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SOCO Student Media from Colorado State University Pueblo

The Today

SOCO Student Media from Colorado State University Pueblo

The Today

SOCO Student Media from Colorado State University Pueblo

The Today

The inner battle of an ex-student athlete

Neubert’s jersey hangs outside his locker at at the ThunderBowl in this courtesy file photo. [Courtesy photo/Cal Neubert]

We have these dreams and goals that we prioritize so much that everything else fades into the background until it becomes non-existent. 

Dreams Cut Short

By Cal Neubert
Sports Editor and former CSU Pueblo offensive linesman Cal Neubert watches the Thunderwolves’ season opener from the sidelines. [Today photo/Regan Foster]

Student athletes live a hard life. 

If you read that first line and shook your head in disbelief, then you do not know what they have to go through or how much their sport means to them. How much hard work it takes; the constant beating of your own mind, body and soul to try to compete at the highest level possible. So, speaking as a former student athlete here at Colorado State University Pueblo, I’d like to share with you a short story.

When I was growing up I played little league sports like many of you. I picked basketball because I come from a family of basketball players. However, when middle school came around, I took a liking to football. I tried out and at the very moment I put the helmet and shoulder pads on, it was like love at first sight. 

Until the 10th grade, I played it as a game, never took it too seriously and just thoroughly enjoyed spending time with my friends. Then, during the spring semester of my sophomore year in high school, my dad was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer. I began to spiral out of control mentally and honestly had nothing to fall back on, except for the sport of football. 

I ended up putting all of my time and effort into the sport and grew about three sizes. (Seriously, in one summer I went from being 6’2” and 220 pounds to 6’7” and 315.) 

The point was that during that extremely horrendous point in time for my family and I, we all had stuff we threw ourselves into to ease the pain. I spent every morning in the gym or on the field trying to perfect my craft, trying to think about anything else. Trying to take the anger out on something. 

And it worked. 

My love for football turned into something more. Almost an obsession. Something to survive. A drug to stop the constant anxiety attacks and depression. 

And while I threw my entire soul into the sport, my dad got better. 

Courtesy photo/Cal Neubert

He beat cancer and I ended up receiving nine Division 2 scholarship offers. My family celebrated, as it seemed our bad luck had ended. 

My dad understood the feeling of obsession with a sport. He grew up in Madison, Wisconsin. His life was hard and the only thing he had was basketball. 

Every single day that he spent shoveling six feet of snow just to shoot hoops paid off when he got a scholarship to the University of Nebraska. He played for about three years and then tried out for the football team. 

After a year he was drafted by the New York Jets and played in the NFL for a few years before having his career cut short due to broken disks in his back.

So, yeah, he understood the feeling and he came with me to every official visit I had.

My senior year of high school, I had my first fight with an injury — a left shoulder posterior labrum tear. It hurt, but wouldn’t stop me from playing, and I got the surgery to repair the tear after the season. 

When my freshman year of college rolled around, I tore my right one, got the surgery and knew I’d be back the next fall. But that’s when things got really complicated.

During fall camp of my sophomore year, I felt an insane series of pops in my left shoulder. I was down for a second and my trainer Devin Hart came to check on me. 

I told him: “Oh, it’s fine. It’s another labrum thing, I’m good.” 

So, I took off a couple drills and headed back in there for team play. And when our quarterback hiked the ball, and my hands shot up into my opponent, I noticed only my right arm was up. My left arm didn’t move. I tried again next play, but the same thing happened. 

Afterwards, I told Hart and he believed it may be something nerve related.

Courtesy photo/Cal Neubert

And so began the end of it all. For the following two years, I went to doctor after doctor, specialist after specialist, and had test after test done. I had been shocked, stabbed, pinched and x-rayed but to no avail. Not a single person had an answer for me.

It finally became clear that I was not going to be able to continue my passion of playing football. I now had to worry about my future and whether I could do something simple like put my arm over my head or even play catch.

Going into head coach John Wristen’s office and crying as I told him was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. And when I got into my car, I was hit with a feeling of disgust. I was anxious and alone, depressed and empty. I felt as though I had nothing.

I dedicated my life to football. I felt as though I was built for it. I didn’t care about school and had no other passions, so I was left with nothing. I had no answers as to where to go next, but I still had some nerves in my arm that were very pissed off. 

That’s how it goes for some unfortunate student athletes. We have these dreams and goals that we prioritize so much that everything else fades into the background until it becomes non-existent. 

And when the thing you love the most in this world is stripped away from you in a matter of moments, it can be truly hard to find yourself again.

However, as time passes, you begin to realize that there is more to life than the sport you play. It took me a full semester of anxiety, depression and a lack of motivation to eventually realize that I enjoy writing. 

I became so passionate about writing that I changed my major to media comm with an emphasis in journalism so I could keep writing. I’m finishing up a book now, too, that I will attempt to get published. 

The point is that the world is your playground. And although some dreams are cut short, there are other opportunities and experiences out there waiting. You just have to learn how to let go of one thing and allow yourself to connect with another. You can do anything you want to; you just have to try. 

** Related content: Pack football tops rival in double OT thriller **


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