Former Olympic Athlete Told Clark Students “You Are Not Alone”

On the dark and rainy evening of April 22, 1999, he flew through the air, headfirst, arms pinned at his sides and landed with a loud crash. That’s how Scott Sargeant, a former engineer and Olympic athlete, recalls the memory of his accident.

A few days later, he woke up on the hospital bed and couldn’t feel his arms and legs. He was diagnosed with quadriplegia.

“I’m going to fight and make myself well,” Sargeant said to his coach when he challenged him.

After he made up his mind, he chose to ignore all negative feedback. With his family and friends’ support, he nurtured himself mentally and physically. Six weeks later, he miraculously walked out of the hospital under his own power.

“Sometimes the most courageous thing you can do is to tell the truth. To ask for help, and to stop suffering in silence,” Sargeant said.

Sargeant started to coach health and fitness after he fully recovered. He thought he should be strong and stay in control.  However, he hid a “dark secret.” By choosing not to talk to anybody, he sentenced himself to an inner prison of guilt and shame for 18 years. Until he started to learn about mental health, he realized that mental illness is a pervasive issue, and he has the responsibility to share his painful journey to help people who may or may not realize they need help.

“It was not an accident,” Sargeant said. He was trying to kill himself.

Suicide is now the second leading cause of death for ages 10-34 years old.  The number of college student suicides has more than tripled since 1950. Mental health is among the leading causes of suicide. 39% of college students are experiencing a mental health condition and two out of three students don’t seek help. Sargeant said that is why it is crucial to bring mental health and suicide awareness and prevention to people, especially college students.

Today Sargeant is a motivational speaker.  He came to tell the true story of his accident and to teach college students how the truth has set him free and challenges students to be honest and truthful with themselves.

“What choice can you make?” Sargeant asked, “What truth could you tell that would set you free?”

“I tried twice,” Clark College student Joshua Anderson said. “I had a lot of depression and recently lost a lot of families.”

Anderson decided to put himself in a program, and he also became part of a support group. His mental health is better than it was two years ago. He said he was glad he came to this event and wished this kind of event can be held once per month.

“It’s a subject close to home,” Anderson said.

Sargeant listed the warning signs of mental illness and suicide on his slides: Stress and sleep, feeling alone, withdrawing or isolating, loss or trauma in relationships, feeling overwhelmed or depressed, feeling hopeless or trapped, alcohol and drug use, repeated thoughts about death or suicide.

Student Jenna Story felt connected. She said this event brought more awareness to mental health, and students learned they could get support and help from school counselors.

“Clark College counselor services are for all students free of charge,” Ashley Schumacher, the nurse practitioner said. “We hold same-day appointments.”

All students are welcome. You can call Clark College Counseling and Health Center (CHC) at 360-992-2614 or email chc@clark.edu to schedule a counseling appointment. You are also welcome to stop in HSC124 for more resources.

December Redinger, APB Activities Coordinator, said he wanted to encourage students to reach school counselors. They are providing short-term and long-term help, Redinger said.

“Help is always available,” Sargeant said. “Each of you is very precious and very important.”

“I am just happy to share the wisdom and my story, the message of my journey and really give you practical tools not only to successfully manage and overcome whatever stress and challenges you might be facing, but also to break the stigma and share with you about mental health, depression and suicide prevention,” Sargeant said in his video “Hello Clark College!”

“You are never alone,” Sargeant said.

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