SHERIDAN — Robbi Ryan’s first memories of competing in basketball go back to her elementary school days when she was the only girl on the court during 3-on-3 basketball tournaments across the state of Wyoming. Ryan was a standout athlete at Sheridan High School and throughout the state.
Graduating in 2016, Ryan took her talents to Arizona State University to play under coach Charli Turner Thorne. In Ryan’s four years at ASU, the team was 86-48 and competing in the NCAA tournament every year that it was held.
Through basketball, Ryan continued her education, learned life lessons and improved her own character. The sport provided her with opportunities, new experiences and connections that she would have never made without them.
“Basketball itself has taught me a lot of things, just to never quit and if you fall down at certain times you come back up swinging,” Ryan said. “I have experienced a lot of injuries and a lot of struggles throughout college. Basketball has always been consistently there.”
Ryan said learned a lot through Thorne’s program based on culture and character, making athletes better women and leaders in the community.
It was not always an easy road for Ryan, as she suffered her own shares of hardship in her career.
Ryan said she dealt with depression and anxiety early on. She turned to support services Arizona State provides; from there she received support from those around her.
“I could not thank Charlie and the staff and my teammates enough,” Ryan said. “Just ASU in general because ASU is a great university and has mental health outlets for students and athletes… Obviously friends and family helped me through that time.”
Ryan felt the support from the team doctors, staff and trainers. It meant a lot to be able to overcome everything.
“Looking back, you realize how beautiful life is and how special every moment is,” Ryan said. “Even the little things, how grateful you are for them.”
Everything did not get better all at once and it was a hard period to go through. Ryan said she encourages everyone to reach out and be honest about how they are feeling.
“I think it is important to talk about because there is still a stigma around mental health, especially being an athlete,” Ryan said.
An analogy Ryan took away from a counselor was depression and anxiety is like a mental injury. It is not a weakness. Unlike a physical injury, a mental injury cannot be seen. Both injuries need to be taken care of properly instead of being ignored. Ryan was told she was strong for facing it head on and holding true to what she was feeling.
Ryan said she became a more empathetic person. Instead of judging a person’s actions, she tried to think of why they are acting a certain way. She wants to help anyone who is struggling.
The transition from high school to college is a tough transition no matter where you are from, Ryan said. As a freshman, everything is brand new. The level of play is harder, especially playing in the Pacific Athletic Conference.
Student-athletes are under a lot of stress, Ryan said. There are individual expectations along with expectations from everyone around them. Athletes attempt to balance athletic success, school and social life, with the latter taking a back seat with most of the year dedicated to school and basketball.
Through the support of everyone around her, Ryan graduated with a psychology degree and an African-American studies minor in the spring of 2019. She is currently enrolled in the higher education and postsecondary masters program she plans on completing this fall.
Thanks to credits earned in high school, summer school and hard work, Ryan completed her undergrad in three years. Her plan was to complete as much school as possible while it was being paid for at a great university, Ryan said. She understands that her athletic career will not last forever.
“You are not going to play sports your entire life, there is always a life after sports,” Ryan said. “I think it is important, especially for women athletes, to get a good education and use basketball as a vehicle to do whatever you want to in life. Sometimes that is sports and sometimes it is not. Just having an education paid for is huge.”
Ryan enjoyed a lot of great moments in her college athletic career, from sinking two free throws with five seconds left in the game against Miami giving ASU a 57-55 and push the team into the 2019 Sweet Sixteen to defeating No. 2 Oregon and No. 3 Oregon State in back-to-back games. Ryan led the team with 17 points against Oregon and tied for the second most points, 10, against Oregon State.
“That was a pretty awesome experience,” Ryan said.
The way her senior season has still not fully hit Ryan and she is still in disbelief in the way it ended.
“There are bigger things than basketball going on right now,” Ryan said.
Her mind has now shifted toward the future. Ryan plans on playing professional basketball overseas and will look for an agent to help her with the next steps in her process.
Ryan has already benefited tremendously from basketball in many ways.
“It is hard to describe or put into words,” Ryan said.