November 17, 2012

An injured athlete reveals a wounded soul

Maine native Ashley Marble seemed to have it all, but behind her driven personality lurked darkness and depression. Now, after a debilitating ankle dislocation, she's focused on recovery – physical and emotional.

By Mike Lowe mlowe@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - Pretty. Intelligent. Athletic.

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Ashley Marble, who excelled at college basketball and academics but struggled with depression and anorexia, aims to help others. “I want to change people’s lives,” she said.

Photos by John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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An X-ray of Marble’s left ankle shows the pins that stabilized the foot after surgery. During her ordeal, Marble decided she wanted to be a motivational speaker, where “you find the individual within the athlete.”

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ACADEMIC HONORS

In addition to her athletic prowess, Ashley Marble has been recognized nationally for her academic excellence. In 2007 she was named to the College Sports Information Directors of America academic all-America team.

She also received the ESPN the Magazine Academic All-American of the Year, College Division, and was recognized by the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.

Ashley Marble was, in many minds, perfect. She was an All-America basketball player at the University of Southern Maine. She represented Maine in the Miss USA pageant. She had begun a new career as a basketball official and was on the fast track to the higher levels.

But behind those appearances, Marble said she was also suffering from depression and anorexia, an eating disorder.

"I was my own worst critic," she said. "I never felt I was good enough. I played with a lot of anger and hurt for a fear of failure and a need for acceptance and approval."

As Marble recovers from a debilitating left ankle injury that has stalled her career, she has stopped looking for the faults in what she is doing and started appreciating what she has. After years of not telling anyone about her mental health, she says it's important to share her story.

Marble was one of the biggest basketball names in the state when she played for the Huskies, who made it to two NCAA Division III Final Fours with her, finishing third (2005) and second (2006). She excelled off the court as well, earning national recognition for her academic performance. (See box on Page A13).

That she would be dealing with mental health issues isn't surprising. College athletes suffer from depression at a rate that is three times the general population, according to some studies.

Marble, 28, who grew up in tiny Topsfield Township in Washington County and attended Woodland High School in Baileyville, first spoke about her personal struggles at the inaugural Little East Conference Hall of Fame banquet in October.

"I received a lot of positive feedback from schools," she said last week. "Several of them invited me to come talk to their students."

And that's what Marble would like to do next. "I want to change people's lives," she said.

TRYING 'TO BE SOMEONE'S IDEA OF PERFECT'

Marble's troubles began her freshman year at the University of Maine in Orono. She was a scholarship volleyball player and faced, she said, a weigh-in every two weeks. It was, she said, "the worst experience of my life."

The pressure to maintain her weight led to anorexia, an eating disorder. She transferred to USM to play basketball. But that didn't end her problems. She worried about her performance -- saying if she missed two foul shots in a game, "the next day I shot 1,000" -- and worried about her future without basketball. Nothing she had done, she said, was preparing her for that, and no one was offering help.

"I was never able to picture a future without basketball," said Marble, who graduated with a degree in Sports Medicine and Exercise Science. "It was all I knew."

While she was a once-in-a-lifetime player for USM, scoring 1,981 points and grabbing 1,157 rebounds, she said she began suffering from depression.

It continued long after graduation as she searched for something to fill her life. When she was representing Maine in the Miss USA pageant, she found herself on stage in her bathing suit wondering why she was there. "I was striving to be someone's idea of perfect," said Marble, who finished in the top eight in the competition.

While Marble said she tried counseling, she never said anything to her parents, who are now divorced, her friends or her coach, Gary Fifield. "He was a great coach," she said. "He was very supportive of me. But he was ... Coach. You don't talk to him about that."

That Marble never revealed her problems to anyone at USM is not a surprise.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Marble, a former All-America basketball player at the University of Southern Maine who is recovering from a dislocated ankle, undergoes treatment Nov. 6 with Dr. Garry Bracken to help her regain use of her left foot.

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