Athletics News

BIG EAST Forum Impacts Decker, Cerny, Lowry
June 14, 2018

CHICAGO – DePaul’s delegation of student-athletes returned from the BIG EAST Well Being Forum ready to share some of the dynamics and insight of the event with their fellow Blue Demons.

A presentation on the black experience in sports really hit home with track and field athlete Evan Lowry. His track teammate Kyle Decker felt the impact of a presentation on sleep deprivation and how it can lead to clinical depression, anxiety disorder and ADHD.

Women’s soccer standout Franny Cerny really connected with a speaker who focused on all the issues associated with graduating college students undergoing one of the biggest transitions in their lives.

Lowry was almost taken aback at how much he could relate to Georgetown psychology professor Dr. Alfiee Breland-Noble’s address during the Forum last week at Butler.

“When she talked about being a person of color on campus representing my community and feeling guilty when I don’t do well, that was me,” Lowry said. “I had gotten injured during my career and remember going back home to the barbershop or to church and everyone being so proud of me and wanting to know how I was doing.

“When I said I was injured and not competing, it felt like I was letting them down. It was depressing.”

Breland-Noble spoke about the drawbacks of social media and how people create a fantasy image that you can’t ever live up to. It’s like Hollywood where everything is so glamorous.

“It really messes with your head,” Lowry said. “You see that and sometimes feel like you have failed because you are less than that ideal. It leads to stress and depression.”

The African and Black Diaspora Studies major said that some of the issues facing people of color mentioned by Breland-Noble really hit home. He recalls feeling uncomfortable walking into class late because of track practice as the only African-American in the room.

“It felt like people thought I could get away with this because I was black and an athlete,” Lowry said. “It was a perception I felt. That’s the last thing I’d want because I take a lot of pride in my academics.

“To hear someone like Dr. Noble validate the experiences I’ve had as a person of color and to say what I’ve felt was really uplifting.

“I came back realizing the value of peer-to-peer contact and finding out how other student-athletes felt about the black experience and also about dealing with the stress and depression from an injury.”

The moment Lowry returned from Indianapolis, he followed Breland-Noble’s advice to go on a social media diet.

“I’m on social media an average of two hours a day,” he said. “When I’m watching TV, I’m also on Instagram and Snapchat, maybe sending videos out. All of us do that. Whatever we are doing, we’re also on our phones.

“Soon as I got back, I tried cutting back on my social-media time. Use the phone for more positive outlets like planning my schedule or organizing my school work.”

Along with Breland-Noble, the two-day forum featured former Tennessee All-American Tamika Catchings, a WNBA All-Star and four-time Olympic gold medalist who has overcome a host of personal struggles during her highly decorated career including hearing loss, separation from family, high expectations and overcoming debilitating injuries.

Other speakers included NCAA Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brian Hainline and NCAA research director Lydia Bell, Butler Sport and Performance psychologist Dr. Chris Carr, Butler volleyball coach Sharon Clark, Michigan mental health and depression center administrator Brad Foltz, Neuroscience and Psychology professor J. Roxanne Prichard of St. Thomas University and Suzanne Brown of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“As a premed student, I really connected with the psychological and social aspects of this forum---especially Dr. Roxanne Prichard’s presentation on sleep deprivation,” Decker said. “She put in simple terms the toxic effect of sleep disorder and how it can lead to clinical depression, anxiety disorder and ADHD.

“We were all a little freaked out. As a college student, I do that all the time. This was truly eye-opening. All of us have so much to do, it’s hard to avoid sleep disorder.”

Prichard explained that the first four hours is the deep-sleep stage that helps repair an individual’s physical needs. Then comes the REM sleep that affects the central nervous system and repairs the mental issues.

“Lots of us college students are not sleeping enough to reach the REM stage,” Decker said. “Sleep disorder is normalized by college students who average five to six hours a night. A student-athlete’s schedule makes it even tougher to get enough sleep. Student-athletes average five hours or less.

“It hit me that people in college and society as a whole simply disregard sleep. People always say: ‘You can sleep all you want after you die.’

“The issue of mental health is not treated as it should be. When you sprain your ankle, you get immediate treatment. If you’re going through depression, you have to prove yourself to get some help.

“We are all trying to live up to this ideal of a student-athlete, and there are some extremely high expectations. That makes it difficult to ask for help. The forum showed us we have to take a step back, come down from the student-athlete level and simply say: ‘I need help.’”

Cerny realizes she is headed towards one of the biggest transitions in her young life.

Dr. Carr talked about the different transitions that we will face as athletes, and his talk really resonated with me since I am going into my final season at DePaul,” Cerny said. “He talked about the importance of realizing that transitions such as finishing college can be difficult.

“You are entering a new chapter in your life with uncertainties and unknowns that can be scary. He reassured us that it’s normal to struggle with this transition, but if we rely on all the life skills we learned from being athletes, we will be successful.

“Seeing all of the seniors on my team just recently graduate started to give me anxiety about what I would do when I got there. Hearing that it is completely normal to struggle for a while and that I don't need a set path right away definitely gave me some piece of mind.”

Cerny and Decker represented DePaul at the BIG EAST Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) summit that followed the Well Being Forum. The student leaders will engage in two major projects during the coming academic year.

“We decided to undertake a community-based project that transcends our individual schools and makes an even bigger statement,” Decker said. “We are going to collaborate on making a video addressing the dangers of texting and driving. That is a very big problem with our generation.

“We are also undertaking a project to help younger children in underserved areas. It’s going to be a BIG EAST Service Day where each school will engage in service projects to help local school kids. It’s similar to our Vincentian Service Day.”

Last year, the conference SAAC and the national SAAC made a strong push to schedule more days off and free time for student-athletes and strictly monitor their practice times and days off. The NCAA enacted new legislation in 2017-18 to address those needs.

“This year we had 14 extra off days that our coaches had to give us,” Cerny said. “Those extra days definitely helped provide more free time during our busy schedules and allowed us to take a much needed break or finish a project.”

The trio of Blue Demons agreed the Well Being Forum was a big success.

“I was really impressed with how seriously everyone was taking the topics and how they really wanted to help us,” Cerny said. “These issues are hard to talk about and deal with so they are easily overlooked and dismissed. Attending this conference where everyone really cared about actually making a difference and trying to help us made me really proud to be part of the BIG EAST.”

Lowry came away with a different perspective on his fellow BIG EAST competitors.

“At this forum, it was an absolute necessity that we talk to athletes from other schools,” Lowry said. “I never thought I’d talk to the track athletes from Marquette because, well, it’s Marquette.

“But at this event, we could laugh with each other, share our experiences and find out stuff about each other on and off the field. I came to see them as people and not just an adversary I was competing against.

“That meant a lot. I now have a better take in my mind about Marquette.”



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