Childhood set back proves inspirational for soon to be Ohio State graduate
As a talented middle school basketball player for the Grace Christian School Warriors, AJ Bennett aspired to one day take his talent to the college courts with hopes of one day making it to the NBA. Those dreams took an unexpected turn when he began experiencing stress related seizures.
Through the guidance and inspiration of a central Ohio sports psychologist, Bennett turned a potential negative into a defining moment in his life. Nearly a decade later, Bennett is now on schedule to graduate from The Ohio State University spring semester 2023 with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, a successful basketball skills training business in Columbus, and an insatiable desire to open his own private practice in sports psychology.
"The dream would be to have my own private practice. I could talk to athletes at all different levels. I would also have my own skills training facility attached to my private practice in sports psychology."
According to Bennett his stress related seizures caused memory loss, stiffening in his body, and shaking. Concern by Bennett's parents led the family to Dr. Todd Kays, a sport and performance psychologist in Dublin, Ohio.
"My mom and dad have always been there for me my entire life. They are both able to help me during my lowest times and my highest times," Bennett shared.
Dr. Kays, who has worked with athletes from the PGA, LPGA, Ohio State, the NFL, Columbus Crew Soccer, Major League Baseball, and others, not only helped Bennett but served as an inspiration to pursue a career in sports psychology.
Inspiration for Bennett's journey hasn't only come from his parents or Dr. Kays. His brother, who is diagnosed with autism, has also been a huge inspiration because of how he faces life challenges.
"I help my brother. He looks up to me a lot. He sees how hard I work. He looks up to my work ethic. I look up to him also," said Bennett. "He is rarely mad or depressed. If someone says something negative toward him, he doesn't let that impact him."
Out of high school, Bennett began his pursuit of higher education at Northern Kentucky University, but after one semester determined the alure of home was too strong and transferred to Ohio State's Marion regional campus to pursue a degree in psychology.
"It's home…Ohio is home, said Bennett. "There is no place like Ohio."
While taking classes at The Ohio State University at Marion during the midst of the Covid19 pandemic, Bennett saw success in the classroom, while also building a successful basketball skills training business. Bennett shared that he has a friend who plays guard for Otterbein University that he put him through a workout, and since that time has developed a large base of clientele. He now works with 120 clients and has trained athletes from elementary school all the way up to college division 1 basketball players. Bennett has a close relationship with his former American Athletic Union, (AAU) coach, who provided access to the New Covenant Believers Church Gymnasium in Columbus where he trains. He now embraces the direction his life has taken as a mentor, trainer, and future sports psychologist.
"I always had big dreams of playing college basketball and going to the NBA," said Bennett. "I came to the realization that I am only 5'9" and 155 pounds," said Bennett. "Honestly, I don't regret anything that happened to me in my basketball career. If I would not have gone through what I went through, I wouldn't have the ability to help others," he added.
The physical portion of basketball such as skills drills, ball handling, defense, and shooting are all part of Bennett's business. Additionally, Bennett brings the personal challenges he faced on the court to his training. "It is more than just basketball training, its translating hard work during workout drills to life," he said. "Just when life isn't going your way to keep pushing forward."
He has brought that same intensity to the classroom with the goal of fulfilling his dream to help others succeed and find their path on an off the court.
"I am still shocked I am about to graduate. Time really flies," he said.
When he thinks about all the people that have provided guidance and inspiration to work hard and follow his dream, the first thing that comes to mind is words of advice he got from his uncle early on. "Do what you don't want to do now, so you can do what you want to do later," said Bennett.
According to Bennett, his long-range plan is to continue building his skills training business and pursuing a master's degree.
"Two professors that really helped me," said Bennett, "Ohio State Marion Associate Professor of Psychology, Dr. Nicole Patson helped me with my letters of recommendations. She is one of my favorite professors at Ohio State Marion.
Attending Ohio State Marion also gave him a leg up on many other graduates that have built college loan debt to pursue their passion. "I was awarded a lot of grants throughout the years," said Bennett. Which allows him to graduate debt free.
"The only thing I would recommend is stay on the Dean's list as long as you can because those grants play a big role in helping you," he added.
Bennett also credited Dr. Osei Appiah, a professor of communications on Ohio State's Columbus campus, with supporting his future success.
"He gave me a letter of recommendation. I have known him since I was 14 years old," said Bennett. "He supported my skills training business. I trained his son, who is on the varsity team at Olentangy Orange."
With just a month or two left in his undergraduate education, Bennett has been accepted into 5 sports psychology masters programs and is waiting to see if he receives an assistantship offer from one of the 5 programs. This would provide him a job that covers full tuition plus a stipend. He is not completely sure if his educational journey will culminate with a master's degree or if he will go on to a doctoral program, but he knows he has found his calling.
"I am undecided now, but if needed, I will go for my Ph.D. and potentially become a teacher or professor as well."
Ultimately, Bennett has adopted the philosophy to follow his passions no matter what the obstacles.
"Money doesn't bring happiness," he said. "You should go out and do what you are passionate about doing. Life is too short to do things that you don't like to do. Don't do it for the money. Do what you love, and the money will take care of itself."