At this time, he developed an eating disorder and started having frequent panic attacks. He was depressed and feeling suicidal. “Finally,” he recalls, “it got really bad and I went to see someone about it. I was diagnosed with emetophobia, OCD, along with other things. That’s when it all clicked and I realized that I had a lot of these issues when I was younger.”
Throughout his years contending with mental health issues, there was one constant. Soccer.
McCloud discovered the sport when he was around 4-years-old through his father and older brother. He was raised in Wheaton, Illinois, a western suburb of Chicago. “The first great memory I have of playing soccer was one time my dad, my older brother and I were playing soccer on the driveway behind our home. I remember the two goals were the garage door and the fence gate. The teams were me and my brother Elias versus my dad, we were pretty good, but my dad would always let us win. We ended up playing ‘til it was dark and you couldn’t see the ball clearly. That was so much fun.”
McCloud was homeschooled, attended Wheaton Academy his freshman year in high school, and played on the varsity squad as a central midfielder. That season, he helped elevate his team to a remarkable 16-2-3 record. He scored five goals and had two assists.
When that freshman season was over, bolstered by his success, he applied for the Chicago Fire Soccer Academy and was invited for an open tryout. After an intense 90 minutes was done, McCloud was asked to train with the team.
“After one month of training with them, I was offered a roster spot!” he recalls with glee. Bolstered by earning a place on the Chicago Fire Academy u17 team, McCloud decided to do his schooling online so he could more thoroughly dedicate his time to the game he loved. Playing for a series of Academy teams over the course of the next few years, including the Fire u19 and Chicago Fire FC II, 2023 is McCloud’s rookie year as a professional player, wearing the number 17 for Gold Star FC Detroit. He has loved working hard with his Gold Star FC teammates and eagerly anticipates playing home games in the team’s new 5000-seat stadium on the campus of Madonna University in Livonia, Michigan.
Throughout it all, he has continued to contend with matters of mental health. “I still deal with emetophobia, OCD and other mental health issues,” he says, “but I’ve gotten better at managing it and not letting it take over my life.”
Through cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure and response prevention (ERP), he has been able to lessen his reaction to different triggers. “All of the therapy helped with my issues, but God is truly the one that helped me get through and continues to help me get through these difficult challenges,” he says. As for advice for young athletes with professional dreams who also contend with mental health disorders, McCloud says, “I think the biggest thing is to have open communication with your parents or friends about whatever issues you’re having. Because keeping things like this to yourself only makes them worse.”
Number 17 is, today, happy with his life and thrilled to be playing for Detroit. “I still have ups and downs. Life isn’t easy, it’s all about how you react to things you can and cannot control.”
The path to his first year as a NISA player has not been an easy one, but he has fought his battle with mental health like a true champion. “Most of the challenges along the way came from struggles outside of soccer,” he says, “like depression, OCD, emetophobia, Covid, and having some people not believe in my dreams. These all made life difficult but brought me closer to God and helped me spend more time doing what I love—playing soccer. My parents and family also have helped and supported me through all of the hardships I have faced.”
Gold Star FC Detroit is off to 2-2 start for the ’23 season, and McCloud is dedicated to helping his team have a banner year. “We’re focused on winning the league one game at a time,” he says.
There’s little doubt this fast-rising star will have an astounding rookie season. But it’s his victories off the field that make him a beacon for anyone contending with matters of mental health.