Study hopes to improve health and wellness of CU Buffs student-athletes, alums

Faculty and athletic department received $200,000 grant from the Pac-12

The University of Colorado and its athletic department have made the health and well being of their students and student-athletes a higher priority than ever before. In particular, there has been an increased focus on mental health recently.

CU is now hoping to learn more about its alumni, and how that knowledge can benefit current and future Buffaloes.

Funded by a two-year, $200,000 grant from the Pac-12 Conference, the CU Boulder research faculty and the athletic department are beginning a study of 2,000 alumni who have graduated from the school in the past 25 years.

“There is a group of us that have been talking about this for a while,” said Theresa Hernandez, a professor of psychology and neuroscience and associate dean for research at the College of Arts and Sciences, who will lead the study. “Really thinking about, we have a good idea of how we’re doing for student-athletes here, but how are we – or how have we been doing – for our alums? We thought it would be good to do that, to ask them.”

Among the group who came up with the study is Hernandez; Miguel Rueda, who is a senior associate athletic director and leader of the department’s health and wellness programs; Dr. Sourav Poddar, the director of primary care sports medicine; and associate professors of integrative physiology Williams Byrnes and Matthew McQueen.

The group is aiming to study 1,000 former student-athletes and 1,000 alums who were not athletes at CU.

Miguel Rueda

Athletes from six different sports will be targeted for the study – two contact sports (football and women’s soccer), two mid-range contact sports (men’s and women’s basketball) and two non-contact sports (men’s and women’s cross country) – allowing researchers to see the impact of contact or non-contact sports.

“It’s a constant quest of, are we doing good enough?” Rueda said. “Are we doing enough for our student-athletes and are we getting the right information?”

CU athletics and the campus have collected more information about current students and student-athletes as it strives to meet their health and wellness needs. This new study could enhance that even more.

“Maybe this information we get back from our study will help us say, ‘Hey, we’re missing something. Let’s add it to what we’re doing now,’” Rueda said.

The study, which will include graduates from two, five, 10, 15, 20 and 25 years ago, will include a set of questions that will take about an hour to complete, Hernandez said.

“It will get at physical health, psychological health, any diagnoses they have, history of concussion, access to medical care, income – all the things that let us know their perception of how they’re doing,” Hernandez said. “This is one of those studies that, whichever way the results come out, it’s going to be interesting and important.”

While other studies have been done, this one as it is constructed is unique, and the group is hoping the information will be beneficial not only to CU, but to other schools in the Pac-12 and around the country.

“The idea is that it doesn’t occur in a vacuum,” Hernandez said. “We do it at CU first, but if we do it well, the Pac-12 might say, ‘We want you to take this model’ – if we’ve created a good model – ‘that then we’re going to pilot four other schools to do it in the next year.’”

Funding came through the Pac-12 Student-Athlete Health and Well-being Initiative, a landmark initiative which was created in 2014. Through that initiative, the Pac-12 provides $3.6 million per year for schools to use to fund research projects. Earlier this week, the Pac-12 announced a five-year extension of that initiative.

At CU, Rueda said there has been a significant improvement in recent years with the cooperation between campus and athletics to work

Theresa Hernandez

together on these issues.

“Between (athletic director Rick George) and chancellor (Philip DiStefano), everybody wants to address the issues of overall health and particularly mental health, as well,” Rueda said. “We’ve done some pretty fun collaboration with campus.”

For this study, the first step is identifying the 2,000 alums. That’s a process that will take time, but Rueda said many people are already reaching out to CU and wanting to get involved. To learn more about the study or to express interest in being notified when recruitment for the study begins, see CU’s website at www.colorado.edu/research/buffs-health-alumni-study/.

Hernandez said it will take a collaborative effort to find the 2,000 eligible alums and said it will take several months to do that.

“It’s really about partnering with the community and campus entities who can help us determine who is eligible,” she said.

Once the group has its list of alums, it will collect data that it hopes will help to improve the health and well-being of its current and future Buffs.

It’s another positive step in an area that CU has made a priority.

“There’s a handful of places that probably invest similarly to what we invest in health and well-being of the student-athletes,” Rueda said. “I really believe we’re doing it the best, from the top down – just a true focus on trying to do what’s right.”