Inspirational Athletes

Survivor: Kassidi Bishop

“Overcoming yourself is better than overcoming everyone else, because then the victory is yours, and cannot be taken from you by anyone…” Buddha

In her sophomore year at Littleton High in 1994, Kassidi Bishop ranked among the top high school female basketball players in Colorado, and by all estimations was set to have a gleaming future in the sport. But her basketball career did not go as planned following that stellar sophomore season. In fact, Kassidi’s career and life quickly took an abrupt and mysterious turn for the worse that would soon steer her out of basketball, out of high school, and on an emotional roller coaster that left her on the brink of death on several occasions. And nobody saw it coming.

Although the cause of Kassidi’s problems is one that many people privately struggle with, stories like hers have been mired in obscurity and rarely brought to the attention of the public. Her affliction is a type of mental / emotional disorder called bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression). It is characterized by unusual and highly dramatic mood swings that cause a person to alternate between excessively high (manic) and low (depressive) states, as well as mixed states that combine various manic and depressive symptoms.

Although many people mistakenly believe that mental / emotional disorders such as bipolar disorder are not that big of a deal, Kassidi and anyone else who has experienced them can attest that this is definitely not the case. In fact, bipolar disorder is often cited as one of the most common causes of suicide. And although many people have never even heard of bipolar disorder, studies estimate that well over two million Americans have the affliction. Stories like Kassidi’s help shed light on what many people with bipolar disorder go through.

Kassidi began experiencing symptoms of bipolar disorder late in her sophomore year of high school after the basketball season had already ended, although at the time she did not know what was happening to her. Her parents noticed a dramatic change in their daughter. In a span of under two months, Kassidi went from a solid student, a tremendous basketball player, and a well-rounded teenager, all the way to a totally rebellious “hell raiser.” Her parents felt that Kassidi was an extreme instance of teenage rebelliousness, and they tried but failed to stop their good girl from “going bad.”

Before the start of Kassidi’s junior season of high school basketball, Street & Smith’s magazine picked her as a preseason honorable mention for female basketball All American honors. Little did they know that she would be nowhere to be found on the basketball court that season. The much-changed Kassidi began cutting classes and using drugs and alcohol. Soon, she had completely quit basketball and school altogether, and repeatedly tried running away from home to be with her abusive older boyfriend.

At the time, nobody knew that bipolar disorder was the culprit of Kassidi’s fall from grace. During that basketball season, a local newspaper article chronicled Kassidi’s decline and eventual absence from basketball, and pointed a finger at her father for being too demanding and pushing her over the edge. The article further deteriorated the family’s relationship, and caused many people to label the Bishops as a severely dysfunctional family.

It wasn’t until that fall in 1995 that doctors identified Kassidi as having bipolar disorder. One doctor felt that the disorder might have been triggered when she developed the chicken pox shortly before her dramatic behavioral changes.

But even with the diagnosis, things did not improve for Kassidi anytime soon. This is not surprising considering that even today, the causes and effective treatments of bipolar disorder remain relatively undiscovered, and it is often through a long pattern of trial and error that many manic-depressives learn how to improve themselves and cope with their affliction. For Kassidi, matters seemed to be getting worse and worse. She tried over a dozen medications and met with several psychiatrists, but they did not seem to help, and many of the medications also came with unpleasant side effects.

In her depressive state, Kassidi often spent days or even weeks in her room not even bothering to change clothes, and in a terrifying state of contemplating suicide. In fact, on several occasions she attempted suicide by slitting her wrists or trying to overdose—but luckily, she survived those incidences.

Despite the terrifying disorder that often left Kassidi living in a virtual nightmare, she still remained surprisingly ambitious. She got her GED high school equivalency diploma, and tried college life. But her depressive states made it difficult for her to consistently sustain any schoolwork or athletics, causing her to drop out of the several different junior colleges she tried attending.

Kassidi’s life seemed to be steadily going down the drain, but a breakthrough finally came late in 1997. One psychiatrist suggested that nutritional improvements could help her, and Kassidi began taking a specially formulated vitamin and mineral supplement. Soon thereafter, she started seeing steady and clear improvement. By 1999, a somewhat renewed Kassidi enrolled in Wyoming's Sheridan Junior College. She took a huge step forward for her at that time by joining the school’s basketball team.

Kassidi still wasn’t in an ideal mental state as she battled occasional emotional difficulties. And, she was five years removed from playing organized basketball or was coached in the sport. But Kassidi was just ecstatic to be playing basketball again, and was thrilled that she was on the team and putting her life back together. And unlike her previous attempts over the last several years to do just about anything, this time she stuck with her endeavor and consistently showed up to practices and games.

In her solid season that year for Sheridan College, Kassidi was among the team’s best players and averaged 14.3 points per game. And perhaps more importantly, her return to basketball had a therapeutic effect for her as she continued to recover from the bipolar disorder that nearly killed her just years ago. The still recovering Kassidi began making improved food choices and continued to take her vitamin-mineral supplement. She also discovered that sleeping a consistent nine hours per night helped her tremendously.

Though her solid season at Sheridan ended on a bittersweet note when she broke her ankle in a practice session, Kassidi remained in good spirits and hoped to realize her dream and play Division I college basketball the next year. At first, her dream appeared dashed when the NCAA ruled that she had already used up her NCAA eligibility by attending college during the previous years. But other people helped her by convincing the NCAA that Kassidi’s struggle with bipolar disorder should be treated like the physical injuries that other athletes are sidelined with, which do not count against their NCAA eligibility.

The NCAA agreed, and Kassidi was able to play Division I basketball for the University of Louisville. Admittedly, Kassidi was not a standout at Louisville, especially since she was so far removed from playing against top competition. She played little during her first season there and struggled with her ankle injury, sat out the next season while her ankle continued to heal, and played sparingly as a backup during her final year.

Nevertheless, Kassidi had managed to come back from a five-year basketball layoff and a horrific struggle with bipolar disorder, and dramatically return to basketball and eventually play among many of the top female players in the country. She also has become an important part in building an awareness of mental / emotional disorders, and helping others identify and overcome such afflictions. Her story is one of near tragedy, but it is also one of triumph.

“I would have loved for my basketball career to have turned out different,” Kassidi said in a Denver Post article. “But I’m proud that I never quit and I got to play.”

Martin Clapp, her head coach at Louisville, added, “Kassidi still has her down days. But she’s never missed a game or practice with us ... she never quit. I think it’s remarkable.”

Inspirational Athletes