By Molly Poitevint
Every student-athlete has a different journey. Sloane Bâby, a senior volleyball student-athlete from the University of Tampa, took six years to complete hers.
She made it through many struggles that threatened to derail her collegiate career, but her ultimate triumph over health issues and family illness may serve as an inspiration to others.
Bâby, a native of Clearwater, Fla., began playing volleyball at a young age after tagging along to her older sisters’ volleyball practices.
“Volleyball was a great way to meet friends,” said Bâby, who continued to play throughout middle and high school.
To Bâby (pronounced “Bobby”), being part of a team has always been important. She said it allowed her to set and meet goals with a tight-knit group.
In fall 2006, Bâby started her collegiate volleyball career at Auburn, but she struggled to adjust to the demands of Division I academics and athletics.
“Participating in volleyball took up a lot of time and there wasn’t much time for anything else,” she said. “I started to realize that this might not be a great fit for me.”
The fit, however, was not the greatest concern. As Bâby navigated through her first few months at college, she also battled a severe eating disorder. Auburn had strict health guidelines that student-athletes had to meet to stay eligible to compete, and Bâby found herself more challenged each day.
Bâby spiraled downward rapidly as her eating disorder grew more severe.
“I passed through every threshold that was set in place to keep us at a healthy weight,” Bâby said.
Eventually, Auburn determined that Bâby’s persistent eating disorder had become serious enough that she could no longer continue as a team member. Standing at 5-feet-8 and weighing less than 100 pounds, Bâby was sent to an in-patient residential program where she spent three months working on her eating habits and trying to get back to a healthy weight.
After finishing the in-patient program, Bâby traveled with her father to the Pacific Northwest. Looking for a change of pace, she moved to Portland, Ore. Volleyball was a distant memory, and she had no intentions of returning to the game.
While in Oregon, Bâby’s eating disorder re-emerged and became life-threatening.
“I was in need of some kind of motivation to literally keep me alive,” Bâby said. “I came very close to losing my life.”
Roughly four years after she last touched a volleyball, Bâby visited her sister, who was coaching high school volleyball. That visit provided the glimmer of motivation she needed to spark her interest in returning to the game − and to a healthy lifestyle.
After her visit, Sloane contacted Jeff Lamm, the associate head coach at Tampa. Bâby met Lamm while playing volleyball as a child and kept him as a mentor as she grew older. Lamm determined that Bâby still had two years of Division II eligibility remaining. He invited her to try out with the Tampa volleyball team and then offered her a spot on the squad.
However, her difficult journey was not complete. After going to Tampa and returning to a healthy weight, she learned her mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer. “She was always there for me through all of my struggles so it was hard for me to be on the other side and to see her like that,” Bâby said.
Bâby remembered the difficulty of coping with her mother’s illness while her mother went through chemotherapy and radiation.
“I often cried through classes and practices just thinking about what might happen in my mom’s future,” Bâby said. “I was able to draw much of my strength and support from my volleyball team, which helped me get through everything.”
Her mother made it through treatment and is now a breast cancer survivor.
When asked about the best part of her collegiate experience, Bâby doesn’t hesitate: “Being part of a team.” And winning the Division II South Regional in 2012 was one of her proudest moments.
“I loved the people I was playing with and was proud to be a part of the success,” Bâby said. “Setting goals and then having people to accomplish them with makes them that much better.”
While finishing her psychology major and journalism minor, she often speaks to high school teams about eating disorders. She shares a message of hope – that people who are struggling with weight issues truly can be happy and achieve their goals again. She is a living example of that message.
Seeing her compete now, no one would never notice a hint of the journey she’s taken to get to such an elite level of competition. And although Tampa fell one match short of capturing the national title, Bâby’s passion for the game and excitement about the future is evident to all.
“At one point I was completely burned out (from volleyball),” Bâby said. “Being back at a healthy weight and playing the game that I love gives me hope, and I wish to share that hope with others who are facing similar situations to mine.”Last Updated: Jan 23, 2013