UCLA soccer’s Thomas Cole shares why he tried suicide

(A warning: This story discusses self-harm and suicide.)

The smile that cut up Thomas Cole’s face on video chats together with his dad and mom couldn’t cover the darkness that had overtaken his life.

His mom observed that he was all the time mendacity in mattress. The blinds have been invariably drawn.

Thomas shrugged it off as not having the ability to simply match his 6-foot-6, 270-pound body into his desk. He mentioned it was simpler conserving the blinds closed.

“He always had a justification,” his mom, Kelli, mentioned, “but for me they were red flags.”

Thomas by no means talked about his intractable burden: He wakened daily desirous to kill himself.

He pushed by the torment solely as a result of his schedule demanded he get transferring. There was soccer apply. Place conferences. Lessons. Every part that got here with being a university freshman.

“You’ve got stuff to do,” he mentioned. “You’ve got boxes to check.”

Anybody watching from afar would have thought of his future promising. The offensive lineman from San Luis Obispo was probably the most coveted highschool prospect from his space in 20 years, choosing UCLA from a prolonged checklist of suitors. His dimension and expertise made him a possible savior for the Bruins at offensive deal with within the years to come back.

In his thoughts, Thomas was by no means adequate.

Regardless that his grades have been nice and he was making an attempt his greatest in apply, he felt like a failure. After months of anguish, he was prepared to surrender the charade.

Thomas placed on his favourite music, Johnny Money and Zach Bryan songs filling his residence bed room. He wrote goodbye letters to his household and mates. He downed each tablet he might discover.

Then he lay all the way down to die.

They have been the All-American household.

David and Kelli Cole met as faculty athletes at Cal Poly and owned a Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram dealership in San Luis Obispo that had been in David’s household for 3 generations. Their daughter, Katie, wrote for the highschool newspaper earlier than occurring to check baby improvement in faculty.

Like his dad and mom, Thomas was a gifted athlete. Already towering over his classmates, he performed varsity basketball as a highschool freshman. He additionally starred on the soccer staff, first as a defensive lineman and tight finish earlier than switching to the offensive line due to his large body.

Thomas Cole performs in a basketball recreation for San Luis Obispo Excessive Faculty towards El Diamante in December 2018.

(Owen Foremost)

Throughout his remaining season, Thomas helped the Tigers win a league title in soccer for the primary time in 17 years.

However nothing felt satisfying. Thomas would have an excellent recreation and dwell on a missed deal with or a blown task.

“He was always really hard on himself,” David mentioned.

Self-punishment would observe. Thomas stayed after apply to run further sprints. He lingered within the weight room for extra reps. All of it was an try and show to himself that he was adequate, main solely to extra doubt and an infinite loop.

After his dad and mom observed he was having hassle remembering soccer performs, Thomas was identified with consideration deficit hyperactivity dysfunction the summer time following his freshman yr. The dysfunction is thought to contribute to low shallowness and locations its victims at elevated danger of temper problems reminiscent of melancholy.

Those that watched Thomas carefully thought of him a people-pleaser. When his basketball coach addressed the staff whereas sitting in a timeout huddle fraught with stress, Thomas circled behind his coach, rubbed his shoulders and informed him it was going to be OK.

The light large additionally received admirers by coming to the protection of youthful classmates who have been bullied and consistently checking in with teammates about their welfare. When Jeff Brandow stepped down as San Luis Obispo’s athletic director and basketball coach, the primary textual content he obtained every time was from Thomas.

Thomas Cole (55) played for San Luis Obispo High.

Thomas Cole (55) performed for San Luis Obispo Excessive.

(Owen Foremost)

Trying again, there have been indicators of misery. A dislocated finger suffered in a basketball recreation despatched Thomas to the hospital, the bone protruding of his pores and skin. Disregarding the sympathy that flooded his room, Thomas was beside himself. His reasoning? He now not might assist his staff.

“He was like, ‘Coach, I’m not going to be able to play, I feel like I let you guys down,’ ” Brandow mentioned. “I’m like, ‘Dude, you broke your finger. You’re out for the rest of the year. It’s OK. We love you still.’ But he was worried about letting people down.”

Thomas enrolled at UCLA in January 2021, skipping his remaining highschool soccer season to participate within the Bruins’ spring apply whereas additionally getting a head begin within the staff’s power and conditioning program.

There was no stress to play instantly with veterans Sean Rhyan and Alec Anderson entrenched at deal with. The main target, for the primary season, could be enchancment.

At first, Thomas lived alone in a dorm room. Interplay with teammates was restricted by design amid the COVID-19 pandemic, gamers grabbing to-go luggage of meals and consuming by themselves. Lessons have been distant. Regardless of each protecting measure, Thomas contracted COVID-19 firstly of spring quarter, resulting in extra isolation.

His dad and mom factored all of this into their calculus of his early faculty months.

“When we started realizing that things were not going well,” Kelli mentioned, “part of it was, well, how much is COVID, how much is first-year college depression — missing home. So there were a lot of factors in play.”

A reprieve got here each time Thomas interacted with the opposite freshmen on the offensive line, whom he rapidly got here to adore. Shifting into an residence in the summertime supplied the good thing about a roommate in kicker Anthony Waller, one other buddy.

UCLA football player Thomas Cole is joined by his mother, Kelli; sister, Katie; and father David.

UCLA soccer participant Thomas Cole, heart, is joined, from left, by his mom, Kelli; sister, Katie; and father David.

(Courtesy of the Cole household)

However their time collectively was short-lived, with Waller quitting the staff and transferring out earlier than the beginning of fall coaching camp. As soon as once more, Thomas was alone. The day by day grind worsened his melancholy.

“You’d get to workouts, go to meetings, eat as much food as you could put down and then just kind of crawl back into your room and isolate,” Thomas mentioned. “There wasn’t a ton of communication between like how I was feeling with the team.”

Crying suits typically preceded these smiling FaceTime periods together with his dad and mom. Thomas started to harm himself, pondering he deserved the ache. He burned his physique with something that may do the trick — lighters, candles or forks positioned on sizzling stoves. He starved himself, consuming as soon as each two days.

“I didn’t think I was enough in school, didn’t think I was enough as a son, didn’t think I was enough as a teammate, so like I just deserved punishment,” Thomas mentioned. “Like, I hated myself.”

He informed one teammate and his girlfriend that he was feeling down. He began seeing a therapist within the fall. However he by no means shared his suicidal ideas or the truth that he typically wakened regretting that he didn’t attempt to kill himself the earlier evening.