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Video: Redbird Chloe Nelson finds strength after family tragedy

Fans who watch Redbird women’s basketball player Chloe Nelson generally come away impressed by her wits and determination. What’s not immediately apparent is the strength in the face of tragedy that’s become a driving force for her.

One day during her senior year of high school, Nelson and her mother and siblings returned home from church to find her father, Alfred, had committed suicide. He had struggled with depression.

“That brought my family so much closer, just with being so honest with each other and realizing what strength is all about,” Nelson says. “That year alone, about 39,000 people in America committed suicide. That touched me in a way to try to make everyone enjoy life.”

Nelson came to Illinois State to play basketball and pursue a psychology degree. She worked hard, for herself and for others.

“It’s never about Chloe Nelson,” says Illinois State women’s basketball coach Barb Smith. “She’s a whole person. Whatever she decides to do, she’s going to go all out.”

The senior point guard’s all-out effort is getting results. She’s known for her numerous volunteer efforts effort in the community, sports a 3.95 cumulative GPA—which includes appearances on the Dean’s list each semester—and this year, the All-Valley First Team honoree leads the Redbirds with 13.9 points per game. Last season, she averaged just 1.7.

Nelson says her time at Illinois State has been transformative, calling the campus community a family.

“I don’t remember one professor that doesn’t know me by name. To be able come here and feel like you’re supported, that was something that was really important to me,” she says.

As her team prepares for the weekend’s Missouri Valley Conference tournament in St. Charles, Smith offers a prediction for Chloe.

“She’s going to be somebody who can influence the situation for the better and be a team builder in whatever she’s doing.”

R.C. McBride can be reached at