When a Forgotten Athlete Finds Her Way - by Cody Newman, Former DI Soccer Player for Duke University
I used to feel like a forgotten athlete. Like I had failed my life’s purpose, and that all the time and energy I put into my studies and my sports only harmed me in the long run. However over these past 10 years I embarked on a journey that I didn’t ask to be on but it became one I had to learn to weather and endure. It ended up teaching me a ton about life, resilience and survival despite all the odds, and for that I am thankful.
My name is Cody Newman and I am not a forgotten athlete, I am so much more. My story is long and winding, complex and complicated so this is not the place I will share it all but you can look forward to a memoir in the future. Movement and sports have been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I was always a high energy anxious child. I sat with a lot of fear and deep thoughts well beyond my years, an emotional intelligence that carried a lot of weight for a young child. I also grew up in a beautifully loving family that struggled with mental health issues. Note how both can exist at the same time. I was a resourceful, kind, creative, vibrant, overly empathetic caring kid, but with all that empathy came a heaviness. A pain I carried with me in my heart for others suffering. At an early age I coped with much of the weight of the world with my sports and academics and excelled immensely in both. It became evident early on that I had a gift with both my sensitivity and my athletic ability. I started playing organized sports at a very young age. I ran the gamut of pretty much loving every sport I was a part of. From football to baseball, to soccer to basketball and track and field. I played on all boys teams in my youth because I was a little too intense and competitive for the organized girls teams in my age group at the time.
I started playing organized sports at around 4 or 5 years old, and started playing travel and tournament team soccer at around 7 years old. My commitment to soccer grew pretty quickly as my skill and drive developed. I received a lot of attention for my success as a soccer player. This was incredibly rewarding but I'm not sure my commitment to predominately one sport at such a young age was best for my development as a whole person. I loved the sport of soccer, I breathed the sport, I was internally motivated and driven, and dreamed of the Olympics by age 10. I idolized the women who were on the U.S. National Team and began doing projects in school on women in sport, Title IV, as early as elementary school. I looked up to people like Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Carla Overbeck and Tiffany Millbret and always imagined playing for team USA and bringing home an Olympic gold medal one day.
At around age 12 that dream began to become a reality for me. I tried out for the Olympic Developmental Program (ODP) at the state level and made the team. The way this program worked at the time was that the ODP state teams prepared you all year for showcase tournaments and camps where you could be recruited to play at the regional and eventually the National Olympic Development teams. These were the youth teams and the eventual feeder teams for the U.S. Olympic National Team. Ultimately, it was a steady climb up the ladder for me but none of this came easy. I worked so hard at practice, on my own, staying after practice to play with the boys teams, getting extra fitness wherever I could. My dedication came second to none. By age 15 or 16, I got called up to play on the Youth U.S. Olympic National Team and was getting recruited to play soccer at some of the top division one college programs in the country.
On top of my superb athletics I was also a scholar. I went to a NYC public school and was in an advanced high honors math and science program. I took all AP and high honors classes and maintained over 4.0 GPA all four years of high school. At age 15 I verbally committed to Duke University on a full ride. From the outside looking in, I had it all. I was peaking at the most poignant time an athlete could and I was idolized by many. However brewing on the inside, and maybe something that was there all along, was an inner critic that drove my excellence in academia and in sport. This type A, perfectionistic, achievement oriented mindset that allowed me to excel would eventually also lead to my demise. Like I said earlier, my story is complex so I’m open to consulting and offering mentorship, sharing more in forms of public speaking, one on one mentoring etc. team mentoring, however for purpose of this blog I will not cover all I went through but will dive deep enough for those of you who are interested to understand a bit of what ended up happening to me. Where this forgotten athlete got lost yet what I learned was that I was never too far to be found. That one day my story would bring me back to life and impact and save the lives of so many others.
I went to Duke University at 18 years old and earned a starting position as a freshman. I helped lead my team that year to the elite 8 in the NCAA tournament. I received all ACC Academic honors, and NCAA All-freshman team, and my sophomore years followed similar accolades. I started to develop Anorexia at about age 15 years old. I had struggled with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, better known as OCD from the time I was a child but all of this went undiagnosed until much later because my success and such high functioning status hid my illness from even those closest to me. How could someone who is sick achieve and accomplish so much? However my sophomore year at Duke proved extremely difficult. My team had a rough season, we didn’t do as well as we had hoped, and my body began breaking down from malnutrition. It became pretty obvious that year, with significant weight loss on an already thin body, that I was not well and actually hadn’t been for a long time. At this point my coaches, teammates, and family recognized that I needed professional help and that if I wanted to play in the spring season I would first have to restore weight. One thing I find important to add is that many eating disorders do not have a specific look or body type. Someone can be struggling with anorexia in a larger body and be just as ill physically and mentally. I lived with thin privilege so when I became ill it was immediately concerning to see. That is not always the case with others and our culture and medical system harms those struggling who may not fit the stereotype of a life threatening eating disorder.
I left Duke the spring of my sophomore year, I was unable to restore the weight I needed to continue playing soccer and I began the long journey of treatment after treatment that would ensue for years. I laid on death’s door step for much of my 20s, feeling like there was no point in living, if everything I worked so hard for my whole life was taken away from me in what felt like an instant. I laid in the hospital, sedated and tube fed, begging for God to take me, for my suffering to end. Anorexia consumes a person, it takes every beautiful thing about them and destroys their life and all those who dare to love them through it. I still hold a lot of pain and trauma after all I had to endure, and my process in one that is continuing. Three and half years ago I met the most amazing therapist who helped set me up a solid team of professionals that truly helped me heal. I restored all my weight and began unpacking all the things underneath the anorexia, all the pain I was putting on the food and my weight had nothing to do with such. I thought that if I had to face the real source of my pain, it would potentially kill me. That couldn’t have been further from the truth. The eating disorder was killing me and recovery was the only option. This process was difficult and very hard to do but with the support of my amazing family, my closest friends, a team of professionals who were willing to go above and beyond for me, (AND along with my own resilience and insurmountable inner strength), I am finally truly healing.
I had some great experiences with my coaches both at the youth and elite levels of playing. Fortunately, I felt surrounded by good people most of the time. I was a very internally motivated athlete, and no one pushed Cody Newman harder than Cody Newman. I think it is important as coaches to know our athletes. What motivates them, what their inner critics are telling them, where they would like to see change and improvement in different parts of their game, but I think it's also important to understand our athletes fears. The worries they may be bringing into practice, stress at school or at home. I truly believe mental health is not talked about enough even in the year 2020. Yes, there have been huge strides and I do not want to discount those strides but we are all still very afraid of mental health and mental illness and the stigma around it hurts all of us and can be life threatening for many. I’d love to see coaches asking their players at practice the kind of support they need today from their teammates and their coaches, what they’d like to leave on and off the field at every practice or game be it certain emotions, conflicts both internal and external, how their teammates can show up for each other today. As a culture we are so quiet about mental illness yet we all know someone. I used to sit with so much shame dealing with a life threatening mental illness that ravaged my mind and body. I am here today talking about it because I fortunately lived to tell this tale. There are others that haven’t been so lucky. Supporting the whole athlete is revolutionary and important work. We are complex beings and should be seen and understood that way. I used to believe that I was a forgotten athlete but I sit here today knowing and believing that I am so much more. That my experience taught me so much about life that I would have never known had things gone according to plan. The pain I endured is quite unfathomable but I am picking up the pieces day by day and I feel proud of who I am and who I am becoming with every new day and challenge that comes my way. Life is hard, the world is a messy, painful place sometimes, but it is also incredibly beautiful. I chose to fight for my life and recovery because I knew deep down that it should all be more beautiful than this. That I deserved a full meaningful life that wasn’t defined necessarily by the great athlete I once was. That I am made up of all of my life’s experiences and that none of what we endure is for nothing. My hope with sharing my story is to bring awareness around understanding the mental health of athletes and other humans alike. I truly believe we are all connected in this amazing world and our gifts may even be hiding underneath our darkest pain and despair. I’m always sending love and light to my community, those who read this and beyond. We can do hard things in this world. My story is an example of that.
Cody Newman is a former elite scholar athlete, writer, student, advocate, activist, mentor, living in Queens NY. These days she enjoys the great outdoors, hiking, the ocean, her poodle named Sinthia, spending time with her beloved friends and family. She is passionate about educating others on mental health and mental illness recovery, understanding social and racial justice, learning about psychology and the mind and hopes to use her life experience and education to help others like her.
Cody was a division one soccer player at Duke University where she earned All-ACC academic accolades, along with NCAA All-tournament teams, Jewish Sports Review All-America accolades. She started as a freshman and helped lead the team that year to the Elite eight in the NCAA tournament. She was a member of the U.S. U17 and U18 U.S. National Soccer Team. For her high school she did not play soccer but instead ran track and field where she was a nationally ranked runner. A stellar cross country and track and field performer a member of the National Scholastics Indoor Champion 4x800m team in 2008, which was No. 1 in the U.S. at the 2008 Penn Relays -- finished second nationally in the 4x800m ... posted the No. 2 600m run and No. 5 600m run in New York ... member of the 2005 4x400m relay at the Millrose Games H.S. Championships ... ranked No. 3 nationally in the sprint medley in 2005 ... received four-year awards of excellence for cross country, indoor and outdoor track & field ... scholar-athlete in cross country and track and field ...
Ranked as one of the top 100 high school players in the class of 2008 by Soccer Buzz .. did not play H.S. soccer, but instead played for the Albertson Fury Premier Club ... led the Fury to the State Cup Championship in 2006 and the State Cup Finals in 2007 ... member of the Long Island Fury in the WPSL ... the Long Island team was also the 2007 semifinalist ... played for the Little Neck Rangers, a boys' D-I club soccer team, until the age of 13 before joining the Albertson Fury