Lisle, Illinois ~ Chris Herren had all the ingredients for success in life. He came from a wealthy family and developed into a top college basketball prospect early in his high school career.
He never thought he and some of his teammates would become addicted to heroin.
“We never sat at a high school party at 18 years old and said we wanted to stab ourselves with needles,” Herren said.
Herren shared the message of how his battle with addiction ended a professional basketball career, alienated his children and nearly cost him his life with a receptive audience of approximately 1500 parents, coaches and high school and collegiate athletes Monday at Benedictine University’s Dan and Ada Rice Center.
“The reality is that no one is exempt from falling victim to this,” Herren said. “I grew up in a house where my dad was into politics for 18 years, my mom worked in corporate America and we had a couple of houses. I wasn’t supposed to fall into this category of being a junkie.”
It took numerous close calls – including several arrests and a near-fatal car accident – before Herren became sober in 2008.
Today, he shares his cautionary tale about 20 times per month to particularly vulnerable high school students across the country.
“I ask every kid a pretty powerful question, and that is – what is it about themselves that they don’t feel comfortable with, that they don’t like, that they feel like they have to change themselves?” he said. “Why can’t you go to a friend’s house or a party on a Friday night as you? Why do you have to be drunk? And that’s an extremely difficult question for kids this age to answer. That’s the reality of it.
“I think unfortunately in this society we’ve embraced it, and we’ve allowed a culture that accepts that high school kids, college kids, go through a phase and we should let them go through it,” Herren added. “Boys will be boys. Girls will be girls. A lot of people don’t get through that phase, so why are we accepting this as a culture? That’s what this is all about.”
With the audience largely comprised of student-athletes, many said they were captivated with Herren’s presentation and felt a personal connection as he detailed some of his life’s darkest moments, including the time he left his wife and newborn son in the hospital while he met with a drug dealer.
“My uncle died of alcohol abuse,” said Emma Berndt, a Benedictine junior and cross-country student-athlete. “It hit home for me. I think it was very moving. I remember kids talking about him (Herren) as he was telling his story, saying they thought he was going to clean up (at the time he was an athlete).
“I came to the same reaction, like this is going to be the time, this is going to be the moment he cleans up and gets back on track,” she added. “He didn’t for awhile, and obviously, he finally did. It was very moving, very sad to see, but then also very heartwarming that his wife and his kids stuck it out with him through all of it. He was very lucky to get that opportunity.”
Other students said that hearing Herren’s story strengthened their resolve to stay on the right path in life.
“It was very enlightening,” said Benedictine junior Brooke Bowman, a volleyball player from Oswego. “His life was like a rollercoaster. I feel like as I listened, it made me even more committed to living a life that not only is representative of good values, but one that can be a role model for others.”
Naperville North basketball coach Jeff Powers said more young adults need to hear messages like Herren’s.
“We brought a lot of kids from Naperville North here – football, basketball and soccer kids,” Powers said. “I think his message is just great for our kids to keep on hearing – especially in our society today when we’re dealing with the constant pressures of getting into different vices, different addictions.”
Benedictine University strives to bring relevant speakers to campus providing the Chicago area with access to diverse views and opinions on issues affecting our communities and our world.
Benedictine University is an independent Roman Catholic institution located in Lisle, Illinois just 25 miles west of Chicago. Founded in 1887, Benedictine provides 56 undergraduate majors, 16 graduate and four doctorate programs. The Chronicle of Higher Education recently ranked Benedictine University as the seventh fastest-growing campus among private nonprofit master’s universities, and Forbes magazine named Benedictine among the top 20 percent of America’s colleges for 2011. Benedictine University’s Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) program is listed by Crain’s Chicago Business as the fourth largest in the Chicago area in 2011.