KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Hundreds turned out to hear former Lady Vol, NCAA champion, WNBA player and Olympian Chamique Holdsclaw talk about her battle with bipolar disorder.
This is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. There are more than 50 million Americans with disabilities – that’s 20 percent of our population – and many of them remain unemployed or under employed. Disability Employment Awareness Month is a nationwide campaign that raises awareness about disability employment issues and honors the many diverse contributions of America’s workers with disabilities.
Holdsclaw spoke at the Knoxville Area Employment Consortium’s annual Disability Employment Awareness Breakfast at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.
This year, two employees were recognized with the “Rudy Sullivan Award” for their outstanding work ethic. Michael Kelly for her work at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, and Meredith Schlandt for achieving her goal of working as a certified nursing assistant at Morning Pointe Assisted Living in Powell.
Holdsclaw shared her passion for shining a national spotlight on mental health issues, especially among African-Americans, and under-represented populations and young people. In the later years of her basketball career, Holdsclaw was immobilized by depression and near suicide.
“I’ve been blessed with a platform and I just want to encourage and motivate people despite disabilities, despite obstacles that occur in their life that you can continue to push forth, you can continue to be a productive citizen,” she said.
She says she knew something was wrong when she was a kid.
“I went to therapy when I was like 11 years old. But again my life has been so fast paced I tended to sweep it under the rug and keep moving forth. I was good at something so for me, basketball became my coping mechanism. And when I lost my grandmother that was a trigger. When I retired from basketball, emotionally I just wasn’t ready for those transitions and it really affected me,” Holdsclaw said.
She’s now sharing her story on many platforms including a new documentary. “Mind/Game: The Unquiet Journey of Chamique Holdsclaw” is an award winning documentary that looks into the “female Michael Jordan’s” rise to fame as a collegiate and professional athlete, and it dives into her battle with bipolar disorder.
“I’m just really candid and it’s raw and people get a real glimpse of my life and what I deal with. It’s not all glitz and glamour. Everyone’s like, ‘Aw you get to travel. You get to speak.’ It’s days where, you know, I’m immobilized. I can’t get out of bed. It’s days where I’m really struggling with my family because when you have an illness like this, it ruins relationships. I’ve been overseas playing, ruined relationships with my family and my friends and now it’s about healing and about coming together so you kind of just see this whole maturation process.”
She says East Tennessee was important to her growth as a person.
“It’s like family. I come back, I’m old now I go eat on the strip they’re like, ‘Hey, you’re Holdsclaw!’ So it’s great to be supported.”
For more on the Knoxville Area Employment Consortium, check their Facebook page.