It’s a cause that Norwalk girls lacrosse coach Lynette Martinez holds close to her heart.
While a student at Westhill High in Stamford, Martinez was softball teammates and friends with Rachel Sottosanti, who was a senior captain while Martinez was a sophomore.
Sottosanti, a standout shortstop and captain for the Vikings, also coached youth basketball and softball in Stamford, and was someone many of her teammates said they looked up to.
While a freshman at Southern Connecticut in 2009, one year after graduating from Westhill, Sottosanti died by suicide. The tragedy has had a lasting impact on Martinez.
“She was outwardly one of the happiest people that I knew,” Martinez said. “She gave her time back to the community and did everything with a smile on her face. So that loss when I was 17 years old was incredibly shocking.”
Martinez, who coached girls lacrosse at Jonathan Law before coming to Norwalk three years ago, has had her teams host Lax-4-Life games as a way to raise awareness for suicide prevention, honoring Sottosanti in the process.
This season, the Bears are holding a mini-golf fundraiser on May 26 at Calf Pasture Beach, with some of the funds going to benefit My Friend Abby, which supports peer project grants for campaigns and projects supporting mental health, mental illness and suicide prevention.
Some of the funds from the event will also be used to help with costs associated with the Norwalk lacrosse program, including offseason training and equipment.
My Friend Abby is named in honor of Abigail Anderson, who died by suicide at the age of 15 in 2014. Her mother, Gillian, started the organization in 2019, and her father, Chris, has Norwalk ties as the former wrestling coach for the Bears. Charlie Anderson now coaches wrestling at Trumbull High.
A parent in the Norwalk booster club wanted to have the lacrosse players raise money for a cause, and Martinez immediately suggested suicide prevention.
“That’s something that’s so important to me,” Martinez said. “So I reached out to Gillian Anderson and asked her about what the organization does and what it stood for. It felt like the right fit. To be able to do this for a family and a person with Norwalk ties means a little more.”
Her players have embraced the cause, led by captains Brinn Renwick, Sara Spielman and Sofia Imbrogno.
“They’re three great role models and they’re willing to do whatever is asked of them,” Marinez said of the captains. “They’ve put together little fundraising families so the kids can go out in groups.”
“Lynette and her program have done a terrific job being great stewards of the community,” Norwalk athletic director Doug Marchetti said. “The game of lacrosse is important, but to have an appreciation for other things that go on in this world, and being able to make a difference, is a real special trait that Lynette is sharing with the girls on her team.”
Martinez pointed out that just because people may appear happy on the surface doesn’t mean they may not need help.
“You don’t think that people that are smiling on the outside are struggling,” Martinez said. “But as we’ve come to see, that’s usually the case.”
For information about purchasing a sponsorship for the fundraiser, email Martinez at martinezL@norwalkps.org. The deadline for sponsorships is May 14.
For more information about My Friend Abby, visit myfriendabby.org.
If you feel you are in danger of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, anytime, at 800-273-8255 (273-TALK). Help also is available by calling 211 and you can also text CT to 741741 to connect with a trained crisis counselor. Other resources are available at https://portal.ct.gov/DMHAS , the website of the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. https://www.crisistextline.org/