Chico State volleyball player Gretta Kirkby is one of two California college students to receive the CalHOPE Courage Award for the month of December. The award recognizes student-athletes who have overcome the stress, anxiety, and mental trauma associated with personal hardships and adversity to successfully continue their academic and athletic career. Kirkby and fellow December honoree, Academy of Art men’s basketball player Mike Asante, will be recognized during an on-court ceremony at the Golden 1 Center during the January 4 Sacramento Kings-Atlanta Hawks game.

Sports Information Director Rory Miller and student assistant Eve Miller wrote about Kirkby’s challenges and triumphs.

Though extremely challenging at times, Kirkby’s tenure at Chico State has been marked by tremendous success. She has a cumulative grade point average of 4.0, earned the 2020 California Collegiate Athletic Association Championship Scholar Award, and was named a team captain prior to her senior season. She has also experienced anxiety, which at times became severe. During her freshman season she felt “completely overwhelmed with the stress and responsibility that came with being away from home and also being a collegiate student-athlete.” Kirkby experienced the loss of her volleyball coach, Cody Hein, following her sophomore year. Then came the COVID-19 Pandemic, and upon her long-awaited return to campus, injuries that extended her time off the court further.

“It got to a point where I wasn’t feeling like myself and my physical health was being impacted,” Kirkby said. “For the first time, my anxiety was paralyzing and affecting my daily life. I spoke to the doctors at the (Chico State WellCat) Health Center to figure out what was going on and why I was feeling this way. It was anxiety. I am so grateful for the doctors at the Health Center and therapy. Everyone has been so supportive and helpful. They helped me get what I needed to start to feel more like myself again.”

“Reaching out for help is so important. …It’s easy to convince yourself that you’re too weak or that you don’t have time to deal with your mental health. I want to change that notion. We should all prioritize our mental health!”

Chico State volleyball player and exercise physiology student Gretta Kirkby

The insight and tools provided by her doctors and counselors were empowering for Kirkby and came on the heels of a different kind of breakthrough that took place the summer prior when she gained important self-confidence as a summer intern for the Department of Biological Sciences. Kirkby says she can’t even watch Grey’s Anatomy, but found herself preparing cadavers for the University’s “Human Anatomy” class. 

“It made me realize that I can do things that I initially thought I couldn’t,” Kirkby said.

Kirkby has positively impacted teams, teammates, programs, and classmates at Chico State in many different ways. When bouts of severe anxiety left her feeling incapacitated, Kirkby used her voice to ask for help. And now she’s using it to encourage others to do the same as the winner of the CalHOPE Courage award. “Reaching out for help is so important,” Kirkby said. “…It’s easy to convince yourself that you’re too weak or that you don’t have time to deal with your mental health. I want to change that notion. We should all prioritize our mental health!”