Making a difference

St. Cyr finds rewards after playing career ends

Mike Mattson | Daily Press Alexis St. Cyr, right, studies the action at a recent Gladstone girls’ basketball game. St. Cyr, a standout prep player at Gladstone, has overcome some adversity and given the Braves a boost as an assistant coach.

ESCANABA — An asthma affliction ended her playing career, but it has not kept Alexis St. Cyr off the hardwood.

The former Gladstone High School All-U.P. cager spent this season as a volunteer assistant coach for the Braves. Her playing career ended three months into her freshman season at Wisconsin-Whitewater, including an asthma-induced blackout of about eight minutes at a practice session in 2016.

The sport-induced asthma first kicked in while attending sixth grade in Escanaba and eventually it was linked to her menstrual cycle. “We tried every single medicine. My senior season (at Gladstone) was a hard time, but we didn’t let anybody else know,” she said.

St. Cyr, an All-U.P. guard in 2014-15, looked into Whitewater on a recommendation from her AAU coach. Two to three weeks into practice with the Warhawks, St. Cyr recalls sleeping 18 hours straight.

“We had basketball seven days a week. Once two-a-days began I couldn’t keep up and I had asthma attacks at practice,” she said.

Frustrated and stressed out, St. Cyr made four trips home for treatment and consultation.

During a defensive drill in January the back-up point guard remembers hearing a whistle blow, then the next thing she recalls is waking up with her coach and team trainer above her. “That freaks you out,” she said. “I knew the asthma attack was coming. I blacked out for eight minutes.”

That was the beginning of the end to her basketball career, something she had been dreaming of for several years. She was unable to get medical clearance at Whitewater or from her home physician to keep playing. “I could not suit up for the rest of the season,” she said.

St. Cyr had also wanted to get into special education, but found it difficult to go through the classes as her life caved in. “That is all I ever wanted to do,” she said. “In spring it hit me so hard. I was in such a low place. Basketball was my entire life and my body would not allow me to do that anymore. I had to get away. I was a walking zombie for about three months. I lost myself in my room for about three months. I didn’t go anywhere.”

She spent her time “reading and talking to God. I saw a light at the end of the tunnel. I cried about it and knew I wanted to do something to make a difference.”

She found a baby-sitting job and also began nurturing a relationship she had started with the school’s soccer goalie, Alex Bachman of Waterford, Wis. They are now engaged and he is in graduate school while she is back home, teaching at Head Start for CAA and as a resident care worker at Bridgewood.

“We are in a very committed relationship and thinking about a future family. My main responsibility is getting Alex through school and when he is done, I will go back to Bay College. We’re taking it one step at a time.”

She also came home to help her parents, Gloria and Monty St. Cyr, operate NuWay Laundry and Dry Cleaners. “They are the greatest parents anybody could have ever had,” she said.

“Every day going to work is worth it. It is a big stress reliever for me,” she said. “I am so happy right where I am right now. The kids and the residents teach me more every day than I ever learned in the classroom.”

She took three of the Bridgewood residents to Gladstone’s game in Rapid River and gave them the chance to sit behind the team bench and later meet some of the players.

“That was good for both sides of my life,” she said with a chuckle. “It brought both of my jobs together and made it a lot easier. I have a lot of roles, but I live in the moment. The more I can help now the more I will be blessed later.”

Gladstone coach Eric Lundin asked her to help with the basketball team before the season began, telling her the players need her and she can reach them on a level he could not attain.

“They want to learn and it makes me get my point-guard mentality out,” St. Cyr said. “This is my little basketball escape.”

Lundin has been impressed with what she has accomplished. “I call her a player-coach,” he said. “You look for leaders on a team and she was definitely a leader. She welcomed the opportunity this year and has been very valuable in a lot of aspects, drill demonstrations, working with our guards, we bound ideas off each other.

“She has stepped in and had conversations with players about dealing with adversity after a tough game, the mental attitude about shooting. I’ve encouraged players to go to her. I always welcome her help during games. We talk about matchups before games. A lot of decisions we make are joint decisions.

“She is going to be a great coach someday.”

Gladstone junior guard Taylor Hunter has become close with St. Cyr, who has helped her with ball-handling, shooting, decision-making, etc.

“I’ve watched her since middle school. She is like an older sister,” Hunter said. “I look forward to having her here. When she is here, I feel like I play better. She relates to us and we all look up to her. She is easy to talk to, easy to approach.”

The opportunity to work with the Braves, and get some practice time at a reduced pace, has been beneficial for St Cyr’s departure from the game.

“I have a gift when it comes to basketball, God-given,” she said, indicating her playing level now is about 45 percent of what it was at Whitewater. “It still sucks every day because I can’t play a sport I love, but the transition to coaching has worked very well. It has made me realize that coaching is exactly what I want to do.”

She credits former Gladstone coach Karl Dollhopf and Lundin for their direction and guidance while she played for the Braves and now working for Lundin. “The coaching staff I had here cared about you more than anything. Karl has been an amazing mentor for me.”

She said Dollhopf was particularly helpful monitoring her asthma condition by giving her rest breaks as a player.

“She said Dollhopf “helped me become a better person, a better player” and that Lundin “helped me become a better person and a better coach.”

At practices she will jump in during 1-on-1 drills and in some scrimmages has worked extensively with Hunter, Alyssa Polley, Maddie Ahlgren and Kaitlyn Hardwick.

“I’ve tried to push them to go faster, go quicker,” she said, noting how that is the staple which has made Houghton a prime team for many years.

“They are quicker than everybody else, you need to adjust on the fly against them, you need to learn to pace yourself,” she said.

St. Cyr has also talked about the need for the girls to communicate, in basketball and in life.

“Sports taught me how to communicate with people, have one-on-one conversations,” she said. “My number one thing is to communicate on and off the court.”