MADISON (WKOW)-- Former Wisconsin Linebacker Chris Borland quit his dream job in the NFL at the age of 23 because of concussion concerns. His experience led him to pursue another passion, advocating for mental health.
"I started to meditate, and it helped me deal with the maelstrom right after I quit," Borland said.
A couple of years after Borland retired, he ran a pilot program with former NFL players conducted by the Center for Healthy Minds, a research institute in Madison. Borland then shared the program with the UW Athletic Department.
"They realized the opportunity in presenting these practices to active athletes," Borland said. "So, it really kind of happened organically and pretty quickly, too. It went from a pilot program in 2017 to the first of it's kind full-time position a year later."
The University of Wisconsin became the first and only school in the country to hire a full-time meditation specialist. His name is Chad McGehee, and he works with all student-athletes at Wisconsin on their mental game.
The collaboration between Borland and McGehee made this possible.
"As a former college athlete myself, we just hit it off," McGehee said. "(We) still collaborate to try and grow these practices so that this way of training the mind is just as normal in the future as training the body is today."
"We talk all the time in sport about the importance of the mental game, yet very rarely do we train for it," McGehee explained. "We end up in this mental training paradox. So, we are flipping that upside down, and we are actually training for the qualities like focus, like resilience, like feeling connected to teammates, like stability in the midst of challenging situations."
UW athletes are reaping the benefits so much so that coaches are dedicating practice time to training the mind.
"We just tack it on to say the end of a lift," McGehee said. "So in the football weight room, the guys finish a lift and go into a meditation practice for ten minutes right after that or pre-pandemic, I was going to practice a lot to support athletes bringing this into the midst of their competition."
McGehee says one of the many payoffs is staying present in the moment.
"Mindfulness is the capacity to be present for what is happening right now," McGehee said. "It's not about what happened in the past, it's not about what happened in the future. The untrained mind really naturally starts to get lost in the past or future."
McGehee has Badger athletes in the zone more than ever before.