"Athletes should appreciate that they have the ability to compete. We always say, 'Run like it's your last race.' When that last race was taken away, they got to see how true that statement really is."
- Coach Ruqayya Gibson
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For the last several years, Ruqayya Gibson has been pursuing an extremely important mission.
In 2019, when her 17-year-old son Damani died suddenly of cardiac arrest after a high school practice, she was left with a hundred questions and no answers.
Why did it happen?
For several months afterward, Gibson said, she did not find her purpose of living. The pain of losing her son was hard to overcome.
But soon enough, ideas began to emerge. The Former Houston Cypress Springs High School (TX) and current University of Houston volunteer track and field coach created the Damani Gibson Foundation to educate her community on what athletes, coaches and students should do if they are put in a life-or-death situation out on the practice field or at home.
How To Help
As the month of October is cardiac awareness month, join Coach Gibson on Oct. 24 for a Race to End Sudden Cardiac Arrest, a virtual walk to raise awareness of sudden cardiac arrest.
Recently, Gibson sat down with MileSplit's Olivia Ekpone to talk about a variety of topics, from her son's foundation, to mental health, to her time in coaching and previously as a track and field athlete at the University of Iowa.
For Gibson, the most rewarding piece of being a coach is when an athlete grows confidence within themselves on and off the track. As she watches her team evolve to confident young adults, she says, it enables her to make a bigger impact in the Houston area.
For many, the pandemic has put a toll on athletes, coaches, families, educators, and others mentally over the last several months. Especially during this time, Gibson knows how important it is for high school athletes to remain positive.
According to the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation, there are more than 356,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests (OHCA) annually in the US and nearly 90-percent of them are fatal.
In a 2020 update, roughly 7,000 of those deaths are from children.
This led Gibson to begin the Damani Gibson Foundation and led her to begin educating people in the community on the subject.