March/April 2024

CalHOPE Courage Award Winners

The monthly CalHOPE award honors student-athletes at California colleges and universities who have overcome the stress, anxiety, and mental trauma associated with personal hardships and adversity. Here’s a closer look at the inspiring personal stories of the latest CalHOPE Courage Award honorees.

Myron “MJ” Amey

San Jose State
| Basketball

Myron “MJ” Amey’s journey is a story of athletic triumph and a testament to resilience in the face of profound mental health challenges. Despite averaging 27 points per game as a senior at Vacaville High School, MJ did not receive a Division I scholarship offer. At the same time, he experienced the passing of his beloved uncle Bobby, leaving MJ stricken with grief and unresolved emotions as COVID-19 restrictions prevented a proper funeral.

To continue his basketball dream, MJ traveled 2,600 miles to Scotland Preparatory School in Pennsylvania. He led the school’s league in scoring but was still not rewarded with a Division I scholarship offer. Committed to making it happen, he worked as a food delivery driver to earn money to travel to a college showcase in Phoenix. His impressive performance earned him a scholarship offer from San Jose State.

Following a freshman campaign during which he averaged 9.5 points per game, he underwent foot surgery. It was then the loss of basketball and the emotions from the death of his uncle spiraled, and MJ found himself in a dark place He began self-harm and attempted to take his own life. Despite being treated and released from a behavioral health center, he would continue to harm himself before finally agreeing to see a therapist. With her guidance, he began journaling and finding comfort and acceptance.

When his 2022-23 season was cut short after just nine games due to an ankle injury, he worried he would once again be unable to accept life without basketball. Instead, he leaned into his love of music and expressed his feelings in a rap song. Then he attended a Black Student-Athlete Summit and built connections with people outside of basketball. These experiences inspired him to create a TikTok account (@win_a_day_wit_MJ) to share his story and discuss mental wellness.

MJ entered the 2023-24 season both physically and mentally fit, which showed on the court. He played in all 32 games and led the Spartans in scoring at 15.7 points per game, including a season high of 30 versus Boise State in January 2024.

“I felt like everything I had was because of basketball, so when I was injured, I didn’t know what to do and felt alone,” said MJ. “I would feel so bad if somebody I love had to go through what I went through. I hope that by speaking out about mental health, I can help others to seek help.”

Marne Sullivan

University of Southern California
| Track & Field

From early childhood growing up in Wilmette, Illinois, Marne Sullivan faced challenges that set her apart from her peers. Born deaf, she received a cochlear implant at age 3 and then spent hours in speech therapy, at audiologist appointments, and with multiple hearing specialists. She initially attended an all-deaf school before transitioning to a public school with an early intervention program that provided a critical foundation of listening and spoken language skills, including speech and language development, listening, and developmental play skills.

Navigating through elementary, middle, and high school, Marne tried to blend in, never allowing her cochlear implant to define her. On the track, she was a four-time All-State runner, earning seven medals at the Illinois State Meet.

Her transition to Boston College brought on new challenges as the unfamiliar environment made it difficult for her to maintain a sense of normalcy. Recognizing a lack of awareness and understanding regarding accessibility, she became a leader and advocate for change. Through storytelling, social media, marketing, and public relations, she has raised awareness and fostered open conversations about disabilities. She founded and led the non-visible/visible disability subcommittee to destigmatize student-athletes with disabilities within Eagles for Equality, a diversity, equity, and inclusion student-athlete committee. At USC, she continues her advocacy efforts, partnering with brands for Deaf Awareness Month and beyond.

At Boston College, she earned All-Atlantic Coast Conference academic honors three times while competing in the 800m/1500m distance medley relay (DMR) and 4x400m relay. At USC, she competes in the 800m and 1500m, with her best performance as a Trojan coming when she broke the indoor 800m school record and indoor DMR school record.

“Growing up, I never saw any deaf athletes or runners and realized we need more deaf role models and deaf sportspeople,” said Marne. “I face many challenges on and off the track, and being as honest and open as I can, I hope to motivate others to change negatives to positives. Growing up, I was taught to self-advocate, especially in the classroom, but it’s important to self-advocate for our mental health, too. Once we realize we can adapt to adversity, there’s no barrier that can stand in our way.”

Darren Wong

University of California, Berkeley
| Gymnastics

Darren Wong’s journey as a gymnast at the University of California, Berkeley is a testament to resilience in the face of relentless physical and mental adversity. Bursting onto the collegiate scene in 2019 with remarkable prowess, the native of Vancouver, British Columbia set records in his freshman and abbreviated sophomore years before the COVID-19 pandemic halted his momentum. Little did he know that this would be just the beginning of a series of personal setbacks.

Over the next three years, he suffered a string of debilitating injuries, each more devastating than the last. First, his left Achilles tendon cost him most of his junior campaign, then his left anterior cruciate ligament, followed by his right Achilles tendon, keeping him sidelined for his entire senior and graduate seasons. With each injury, he faced the physical pain of rehabilitation and the crushing blow to his psyche. Initially, he approached the challenges with a resilient mindset, attributing the misfortunes to sheer bad luck and redoubling his efforts in recovery. However, the third injury proved to be the tipping point.

The toll on his mental health was profound. Struggling to understand the inexplicable recurrence of injuries despite his meticulous rehabilitation efforts, he found himself engulfed in doubt and fear. The once-promising athlete plunged into uncertainty, questioning his abilities and was haunted by self-doubt.

Amid the turmoil, he refused to succumb to despair. Opting to return for his sixth year of eligibility this season while pursuing a graduate certificate, he emerged as a pillar of strength for his team. Despite his physical limitations, he assumed the mantle of leadership, embodying resilience and fortitude in the face of adversity.

“Getting injured allowed me to experience significant personal growth,” he admitted. “Those years were the most difficult of my life. I had to become someone else as a leader, thrust into a team captain role while being unable to lead by example in the gym.”

About the CalHOPE Courage Award

Presented since February 2022, the CalHOPE Courage Award, recognizes two student-athletes at California colleges and universities monthly for overcoming the stress, anxiety, and mental trauma associated with personal hardships and adversity.

At the end of the school year, two of the student-athletes recognized during the year will be selected as annual CalHOPE Courage Award winners and a donation will be made in each of their names toward mental health services.

It is presented by the College Sports Communicators (formerly CoSIDA), in association with The Associated Press (AP); CalHOPE, DHCS’ crisis counseling and support resource; and the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Mental Wellbeing.