Chris Herren: Not Your Average Motivational Speaker - Kingswood Oxford

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December 06, 2023

Chris Herren: Not Your Average Motivational Speaker

Returning to KO as one of our most impactful and impressive speakers, former Celtic and motivational speaker Chris Herren visited campus to share his incredible story about addiction and recovery. Herren’s was not your typical assembly; he acknowledged that he was the kid in the audience in high school who would roll his eyes when they brought in motivational speakers to talk about drugs and addiction. Herren was confident he would never be “that kid,” so he would tune them out. Herren said, “I wish I had a chance to go back to that seat in the auditorium years ago and just listen.”

 

Herren was a high school basketball from Fall River, Massachusetts, and as past coaches recounted, “the best player they had ever seen come through the program.” In a town where basketball was a way of life and a central bloodline of the community, Herren had scouts frequent his games, recruiting him from as young as middle school. He partly attributes his eventual addiction to the enormous amount of pressure he was under and feeling the responsibility to be successful, no matter what. In those high school days in teammates’ and friends’ basements, Herren recounts watching those kids who chose not to participate in the drinking or smoking that took place. He remembers thinking they must have something figured out but wasn’t sure what. “I could figure out basketball and school; that was no problem,” he said. “What I couldn’t figure out was navigating Friday nights.” He impressed to the audience that if there are kids that choose not to participate in these activities, to not make fun of them, but instead respect the decision to do so, a decision Herren deeply wishes he had made in the beginning.

 

After graduating from Fall River, Herren played ball for Boston College, a school he had always revered, and was introduced to cocaine early on in his college career. That experience followed him, and he began using oxycontin and other drugs. The hidden drug use came to a head when he was randomly drug-tested before a game and failed several times. A teary Herren had to share his addiction problem at a press conference in front of teammates, family, and friends who had no idea. Given a second chance with Fresno State in California, he was a second-round draft pick for the Nuggets in 1999. Herren describes this year as “one of the healthiest of his life” because the coaches and managers of the team helped him each step of the way by checking in and making sure he wasn’t using or involved in anything drug or alcohol related. 

 

 

 

When he returned for his sophomore year, his coaches surprised him with the news that he had been traded to the Boston Celtics, a childhood dream of his as this was the team and players he had grown up idolizing. However, the fact that the school was near his old neighborhood reinvigorated his drug use. For the next 10+ years, Herren would lead two lives. One, the basketball star, loving husband and father, and the other the drug user, making secret trips to his dealer, waiting on a street corner in his sweatpants before a game, waiting for his dealer to deliver oxycontin because he couldn’t play the game while straight. He sold anything of value in his home, including his kids’ X-boxes and vacuum cleaners, to pawn money for drugs. Eventually, Herren overdosed and crashed his vehicle. When the paramedics found him, they told him he had been legally dead for 30 seconds.

 

After checking himself into rehab, he ended up using again. On a visit to see his wife and newborn son in the hospital, his wife noticed he was on drugs and told him to get clean, and if he didn’t, to never come back. Herren contemplated suicide but chose to fight for his health and his family. After completing intensive rehabilitation programs for over a year, Herren has been alcohol and drug-free since August 1, 2008. One of his most significant accomplishments is being “the same dad every day” to his three children for the last 15 years, something when he was using, he was not.

 

During his talk, Herren emphasized to the students that society often focuses on what a “junkie” looks like on their worst days, or those days deep into their addiction sickness, not the first one. He emphasized the importance of that first day and choosing to start using. He also talked about the why. He said he wished his mother had asked him why to try to identify the root and reasoning behind his poor choices. Herren believes if parents, caretakers, and friends take this approach it can be a key piece on the road to addiction recovery.

 

Herren hears from hundreds of students nationwide in response to his talks and reading about friends or family members who may be struggling. Herren and his wife have started Herren Wellness, a holistic wellness service and center that helps patients with addiction through self-reflection and discovery. They create personalized plans with each individual’s needs in mind. This unique approach combines holistic wellness with medical and clinical collaboration. He also runs centers that house patients during their recovery process. 

 

Herren’s strong but empathetic nature commanded the audience’s respect, who sat in silence for over an hour, listening acutely to his every word. After his presentation, he took questions from the students and said he would consider his talk a success if he reached just one student.

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KO and a Cup of Joe – Thursday Mornings throughout the Summer

Join us for a brief information session to learn about the academic and co-curricular offerings at Kingswood Oxford School during the summer: June 20, 27, July 11, 18, 25, August 1, and 8 at 8:30 a.m. in Roberts Building’s lower lobby. For more information, contact our Admissions Office at (860) 727-5000. What a Difference a Day Makes!