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This wide receiver and social work graduate student’s journey has taken him from despair to LOVE—living out victoriously every day.
At 1 a.m. on a cold night late in 2015, Tre Tipton stood on Pittsburgh’s Fort Duquesne Bridge, gazing down at the black waters of the Allegheny River with his back to nearby Heinz Field.
There at the stadium, as a freshman that fall, he had played as a wide receiver for the Pitt Panthers football team — until he sprained both the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) and lateral collateral ligament (LCL) of his left knee, ending his season and shattering his already-fragile sense of self-worth.
“Now the thing that I used to look forward to, that I used to keep me sane, is out of my hands and gone,” he later recalled. “I was so deep in my own depression, there was no coming out.”
Having pulled back from the brink of killing himself three times recently, Tipton (who had suffered from depression since childhood) told himself it was time to end his anguish once and for all. He began shifting his feet in preparation for jumping off the bridge. The timing seemed perfect: At that late hour, no one would see or hear him. But then an inner voice spoke up: “You’re not ready yet.”
With that, something clicked inside Tipton. He impulsively took off his shirt, threw it into the river and returned to his dorm in Pitt’s Sutherland Hall. From that time forward, he vowed, he was going to be a better person than he had ever been, no matter what it took.
This being real life, Tipton’s mental and physical recoveries were interrupted by setbacks, including three more season-ending injuries — among them a life-threatening collapsed lung suffered in a devastating hit during the ninth game of the Panthers’ 2016 season.
But, supported by family members, teammates and coaches, he persevered. Having graduated with a bachelor’s degree in communication, he’s poised this fall to begin graduate studies in Pitt’s School of Social Work and return for the Panthers’ 2021 season as a major asset, with 39 career games under his belt. (Because of his seasons lost to injuries and COVID-19 interruptions to the 2020 season, the NCAA has granted Tipton a seventh year of eligibility.)
He’ll also continue his work with L.O.V.E. (Living Out Victoriously Everyday), the nonprofit organization he founded in 2017 to counsel student-athletes and help them deal with the pressures of mixing academics with athletics. His commitment to others was recognized by the American Football Coaches Association when he was named to the organization’s Good Works Team. And in May 2021, he was named a recipient of the Wilma Rudolph Student-Athlete Achievement Award, presented annually by the National Association of Academic and Student-Athlete Development Professionals to student-athletes who have overcome great personal, academic or emotional odds to achieve academic success while participating in intercollegiate athletics.
“Tre has never allowed adversity, on or off the field, to get in the way of his high aspirations,” Pitt Football Head Coach Pat Narduzzi said. “His strength, courage and perseverance are an inspiration to our entire program. We are all incredibly proud of this recognition for Tre and know that he has even more great achievements in store for the future.”
“I am extremely blessed and thankful to receive such a prestigious award in honor of the great Wilma Rudolph,” Tipton said. “My story is about how my life has changed over time. I hope that my story can help change the perspectives of people in their own lives. Adversity is a comma in the sentence of life, not a period.”