Thriving Not Surviving: An Interview with Allie Tillinghast, Founder and President

In efforts to bridge connections in the survivor support space and promote awareness of resources for athletes, Allie Tillinghast, Founder and President, shares the backstory behind the creation of Thriving Not Surviving, a nonprofit organization primarily focused on serving sexually assaulted athletes and the unique problems caused by the difficulties of reporting, with #WeRideTogether. 

Tillinghast chronicled that after she was assaulted, she was very grateful for the people around her – her coaches, family, friends, and support system that helped after her situation. She noted it was this gratitude that fueled her desire to “want to help other people who may not have that network and community around them, who also were assaulted and be able to provide not just resources to them, but also be able to figure out what the next steps are and be able to help them get back into their sport.” 

At just 17 years old when starting the non-profit, Tillinghast recalls “I was very young. And I didn't think of what the future of it would look like. It was a natural thing. I was like wow, I'm in this horrible situation and it's really miserable, and I'm surrounded by people that are doing everything they can do. I'm surrounded by people who are listening to me and who believe me and who are helping me however they can help me, whatever that may look like. I think that's something that I recognized – this is so special and there are so many people who don't have this.”

Now six years later, what began as a way of thanks and giving back has progressed into a way to pay this support forward to other survivors who do not have those same resources. Tillinghast shares, “I was really lucky to have people around me that supported me and empowered me and got me to where I am today and on my own path to thriving.” Her efforts to provide such community and services to survivors, led her to start Thriving Not Surviving and continues to motivate what their team is working on to date which is ever-evolving and changing depending on the needs of survivors.

A former national and internationally competitive collegiate sailor herself, Tillinghast notes that Thriving Not Surviving serves all survivors, not just athlete survivors, or those from the sport of sailing. Tillinghast remarks that even when dancing ballet before as well, she’s been aware of unique sporting communities that may not catch the public eye. This supplied her with greater knowledge and empathy for survivors, stories, and situations that may “get lost in the shuffle, dealing with the same thing. Victims are often precluded from reporting and receiving the assistance they need due to the unique problems of speaking out in these small communities. Abuse can happen within those sports. There are so many different sports and issues arise in any place, in any sport, in any organization, in anything.

Tillinghast keenly noted being survivor-led and having a developed, diverse, and connected team of board members are distinguishing traits of Thriving Not Surviving. “From providing legal support to addressing psychological needs, our board is made up of people who are in tune and in touch with the community, each bringing their own expertise and lens. We know the space and we know what the current demands are, what the current needs are, and what's coming from the survivor community and what's happening within sports and within legal processes as well. Everyone's involved, has a role to play, and is really passionate about helping. We may come from different spaces, from different walks of life, different sports, different lenses, but we're all brought together by one mission, and it's something that makes it really powerful and very unique as an organization that we all can come up with different ideas independently and then come together and share – this is what we've seen, we've heard this, there's legislation going on, and this is where we're going to move forward.”

In addition to spreading awareness on topics such as reporting, supporting survivors, trauma, and how to be trauma-informed on various educational webinars and panels, Thriving Not Surviving has curated services for survivors. For survivors who are looking to reach out to Thriving Not Surviving, offerings include financial grants, advocacy services, and referrals based on individual needs. Tillinghast elaborates, “We provide grants to athletes who come to us. The board reviews their application, and then we are able to provide grants for them to continue their athletic aspirations. The survivor advocate serves as someone to take that load off and deal with the complicated stuff. They help emotionally and psychologically support survivors, and with our diverse team, figure out what a survivor may need and how we can help them and then make connections to the right resources from legal to logistical support.” 

Tillinghast emphasizes Thriving Not Surviving aims to take the overwhelm off, “if we can't help ourselves with our resources, we can try to connect you to someone who can. We are that resource, those people who have dealt with the process and understand the intricacies and complications. We are in tune with it, and you are not alone.” 

As a survivor herself, someone who has been through it, Tillinghast honors and knows “ Each survivor has a different story and has a different background. Respect is needed and necessary as everyone has their own way of dealing with it.” For Tillinghast, “It's not about forgetting what happened. It's that it's eventually not the first thing you think of when you wake up. There are days when I'm happy, I'm healthy, and I don't think about it 24/7, and there are days for maybe an hour I do think of it or a day that sucked and that's okay. It's moving with that sadness and that hurt. It's not eliminating the grief. It's that it eventually will alleviate a little bit. I think there's a real beauty in being able to look at and be like, this was my everything for months and years and for so long. And it starts to become a part of you. It's still there. It's just not there 110%. Then you realize, I haven't thought about it in months.”

Above all, Tillinghast hopes to show people that there is indeed a path to thriving after you’ve been in that state of surviving, just trying to get through. 

Thriving Not Surviving

Allie Tillinghast 

Kathryn McClain, MSW, MBA

Program and Partnerships Director at #WeRideTogether

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