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

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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.

"Part of it is, there's an expectation with stardom, with fame, whether limited or large," said Dan Lebowitz, the executive director of Northeastern University's Center for Sport in Society. "Athletes are competitive and they probably don't want to show weakness."

"There is a certain stigma associated with being mentally ill in our society," said Bill Gayton, a psychology professor at USM who specializes in sports psychology. "We do things to avoid that stigmatism; we don't talk."

'NOT A SECOND-PLACE FINISHER'

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 14.8 million Americans, or 6.7 percent, suffer from depression. Among college athletes, however, it's much higher. A 2005-06 study of 257 NCAA athletes published in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine found that 21 percent of the participants experienced some symptoms of depression. Female athletes are at greater risk than males, the study found.

"I've seen everything, from eating disorders to depression to everything else," said Joanne P. McCallie, the women's basketball coach at Duke University.

While coaches aren't necessarily trained to recognize symptoms of depression or eating disorders, she said, it is important that they get to know their players.

"You've got to be concerned about their physical and mental health," said McCallie, a Brunswick High graduate and former UMaine women's basketball coach who now oversees one of the top Division I programs in the nation. "If you want them to be at their optimum performance, you've got to know them."

Unless they hide their problems, which is what Marble did.

"I never saw it, I can tell you that," Fifield said. "She was driven, driven, driven, whether she was on the basketball court or academically or in anything she was doing. She had one of those personalities that, if you told them they needed to run two miles, well, then four miles would be twice as good, so she ran four miles."

Her father, Butch Marble, said her drive was probably part of the problem.

"Ashley was not a second-place finisher," he said. "She's very dedicated to winning. She always strived to be No. 1."

DISLOCATING HER ANKLE

Sometime after college, Marble became a personal trainer -- or, more precisely, a "wellness" trainer. She encourages her clients to not only become physically fit but emotionally fit as well. She works with local professionals to improve their practices. She has a Facebook page called "A Better You" that offers inspiration, encouragement and tips for exercise and nutrition.

"It's not about winning or first place," Marble said. "It's about the personal growth, discovery and embracing your personal journey to be better than you were yesterday."

She also became a basketball referee, working high school and lower-level college games. She was good and was looking to move up to Division II.

"She takes it very seriously," said Reggie Grant, a veteran official and mentor for Marble. "Her court demeanor, professionalism, focus, it's good. She gives her best. And I think people see that."

She was happy enough to begin playing basketball again after a three-year layoff. So last summer she started playing in a recreational league. "I wanted to have fun, to not worry about the outcome," she said.

But on July 17, Marble was driving to the basket when she stepped on the top of her defender's foot. Many times, this leads to an ankle sprain. But Marble's left ankle, which had undergone surgery two years ago, dislocated and was hanging at a right angle to her leg.

On July 23, she had surgery with six large pins inserted into her leg. "Dr. (Greg) Pomeroy told me I was this close to losing my foot," she said, hold ing her fingers an inch apart. "Life as I knew it had ended."

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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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