What Comes Next?

Growing up all I wanted to do was play sports and eventually it became that my whole life revolved around baseball. It’s the game I love and for the majority of my best friends it is what they fell in love with first also. When I was little all I would do is watch baseball on TV or want to play catch with anyone who would let me throw the ball their way and like every kid who plays baseball at a young age, I wanted to play in the MLB when I got older. Luckily, I had the opportunity to come to the University of Pikeville and play four years of college baseball and make amazing memories and meet friends that have now become like my brothers. But, something that stopped me in my tracks after my senior year was, “what happens now?” This is my story about my struggles after playing baseball was over and to let athletes know there is a purpose out there even though at times you can be lost.

In August 2018, I was entering my senior year at UPIKE just coming off the summer of my life. I got the opportunity to go to San Francisco, CA and play baseball all summer with people from all over the world. I won the Great West League Home Run Derby while out there and coming back to UPIKE, I was a new player with more confidence than I had ever had. Fast forward to February, 2019 and the season is upon the bears. Luckily, I ended up having a senior year that I believe anyone would be proud to have and I will always cherish those four months of my senior year for as long as I live. But then we were eliminated from our conference tournament and now I have to see if one of the two MLB teams that called me during the season would take a chance on me.

Now fast-forward to June 5th, 2019 which is the third and last day of the MLB draft. My hitting coach Sam Taylor from summer ball told me that he expected the Blue Jays to call me on this day if he was a betting man. Come 3:00pm no phone call. That’s the first time I ever met depression at a legitimate level. So now I had no idea what I was going to do now that baseball was over for me. This was the first time in my life I actually felt lost and felt like I had nobody to talk to or a direction I was supposed to go in. I had conversations with my friends but nothing seemed to help and I have always been a Christian and believer in God but truthfully it was the first time I had also doubted that God was looking out for me because I didn’t see a light at the end of my tunnel I was walking through. And I know that I am not the only former athlete who has battled this because I know the time, work, sweat, tears and effort that athletes put into their performance and career when they are a college athlete.

Over the month of June, I don’t know if left my rooms at my mom’s house much because I didn’t know what to do. I applied for regular 9-5 jobs and even got called back by four or five of them but nothing seemed right so I turned them all down because I wanted to be happy again. To my friends, I never showed a second of me being down or depressed because I didn’t want them to worry about me or think anything was wrong. Depression was beating me up every single day and it was something that I couldn’t take anymore. I finally called my college coach Jim Pitt and let everything out that had been inside me that I felt was winning the battle I was in.

So what changed after my call with Jim Pitt? I thought about the relationships I had made with coaches that I spent time with like Coach Pitt, Ethan Utley, Kelly Wells, Jake Sokoll, Sean Ryan and so many more. I wanted to have the impact on college athletes and possibly better those athletes like these people did for me. So, I decided to apply for Graduate Assistant coaching jobs and most importantly I started to pray again for God to point me in the direction I was supposed to go. Literally three days later, Cody Andreychuk called me and offered me the GA position at Lindsey Wilson College. I decided to take the leap of faith and take the job and it was the most rewarding year of my life even through a COVID shortened season. I realized that there is a purpose for me and that purpose is to help young people and use my experiences and struggles to better them because they have made me a better person every single day since I took that job. Now I am the Head Assistant Coach/Recruiting Coordinator for LWC softball and often I think back to when I was in the darkest place of my life and think about all the good that came from it and how grateful I am that I didn’t let it defeat me. To an athlete that has read my post/story, I want you to know that even when times seem dark, there is a purpose for you in life after sports. Whether you stay around the game like I have or not, YOU HAVE A PURPOSE. At times it could seem like everything is against you and you have lost it all but there IS A PURPOSE. Also, I understand that some of you reading this may not be a believer in God and I am not one to judge that but even if he is not someone you lean on, lean on your friends or someone you trust, do not let everything depression brings build up inside you because it only makes it harder to escape. The biggest question I have been faced with in my life came after baseball was over was, “What Comes Next?” And I wanted to share this because I want people to know there is hope and everyone has a purpose in their life after sports.

LIVE. LIFE. FORWARDS.

Growing up, I realized that I learned differently than the other kids around me. Everyone has their differences and adversities that they experience. Some come out about it; others don’t. Eventually, in life, there comes a point when you have to come face to face with yourself and build resilience. Ever since elementary school, I’ve struggled with having a speech impediment and finding my true self. It took a while to finally accept my flaws and strengths. I was born in Reston, VA, and moved to Winchester, VA when I was 15 years old, where I attended Millbrook High school. Most of the people that knew about my struggles as a student were my teachers or family; others may have thought of me as shy or quiet. Often, I got teased and bullied for not being as “smart” as the other students in the classroom, or people would look at me different because I had an individualized Education Plan (IEP), and a teacher’s aide. Being a teenager and getting bullied by students that didn’t know what I was going through on the inside made me feel undervalued as a kid. Not going to lie, it was hard trying to become a better version of myself while facing these daily challenges.  

        Imagine being insecure, coming into your freshman year of high school, and making the varsity basketball team where all eyes are on you. Looking back, I realize that sometimes individuals that are hurting inside feel the need to lash out at others to make themselves feel better; they must have been dealing with their own insecurities too. As a young man, all I wanted to do is go out on the court and play the game I love without having to worry about over-thinking how to keep my secret. Being on the court made me feel like I could be free to be me; it was my form of expression. Aside from playing sports, I was a kid who kept a small circle. I would mind my business, and hang out with family. I was never the type to make fun of other students, no matter what, and I learned who my real friends were.   

When I was a junior in high school, I knew that after graduation I’d need an extra year of development, so my guidance counselor suggested that I attend a post-grad program. The post-grad program would allow me to use my accommodations from the learning plan for students with disabilities (IEP-Individual Education Plan). I’ve struggled with my learning disabilities since I was six, yet I always dreamed of attending college and playing college basketball. Although I would’ve loved to go to a four-year college straight out of high school, I knew that I needed an extra year of development both academically and physically. I was dedicated to advocating for myself and wanted to do everything that I could to be in the best possible situation for success, so I started preparing before graduation. After my four years at Millbrook high school, I felt confident, accomplished, and accepted. I finished with having the most points scored in men’s history at 1,523, and broke many other records as well. I was proud and honored to be the only person in school history to make the All-State team my senior year in basketball and football. My basketball coach, Coach Mankins had this very encouraging phrase that has stuck with me through the years- (P.A.C.E), Positive Attitudes Change Everything. A few weeks before graduating I wanted to share my personal story of overcoming, so I shared it with the local newspaper. My hope was that I could help others realize that they could overcome adversity, embrace who they are, and learn to accept others & their differences.

        I attended Mount Zion Post Grad in Baltimore after Millbrook high school to improve my GPA, strengthen my body, and mentally prepare myself for the next level of basketball. Although I have a different style of learning, I’ve never let that keep me from my dreams of graduating from high school and college. After completing a year program at Mount Zion prep, I decided to take the Junior college route at Garrett Community College. During my time at Mount Zion Prep, I was able to play for Coach Rod, Coach B, and Coach Noddles. This was an eye-opening year with playing for coaches who teaches nothing but education, hard work dedicated. I learned that nothing comes easy and in life, you will need to work 10x harder because there is always someone who’s working to take your spot. I was very fortunate to meet some of my best friends through prep school. In practice, we pushed each other every day to become better players and we all connected like brothers off the court. Each player wanted to get better and the coaches help with making practice real competitive. I still talked to my teammates to this day and I thank Mount Zion staff for helping me mature as a young man.  

While being kind of nervous to attend college my freshman year, I was blessed to connect with one of the best coaches in my basketball career. Coach Gibson who is a true role model made my college experience great. Coach Gibson preached about making smart choices off the court while being an athlete and how important it is to work on your craft. I believe Coach Gibson helped me become a leader by making me understand the role of a point guard on the floor. I didn’t know how important being an extension of the coach on the floor was; making sure all my teammates are on the same page on offense and defense. Coach Gibson understood how to push players and help us understand how to become a leader. He also helped me understand how important using your teammates is. 

After two great seasons there I was honored to be listed as a first-team All-MDJUCO team, first-team all-region team and an All-American. Along with those individual awards winning the regional championship with my teammates was my favorite; which would lead to us qualifying for the National NJCAA tournament and were two games away from the National Championship game. I graduated in May of 2016 with my degree in General Studies and therefore closing my story at GC. After Garrett College, I attended the University of Pikeville (Division 1 NAIA) which is a member of the Mid-South Conference. I was a student-athlete with a two-year full-ride scholarship to play for the men’s basketball team and received a partial scholarship to play soccer while I completed my degree. 

As time has passed, and I have matured into an adult, I’ve learned to manage & rise above the struggles. I want anybody who is going through challenges to know that you are not alone in this world and there is always something to be grateful for. Hard times in life help us grow and learn. Mental health and depression are real and should be addressed.  

Being a student-athlete is not the easiest thing to balance and I don’t think people understand the magnitude, discipline, and responsibility that’s required to juggle it all. There was a lot of pressure for me to attend early morning classes, individual workouts, practices, study hall, late classes, and other activities that I was required to do, and then having to find time to study while balancing free time for a social life. It can be a lot of stress to handle if you don’t prepare yourself ahead of time. All student-athletes of any sport can relate to sleepless nights and early mornings. The pressure is “real”’! It doesn’t matter the level of college sport you play; it’s a life-changing experience and will expose your character on a whole new level. For me, it wasn’t the easiest route with the odds stacked against me. Some nights I felt “I’m not supposed to be here”, and even thought about quitting. Slightly, after having those negative thoughts, I would then refocus on my WHY & PURPOSE. Family is my number one priority and I always want to make them proud, especially my parents. If I had one thing that I could stress to others, it would be to keep a positive mindset. 

I’ve realized that the energy you put out into the world is the same energy you get back, so I encourage people that no matter what challenges you may face, to always look at the positives.  

My head coach, Kelly Wells, and assistant coach, Tigh Compton, at the University of Pikeville would always preach “stay ready, so you don’t have to get ready” and that always stuck with me. Even though it was said in a basketball term to be ready whenever your number is called; it was a term that could be applied to any situation in my life. I was honored to be the first player from a Pikeville men’s basketball team to win the Mid-South conference Champion of Character award. I was also blessed to receive two rings and win a conference championship. After three years at the University of Pikeville, I was able to graduate with my Bachelor’s Degree in Sports Management with a focus on youth development. From having a speech impediment, being teased and bullied, talked down on, people telling me I would never graduate high school or college, and all of the adversities throughout the years; ALL I had to do was believe in myself. 

I’m the first person in my family to attend and graduate from a university. For me, it was bigger than myself. I wanted to break a generational curse and show others that if you believe in yourself, set goals, think positively, and surround yourself with positive people then you can do anything and be whoever you want to be in life. Combining my education, lived experiences, and training around Youth Mental Health First Aide, I help youth develop the skills needed to cope with depression and anxieties, learn to work as part of a team and acquire model leadership skills to make good decisions. Sharing my journey and the tools I have learned along the way has helped people open up about their feelings, and be more hopeful about their futures too. 

I’ve always considered myself as a hard worker and very dedicated, but life has many rollercoasters. At the end of the day, it’s about growth and becoming a better version of you each day, while inspiring others to reach success on their own terms.  

Rze Culbreath/Youth Ambassador 

Founder: I’m Just Me Movement

www.imjustmemovement.org

Founder: National I’m Just Me Because Month,

https://nationaldaycalendar.com/im-me-just-because-month-october/

My Battles

For so long in my life I have been carrying a burden that I have talked about with very few. I have been so fearful of opening up about it because of the thoughts that other people will have about me, the fear of being seen as weak, the fear of being looked at as different. But I am done living in fear and I know I am not alone in my struggles. I know I need to share my story, so others know it is okay to open up about their own struggles. So here it is. This is my story on my battles with depression and anxiety.

            I was a four-year basketball player at the University of Pikeville. When you saw me on campus you probably saw just another basketball player. You probably saw a good student with a good GPA. You may have seen someone that looked like he had it all figured out. What you didn’t see was all the pain I was facing on the inside. I had to put on a constant smile, when I knew deep down, I was not happy. The year before I got to UPIKE was one of the roughest of my life. When I graduated high school, I did not know what I wanted to do. I did not think I was good enough for college. I was not a good student in high school and did not believe that I could succeed. I went to school anyway because all my friends did. I ended up at a college that was not for me and it was some of the most miserable months of my life. I was so lost; I was so afraid to be a failure and I was not motivated to do anything. I was in so much pain and nobody knew. I would cry myself to sleep almost every night. It was a struggle just to get out of bed. I knew I had it better then a lot of people in life and yet I still could not shake the sadness and on top of that I felt guilty for the way I was feeling. It was hard for me to even want to be alive.

            After my first semester at I knew I needed a change. I chose UPIKE because I had the opportunity to play basketball. Sports was always something that helped me cope with the pain and hopelessness. I have met some of the greatest people I will ever meet and have friends that I will keep forever yet for some reason I couldn’t find my happiness. It is so hard to hide your pain from people every day. I think the hardest part of about being a student-athlete is the image people create of you. They expect you to be mentally tough enough to handle all your schoolwork, handle workouts, handle practice, and handle going to perform in a game. I was doing all this while I was barely motivated to get out of bed. I had days here I had to walk into practice acting like I was fine when the whole time I wanted to break down and give up. I got hurt my senior year and it took more of a toll on me mentally then physically. I was hurt but I would not let my teammates know. I would not let my coaches know.

            I had days where I felt so alone even though I was surrounded by friends. I had days where I couldn’t even tell myself why I was upset. I had countless nights of crying myself to sleep. I had countless nights of going for a drive by myself because I did not want the people around me to see my pain. I had times I pushed away the people that meant the most because I felt like I was not good enough and I was a burden on their life. All while hoping they pull me in closer, but how could they when I was hiding the truth.  I have had countless times of getting defensive because someone is calling me out on my mood and I do not know how to stop the pain. I have times where I blame myself for everything and feel like I’m drowning myself in guilt. I had nights where I could not sleep and melted in my own thoughts. I have made decisions through my pain that I regret and make the pain worse. I’ve hurt the people I care about the most  because I am trying to stop my own pain. Pushing away joy because you don’t believe it is for you.  All of this while trying to be the best student and athlete I can be. Its tough, its not easy, and it does not make me weak to admit my struggle.

            When I graduated from school, I was first relieved and proud that I had made it through everything and still graduated. Next thing I knew I was in a really dark place. I was lost. I did not know what was next for my future. I did not have a job and did not have a clue what I was going to do. My anxiety took over. I started over thinking. I started to feel like I was not good enough for anybody around me. I did not want to tell them about the pain I was in. I did not want to tell them how lost I was. I spent every night sleepless, overthinking everything about my life and future. I wondered if I was good enough to get a job. I wondered if I was good enough to be loved now that I don’t have direction. I wondered if I was still looked at the same by the people around me now that I was out of school and jobless. I felt worthless. My anxiety would get so bad I would have chest pains before bed. I had nights where all I could do was cry because I did not know how to make it all stop. It got to the point where I did not have the motivation to get out of bed, much less leave the house. I did not want to face the outside world. And that made things so much worse. Depression cripples you. I knew I needed to take action but mentally and physically could not. Not because I am lazy but because I was hurting. I knew there were people in the same or worse situations and that guilt made everything seem so much worse. It got to the point where I felt like living wasn’t even my best option. I did not want to keep living with the pain. Its exhausting, constantly fighting the same battle over and over with no end in sight. I caught myself thinking I would not be mad if God came and took me away because at least the pain would stop. Why continue to live in pain when I can make it all stop? But, thankfully I did not let that thought over run me.

            I wanted to reach out and ask for help but I could not. I was fearful of what people would think. I was fearful people would not care. I was fearful my coaches would think I am mentally weak. I was fearful my teammates would look at me different. I was fearful to tell the people I love because I did not want to drag them down. I was fearful my friends would treat me different. I was fearful people would start feeling bad for me when that is not what I wanted. But I am done living in fear. I know a lot of people out there are going through the same thing and are fearful to ask for help but I am telling you from personal experience that it is okay. You are not weak. You are strong for having the courage to keep fighting. You are strong for not giving up. And you are strong for facing your fears. I am a Man, I am a student, I am an athlete and I suffer from mental health issues. I know many others do too. I challenge you to reach out and share you story so we can change the narrative and people can begin to feel better and so they do not feel alone.

There is strength in sharing your story and we can all stand stronger together.

Brady Schmidt