Michigan Swimmer Ian Miskelley Remembered After Tragic Suicide; Family, Team ‘Carrying Ian With Us’

ian-miskelley-michigan
Ian Miskelley. Photo Courtesy: University of Michigan Athletics

Michigan Swimmer Ian Miskelley Remembered After Tragic Suicide; Family, Team ‘Carrying Ian With Us’

When the news of Ian Miskelley’s death reached the University of Michigan swim team, the Wolverines were devastated.

Even more devastating was how he died — suicide.

It is a word Miskelley’s family doesn’t want to run from, but rather use in the fight for mental health.

“That is the stigma that we have to break,” Ian’s father Steve Miskelley said. “It can happen to anyone. People constantly equate sadness and depression, and those are not the same thing. People wonder what you have to be depressed about when you have so much going for you, but that is not what this is.”

Miskelley died on Sept. 7, at age 19. He struggled with anxiety and depression since age 11.

Read more about Miskelley’s life here

The Wolverines were aware of Miskelley’s struggles and gave him full support in many ways, including counseling.

But even for someone who was actively seeking help with mental health issues, Steve Miskelley said, one spiral downward can lead to a point of no return.

When the team found out, they rushed to Miskelley’s home, and banded together in support of each other.

“There is no playbook for something this tragic,” Michigan coach Mike Bottom said. “As soon as we found out that Ian had taken his life, we were obviously devastated. We got to the house as quickly as possible and there were members of our administration there and a counselor. The way the university responded was so supportive and helped us feel as coaches that don’t know how to deal with this kind of thing (that we were supported). We know how to care, but we don’t know what steps need to be taken.”

The first step was addressing the team.

“We needed to get the team together, and they offered up the baseball stadium for us to get together and talk,” Bottom said. “We all talked about who to talk with. We sent coaches or counselors to our most vulnerable, which is people who grew up with Ian and swam with him for most of their lives and were devastated.”

The coaches were devastated as well.

“You get to spend a lot of time with people. That is one of the joys of coaching and being part of a team. The amount of time you spend out of the water when you travel or on the pool deck,” associate head coach Josh White said. “Ian had some physical struggles and because of that we actually got to spend more time with him out of the water. He was out last fall and I asked him to come in every day and say hi, so we got to see him every day. We got to see such a great person that thought about others most of the time. He was always there. He was not afraid to be there for people. He was present. That was a great thing. His teammates cared for him very much.

“When he was struggling, we tried to help him get the help he needed. He fought every day.”

Bottom agreed.

“He never gave up,” he said. “We just loved the kid. He was part of our family.”

That was extremely evident to the Miskelley family.

“The University of Michigan has been phenomenal throughout all of this, and I don’t just mean this. Since Day 1 when he walked onto campus, they got people around Ian and supported him. They had good therapy and help. It is amazing what they did for him and I can’t thank them enough,” Steve Miskelley said.

It started with his success in the water.

“Josh did such a great job helping Ian get to where he wanted to go in the pool. It was unbelievable to watch Josh using and employing every motivational tool that I have ever seen him use as he moved Ian forward,” Bottom said.

The Wolverines were there when Miskelley struggled with mental health. They were there when he had a seizure in the water because of medication. They were there when he had to redshirt because of illness. They were there when Miskelley got COVID-19 earlier in the summer.

“He had an incredible series of events in the last six months that would throw anybody back,” Bottom said.

But still Ian Miskelley pushed forward, and that is something Bottom hopes the team will take with them.

“Our intention is to have Ian with us and move forward with him, and I am sure the guys are going to figure out some ways to do that. But a big part is not being afraid to talk about Ian and talk about the struggles and use that as a communication channel to all of our team,” Bottom said. The moment we forget to include Ian in our communication is the time we will forget about someone who needs that type of help. Hopefully the swimmers will be able to understand that it is OK to need help, and know where to go for it.”

White agreed the most important part was not forgetting to talk about Ian, the good and the painful.

“Ian’s life is sadly shorter than it should have been. But I think being a part of this team is what he loved,” White said. “When you are away from your home family, coming to the pool for practice every day feels like you are walking in your front door at home and you are seeing the people you care about.

“We are going to miss him every day. There is no getting over it or moving forward without carrying Ian with us.”

8 comments

  1. avatar
    Brandi West

    So tragic. Hugs and prayers to all of the team and coaches at U of M.

  2. avatar
    Allison Hoffer

    So very sad. Prayers for his family and Michigan team.

  3. Pamela Wu

    Prayers to his families and friends. RIP.

  4. Emily Austin

    These elite college athletes are really good at pushing through. They don’t talk about their struggles. But trust me, they’re all dealing with something. It’s our job to check in and ask the hard questions

  5. avatar
    Anonymous

    Run don’t walk to the bookstore or online at purchase and read “What Made Maddie Run.” We MUST as parents of athletes understand our children, our performers, what are their pressures and struggles! This is real and frightening.