Julia Shwayder and Breyon Jackson’s battles to overcome adversity throughout their college careers and the examples they set for others are being recognized.
Shwayder, a lacrosse player at Occidental College in Los Angeles, and Jackson, a basketball player at San Francisco State, are the recipients of the first CalHOPE Courage Awards.
The CalHOPE Courage Award is presented by the College Sports Information Directors Association (CoSIDA) and CalHOPE, a crisis support resource for communities impacted by public health emergencies or national disasters, operated by the California Department of Health Care Services. The award recognizes student-athletes at California colleges and universities who have overcome the stress, anxiety and mental trauma associated with personal hardships, injury or life circumstances.
The winners were selected by CoSIDA and an Associated Press panel.
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Shwayder, a senior defender for Occidental’s lacrosse team, has dealt with numerous challenges. Her father, Scott, died by suicide during the summer of her freshman year in 2019. A teammate, Zoe Nussbaum, died two years later. She did not play last year while battling depression and a mysterious liver ailment forced her to return home.
“It’s hard. Obviously, ups and downs,” Shwayder said. “I think given these circumstances, when you are faced with them it is on you to decide how to deal with those circumstances. As difficult as it was, I’ve had to go through them, grow up and learn.
“In the Torah, we talked about walking through the valley of death, and you just keep walking. You just have to keep going and you don’t get to stop until you’re out of it. And that’s exactly what it felt like it. I had no other option than to just keep going.”
Shwayder missed most of this season due to injury, but started all eight games she played, including the Tigers’ final three contests of the season. She majored in psychology and plans to attend graduate school to become a therapist.
While at Occidental, Shwayder was a member of Active Minds, a mental health club on campus, and organized team walks with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Jackson has found a home at San Francisco State, his fourth school since graduating high school in 2017. He began his college career at Cloud County Community College in Concordia, Kansas, before he transferred to Long Beach State. Jackson’s father died from a heart attack while he was a freshman. While at Long Beach, three childhood friends were shot and killed in Cincinnati, where he grew up, which led to more bouts with anxiety and depression.
Jackson left Long Beach after just 10 games during the 2019-20 season. He transferred to West Virginia State University to be closer to home, but didn’t play in any games and ended up living out of his car.
After working with a trainer, Jackson transferred to San Francisco State. He was forced to sit out the first half of the season because he was unable to track down his college transcripts in time for the regular season, but played the final 13 games and averaged 5.9 points with 4.4 rebounds off the bench.
Jackson is an international relations major. He hopes to work in the NBA or with NBA Cares, NBA Africa, or the NBA Foundation after graduating.
“I just want to push the narrative that seeking help with mental health is OK. I know a lot of times as athletes and then even in minority communities, mental health is underrepresented. It is told to you just be all right, or shake it off or whatever the case may be,” Jackson said. “I think that is something that you definitely need to pay attention to. I hope to be an example, or just someone somebody could just look at for inspiration because I had those people for me.”
Donations of $2,500 will be made by CalHOPE in Shwayder and Jackson’s names to support mental health services at Occidental and SFSU to support “Between The Lines,” a free and confidential counseling service for student-athletes operated at both campuses.
CalHOPE Courage Award finalists were named in March and April before this year’s winners were selected. The other finalists were Butte College’s Peter Andrews (baseball), Chico State’s Kelsey Blaylock (golf), The Master’s University’s Johnny Buchanan (volleyball), USC’s Julia Scoles (beach volleyball) and Academy of Art University’s Alisha Wilson (basketball and track).
Athletes will be nominated for the 2023 award monthly beginning in September.