CORVALLIS, Ore. – From the outside, Ray Tricker and Jesse Lewis – co-teachers of the Drugs in Sports class at Oregon State University – couldn’t seem more different.
Tricker is an associate professor in the Department of Public Health at OSU. A soft-spoken man who is originally from England, Tricker is a body builder and runner who is an advocate for a healthy, athletic lifestyle. He still lifts weights, runs and cycles regularly. Tricker recently won first place for his age group in a drug-free bodybuilding competition.
Lewis is a native of Aumsville, Ore. who lost everything – including a promising career in professional football – when he developed a serious drug problem that lasted almost two decades. Clean and sober since 1990, Lewis works as the head of athletic facilities management for OSU.
For the past 18 years, Tricker and Lewis have brought their shared experiences to students, who can hear from them firsthand the consequences of drug use.
“I talk to them about not going down the wrong path,” Lewis said. “The choices they are making now will affect them forever.”
Lewis said he began using drugs in the 1960s. At the time, he was a student at OSU, where he was a NCAA champion, an all-American tackle in football and became famous for chasing down then-student O.J. Simpson in game against Southern California and leading the team to victory.
Lewis also competed as a wrestler in the Olympics in Mexico City, coming in sixth.
But casual drug use became an addiction to speed, which later became an addiction to methamphetamine. Soon Lewis had lost a career with the Houston Oilers, and soon was back in Aumsville, heavily using drugs.
It was the late Dale Thomas, Lewis’ wrestling coach at OSU, who he credits with saving his life.
“He got me clean and sober,” Lewis said. “I guess that saying is true. If you coach a person, you’re their coach for life.”
Every term, Lewis, shares his story with students as part of the Drugs in Sports class.
“We bring in many guest speakers in this class, but Jesse is the one that really affects the students,” Tricker said. “He really is an amazing person with a story to tell.”
Likewise, Lewis has kind words for Tricker, who he affectionately calls “Dr. T.”
“I wish I could have had Dr. T in my life earlier to help me step up and think about what I was doing,” Lewis said. “Maybe I would have examined my choices more carefully and really looked at that fork in the road.”
Tricker and Lewis say the class is structured as an interactive experience. There are no tests, but instead a series of writing assignments that ask students to share their experiences. Many of the students are athletes, and others come from just about every college at OSU.
Tricker has published papers based on the class and his research surrounding drugs in athletics. He said in the 18 years he has taught the class, the number of students affected by drug use has remained constant.
“About 50 percent say drug use has impacted their life,” Tricker said. “That statistic is the same for every class, every term. Usually, it is a family member, but sometimes it is a friend.”
The final each term is a presentation given at a Corvallis middle school. OSU students are asked to give a presentation that reflects on what they have learned or experienced about the impact of drug use.
“This class is always different, always fresh,” Tricker said. “We build the class on their experiences, so it is always evolving.”
Sometimes surprising stories come out of the student’s final presentation. Oregon State catcher and business administration major Mitch Canham took the class last year and shared the story of his mother’s drug problem with middle school students. He said the experience of taking the class was profound for him.
“The class helped me personally in ways that are just hard to describe,” Canham said.
“Jess has been through so much in his life and his story helped me to keep focused on how valuable life really is. It is a great opportunity to reflect on thoughts about drug abuse and it’s an opportunity to help out the youth of our community.”
Lewis said one of the reasons he believes the class is so successful is that he and Tricker never preach to the students. It is not about telling them what to do, but instead to engage them and help them develop critical thinking skills, he said.
“I just want them to know there’s a better choice out there for them,” he said.
Tricker said students are always surprised to find out how involved the class really is, because it has such a popular reputation.
“I think they come in here thinking it will be an easy ‘A,’” he said, chuckling.
“But then they realize that this isn’t a class where you can sit and take notes and not engage. It requires and demands them to be involved, to share and to open up.”