Former pro athletes urge UWS students to focus on mental health

Chamique Holdsclaw and Clint Malarchuk have traveled around the country sharing their stories and urging people to help each other.

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Former WNBA star Chamique Holdsclaw speaks about mental health at the University of Wisconsin-Superior on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022.
Holden Law / UWS
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SUPERIOR — Former WNBA player Chamique Holdsclaw and former NHL goalie Clint Malarchuk urged University of Wisconsin-Superior student-athletes to pay attention to their mental health and to check in with teammates and friends during a lecture Wednesday, Sept. 21.

As mental health advocates, Holdsclaw and Malarchuk have traveled around the country sharing their stories and urging people to help each other.

For Holdsclaw, her battles started when she was just 11 years old and found her father having a schizophrenic episode. She had to be separated from her parents and moved in with her grandmother, who lived in Brooklyn, New York.

She had trouble acclimating to the new situation, but she found a way to relate through basketball. By playing pick-up games with men, she realized how talented she was.

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Former WNBA player and Olympic gold medalist Chamique Holdsclaw addresses the audience at the University of Wisconsin-Superior on Wednesday, Sept. 21. Holdsclaw shared her own struggle with depression and spoke about how she sought help and manages her mental health.
Holden Law / UWS

“Basketball became my coping mechanism, it became like my drug of choice. That’s the thing I’m going to bury myself into to not stress about my parents. I’m going to put all that energy into my craft," Holdsclaw said.


She did just that at Christ The King High School. Her play landed her at the University of Tennessee but, “as excited as I was to be there, (after) that first week I wanted to go back home.” Holdsclaw said.

It took time but coach Pat Summit told her, “Be patient, I’m gonna teach you that family is not just blood; it’s the people that show up in your life,” Holdsclaw said.

The Lady Volunteers went onto win three straight national championships.

Once Holdsclaw was drafted first overall to the WNBA, the success had been raining down on her, but inside, she said she was spiraling. In 2002, Her grandmother, June, passed away.

“I was in my house for days, just in darkness contemplating how I was going to kill myself.” Holdsclaw said. "... My family was so supportive, my friends are so supportive … if I would’ve spoke about these issues I was going through, I would have had people to aid me and support me.

“That’s what led me to this advocacy, to use my voice to make a difference … never be afraid to use your voice. For me, I never understood the power of it,” Holdsclaw said.

Sometimes all it takes is to speak up and show someone that you care, she said.

Malarchuk started his portion off with the 30 for 30 film “Cutthroat." The film explains how Malarchuk became a goalie for the Buffalo Sabres and, how, seven years into his 11-year career, his neck was cut by an opposing player's skate and he suffered from post-career battles with suicide.


“It changed my life and you saw in the video, I came back in 10 days; I was a rock star in Buffalo, New York. They loved me because I was courageous, gritty and hard work with no talent,” Malarchuk said jokingly. It was great, he said, but the next season his depression went “off the charts, and I was doing it all alone.”

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Clint Malarchuk speaks to students at the University of Wisconsin-Superior on Wednesday, Sept. 21.
Holden Law / UWS

Retirement led to a new phase of life where he coached and was a horse chiropractor, but “I fell off the horse's back,” Malarchuk said.

“Self-medicating myself, I began to spiral down and as you saw in the video … going behind the barn and pulling that trigger,” Marlachuk said choking up about the day he tried to kill himself. The bullet became lodged in his skull.

“And then I learned that god spared me for those who were still suffering,” he said. “The two most important days are the day you’re born and the day you find out why ... I know why I was born: To be up here talking about suicide and depression.”

In helping with the military, he was taught an acronym, “A.C.E” — Ask your buddy, Care for your buddy and Escort your buddy. By asking and caring, people are able to find out enough to hopefully lead their comrades, teammates or even friends.

Marlachuk and Holdsclaw emphasized that people should use their voices to help each other with struggles.

“Just check in, people really just want to know you care,” Holdclaw said.

Clint Malarchuk standing alongside students as they watch a short video about Clint. 2022.09.21.jpg
Former NHL goaltender Clint Malarchuk, left, stands alongside students as they watch a short video about him on Wednesday, Sept. 21, at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. Malarchuk's career was cut short when a skate sliced his neck. He suffered from alcoholism and almost died by suicide.
Holden Law / UWS

Jeffrey McClure is a student at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. He contributes to the Superior Telegram as a freelance reporter.
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