Knox opens up about her mental health struggles and how the Griffins are helping her heal

Graduating senior Drew Knox has been open with her teammates after getting help for mental health struggles that sent her to the sidelines for two seasons (Robert Antoniuk photo).
Graduating senior Drew Knox has been open with her teammates after getting help for mental health struggles that sent her to the sidelines for two seasons (Robert Antoniuk photo).

Jefferson Hagen
MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – A pall fell over the David Atkinson Gym in the moments after the MacEwan Griffins women's basketball team lost to Alberta 87-66 on Jan. 14.

It had nothing to do with the loss.

On the trainer's table lay veteran warrior Drew Knox after she had to be helped off the court with an injury at 4:12 of the fourth quarter.

Thereafter was a special moment witnessed by few, but telling and indicative of the type of team this Griffins squad is – all of them gathered around the table to check on her, talk with her, reassure her.

"It was gut-wrenching seeing her go down," said teammate Mady Chamberlin. "Every single one of us was heartbroken, especially since she's already been through so many injuries. So, when she was lying there on that table and we're thinking 'is her career over?' It was heartbreaking."

A return to play this season hasn't been ruled out for Knox, who will be on the bench this weekend as MacEwan hosts Lethbridge on Friday (6 p.m.) and Saturday (5 p.m., both Canada West TV presented by Co-op), but there is also a possibility she's seen her final game as a Griffin.

If you ask Knox, who will soon graduate from the program, she would much rather the injury happened to her, than to any of her teammates.

"These people are my best friends and I don't think everybody gets to say that when you're playing on a team," she said. "But we all love each other so much and we want everybody to do well and play well and enjoy playing basketball that when one of us goes down … if anybody got injured besides me, I'd be mad because I'd be upset that somebody else got injured."

Knox herself is the impetus behind why her teammates have connected with one another on such a deep level.

She decided to open up to them about her mental health struggles on a zoom call and it's turned the team into a support group for one another.

"My second year at Grant MacEwan, I was going through a bit of a rough patch with my mental health and just expressing it and letting everybody know … you don't realize how many people have similar struggles until you say it out loud," said Knox. "It makes the whole experience feel a lot less lonely.

"Now, when any of us are struggling, we have a group chat. Somebody will mention they're having a tough day and the next thing there's donuts or a coffee or something in your locker just waiting for you."

For Knox, her mental health struggles hit a boiling point after her third season at Mount Royal University in 2017. She no longer loved basketball and was in such a dark place she wasn't able to attend school.

So, she parked her basketball career, came home to Sherwood Park and sought professional help.

"Probably one of the darkest holes – I can only ever describe it as a hole," she said of the place she was in a few years ago. "It just feels like you're constantly trying to climb out of something and it feels like you're grabbing onto nothing when you try to climb out. I'm not sure how else to explain it. I'm sure other people can definitely relate."

The first step, she said, was talking openly about it.

"Definitely just reaching out and talking to people has been the biggest difference in my life," she said. "Just expressing to my parents that I needed to get some help, seeing a therapist, getting on some medications … and my whole world has been completely different ever since I started therapy. And I've just been able to be open with everyone around me about good days and bad days."

Basketball was on the back-burner and, at the time, Knox wasn't sure if she'd play again.

"I was just more mentally exhausted and just felt like I didn't have any love for basketball or any love for school," she said. "I kind of had to take a couple of years off to just (rediscover) my passion for it."

That happened when she decided to help her father coach at her old high school, Archbishop Jordan.

"Just coaching a little bit, I realized that I was way too passionate about it as a coach and had to get some more playing out of my system before I was ready to take on trying to help other people grow," she said.

Drew Knox, left, shares a moment with teammates Mackenzie Farmer and Darian Mahmi. The bond on the Griffins runs deep after Knox shared her mental health struggles with her teammates (Robert Antoniuk photo).

So, staying close to her support system at home, Knox transferred to MacEwan and joined the Griffins as a redshirt/coach for the 2018-19 season.

"I still remember the first year she came in, she transferred from Mount Royal and joined our team and was really mature about the opportunity," said MacEwan head coach Katherine Adams. "She opted to redshirt that first year just to get herself back into basketball, wanting to put herself in the best position possible to help our team.

"I tried to convince her that year that she could help our team right now. But I think ultimately it was a good decision for her to take that year, and we've really, really valued everything she's brought to the table from an on-court perspective, her IQ, her leadership – it's been incredible.

"Unfortunately, she's run into a few injuries along the way that has limited her opportunity to contribute on court as much as she would have liked and as much as we would have liked, but it doesn't diminish what she's brought to this team and the impact she's had," she added. "Just her voice, leadership and support, helping others find their feet and be the best version of themselves they can be."

Soon to graduate from MacEwan with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology – a field she plans to pursue a Master's degree in – Knox aims to dedicate her life's work to helping others be exactly that: the best version they can be.

"Ever since I got out of that hole about four or five years ago, I have never ever wanted anybody else around me to ever experience anything like that and I try to be as open about it (as possible)," said Knox. "I think that drives my passion to help others not ever reach a spot like that."

Studying Psychology at MacEwan, along with learning from her own mental health struggles, has helped Drew Knox discover a passion for helping others as she aims for a career in the field (Robert Antoniuk photo).

She's already made a big impact on the mental health conversation at MacEwan, kicking the stigma much like the #sicknotweak hashtag that has been trending on Twitter.

"All of us have our mental struggles, so having Drew open up about her struggles made it easier for us to accept our own struggles and talk about it with each other," said Chamberlin. "There is that stigma around it and people don't want to talk about it because (some think) it makes you weak.

"It actually makes you stronger to talk about it and let people in."

When she was in that deep, dark hole, Knox never imagined she would have the kind of strength that she has today.

"I'm a lot stronger than I thought I was," she said. "Especially going into university, I was a young 17, 18 year old and you feel like you're going in blind to university.

"I think taking a couple years off in between MRU and Grant MacEwan just gave me a bit of a different perspective of going to school and playing basketball. I've never been more grateful to be able to join this team."