AUSTIN (KXAN) — Friday nights are big in Texas, but what we don’t see under the bright lights is the darkness some young athletes are facing. At least four college athletes died by suicide this year.
Cory Camp struggled with purpose when his college swimming career ended – today he is helping others like him to become a ‘Forever Athlete.’ Camp created Forever Athlete for men and women who are having a hard time identifying past their sport. For athletes, their sport is their life from the time they wake up until the time they go to bed. Camp’s group includes meetups in and outside of Austin – an effort to create a community across the country.
“Athletes are fantastic at working out. We know how to take our anger out on a punching bag or go for a hard run, run sprints, and workout out our emotions. But very rarely are we taught how to work inwards and really play with that emotion,” Camp said reflecting on the challenges of moving on after competitive swimming on the college level.
The 27-year-old was a high-level division one swimmer for the University of Delaware.
“When it ended, it didn’t end the way that I wanted it to end, like the way any athlete wants to end,” Camp said, “It was slower than I was in the past six years.”
“I was really faced with this moment of like, ‘Okay, crap, who is Cory without swimming?’ And I didn’t like what I saw, I didn’t like who I saw in the mirror, it really sent me through a whole bunch of different things. I put on 50 pounds in about six, seven months, I turned to drinking very heavily.”
The athlete thought he was alone in his struggle and didn’t want to open up to friends or become a burden to his friends and teammates. Once Cory embraced vulnerability, he started to share his story, and years later he discovered his friends and teammate were also going through something similar.
“The more conversations I’ve had with more athletes, not just swimmers, but football players, basketball players, it doesn’t matter the sport, really, they go through the same thing, this challenge of trying to identify themselves beyond their sport,” Camp said.
The athlete now is open about his struggles because he doesn’t want people to feel alone. Often athletes are taught to push through the pain and sometimes they do it quietly. The NCAA surveyed college athletes in 2021 and in 2022. The organization’s report found many men and women in collegiate sports suffer from some type of mental health crisis – it increased in 2020 after the pandemic. The report revealed a rise in anxiety, depression, and exhaustion.
“You have to talk about the suicide rate. It is ungodly high, especially in college athletics, right now,” the athlete said. “The more we can encourage people to share their experience, more times than not, other people that are going through something very similar.”
The NCAA requires universities to provide access to resources that address mental health, but Camp wants to do more. The University of Delaware graduate is currently having conversations with colleges to help setup a program for collegiate athletes – and set them up for success after graduating.
“It’s great when you’re in the NCAA, there’s all these resources and all these tools, the moment you walk out that door, and you graduate, those go away. And I really want to position Forever Athlete to be that social support beyond your four years, beyond your playing career, and really show them that there is value and worth in who they are inherently as a human being first and foremost. And people still care about you, even if your athletic career stops, and they stopped cheering your names from the crowd.”
Cory wrote Forever Athlete, a book, with the help of nearly 20 other young athletes. Each person shares their struggle to find their purpose post college with the goal to empower other athletes.
“Sometimes you’re not looking for an answer. Sometimes you just want someone to say, I see you, I hear you. I got you, like whatever you need. I got you,” Camp said.
There is help for anyone who is struggling with their mental health. Anyone can call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988. You can also text HOME to 741742.
Jose Torres is a news producer with KXAN. His blog brings stories of hope and determination from others who have fought through their own health struggles and life challenges. He looks forward to sharing those conversations in future blogs.