USM jumper Warren overcomes depression to shine

Published 9:00 pm Thursday, July 19, 2018

By Josie Copley

Southern Miss Sports Information

HATTIESBURG — Roughly one in five American adults experience a mental illness, and it has been found that athletes are more vulnerable due to the stress and pressures they face in training and competition.

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Southern Miss track star John Warren, a highly recruited jumper out of Virginia and son of a military mom, is no stranger to these internal battles.

In high school, Warren collected accolades one could only dream of. He was a three-time state champion in the triple jump, ranked No. 5 in the nation for the outdoor triple jump and the nation’s leader in the indoor triple jump. He competed at the USATF Junior Championships, the New Balance Outdoor Championships and qualified for the IAAF World Outdoor Junior Championships.

Following his senior year, he took his talents to the University of Missouri, where he continued his success.

“I had what you would consider a successful career at Missouri but that was just one part, a separate part, while the real me was suffering,” Warren said. “I was doing really poorly academically and that brought me down because I am not someone who fails easily. School was you go to class, pay attention, take notes, study, and you ace the exam. That’s usually how it goes, but for me after a few semesters I started to experience a downward spiral.”

Warren came face-to-face with something thousands of people suffer with on a daily basis — anxiety and depression.

“(During the) fall of 2016, right before I hit rock bottom I was seeking therapy, I was going to talk to counselors, prescribed mood stabilizers and sleeping pills,” Warren said. “I kind of just gave up in that last semester. I was still training and studying but wasn’t seeing the results. I didn’t cope well and had basically given up on myself.”

After battling with depressive and suicidal thoughts, Warren decided it was time he take some time off and find himself.

“I had come to the conclusion that I was crazy and I didn’t think that I would ever want to compete or go through school or life anymore. I was shutting people out and in my own bubble of suffering that whole year.”

During that year, his mother was retiring from the military and moving to Vancleave, Mississippi. Soon after learning that Warren was dropping classes and requesting a transfer, she started looking for schools closer to her and the family. Warren moved with them that spring and took some needed time off.

That summer, Warren began to take some classes from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. When he was finished, he realized his GPA was high enough to qualify for a transfer.

While Warren was at MGCCC, his father reached out to Southern Miss’ jumps coach, John Ellis, and was adamant about finding a good place for his son.

“The first time I spoke with him, he pretty much knew about my entire coaching career and where I had gone to school and the athletes I had previously coached,” Ellis said. “He had done his homework.”

Within one week from his father’s phone call, Warren took a campus visit. A few months later, he enrolled at Southern Miss.

“It’s warm and nurturing here,” said Warren. “They really are here to help the individual. Not only on the track but in the classroom. They want everyone to succeed and you can tell that when they talk to you they aren’t talking down to you, they aren’t judging you. That was my main fear, judgment. I had just sat out a year, my GPA was low and I was looking for a second chance. Southern Miss gave me just that, a second chance and I used this last season to prove to them that the risk was worth it.”

In his first year as a Golden Eagle, Warren broke the school records in both the indoor and outdoor triple jump, the outdoor long jump, and both the indoor and outdoor Conference USA championship meet records. He was an NCAA Indoor All-American and an NCAA Outdoor Second Team All-American. Warren recently competed at the 2018 USATF Outdoor Championships, in Des Moines, Iowa, where he finished seventh overall.

The jumper was returning to his winning ways and developing into a stronger man.

“We didn’t teach him how to do what he knows how to do. What he has been doing all year wasn’t taught to him, his natural talent he was given,” Ellis said. “He came to us with a lot of tools already, we just had to sharpen them up and remind him how to use them.”

Warren doesn’t want people to look at him as someone who suffers from mental illness, but someone who has gone through the trials and tribulations only to come out a stronger person.

“I’m not perfect,” Warren said. “I still get anxiety. I still have depressed thoughts. I’m still self-conscious, but when I’m around my teammates, on the track or around my coaches, I feel like I’m whole again. I used to get on the runway and get super nervous; start questioning myself, question my training but this past season was completely different. It turned into excitement.”