Mentally Tough: A group of Oregon athletes is trying to normalize mental health conversations in athletics through their campaign, “Duck The Stigma.”
What started as a simple profile turned into a two-month reporting process. I talked with seven Oregon athletes (both current and former) about their battles with mental health while being a collegiate athlete. It was through their stories and my research that I learned this is a topic that desperately needed attention. Mental health is an ever-increasing societal-diagnosis, and my goal of this story was to help break its stigma surrounding athletics.
At the 2017 NCAA Final Four, Oregon cheerleader Sarah DeBois cheered in front of a crowd of 77,612 people, calling it one of the best moments of her life. Two-and-a-half months later, DeBois was diagnosed with cancer — stage 2A Hodgkin lymphoma. I spent two months getting to know DeBois, learning how she remained positive throughout such a life-altering experience.
When Oregon senior Oti Gildon graduates from the University of Oregon, she will become the first in her family to graduate with a bachelor’s degree from a four-year university. Over the past four years, as a forward for Oregon’s women’s basketball team, Gildon has used this accomplishment to fuel her family-focused motivation in following her basketball passion, and along the way became one of the Ducks’ leading bench scorers.
Cyrus Habibi-Likio hid his for a year, Tony Brooks-James’ mom found his the day he left for college and Calvin Throckmorton wants to get one of Bigfoot. Underneath the jerseys and all the padding, a handful of Oregon’s football players use tattoos to represent their identity and motivation.
Earlier this month Jake Harder of Eugene sprinted across a triathlon finish line in Paris, France, to earn a gold medal at the Gay Games. While that victory was sweet, it was made all the more memorable because his uncle, Ed Miesen, was in Paris to help him celebrate. Harder, 28, and Miesen, 58, had planned to compete in the triathlon together, but last year Miesen was diagnosed with late-stage kidney cancer.
A man named Mike White told a 7-year-old Lauren Burke to get out on the field when her older sister's club softball team needed an extra player. Now in college, Burke is playing once again for White. This time on a collegiate stage as an Oregon Duck. I spoke with Burke, her friends, family, former teammates and coaches, along with White and his family, to understand how that childhood moment launched Burke into her Oregon career.