#208 – Tragedy, grief, healing, and finding happiness | Kelsey Chittick

There's just a real relief when you stop wishing it was different, whatever it is.” —Kelsey Chittick

Read Time 53 minutes

Kelsey Chittick is the author of Second Half: Surviving Loss and Finding Magic in the Missing. In this episode, Kelsey describes her long healing process following the sudden death of her husband, former NFL player Nate Hobgood-Chittick. She describes her life with Nate before and after football, including her premonitions that something was off about Nate and the subsequent finding that he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). She speaks openly about how she handled his death with her children, the trauma and grief they faced in the aftermath, and how she’s found ways to be happy in her new life. She shares deep insights into her healing process, including her experience with psychedelics and how the concept of “radical acceptance” has helped her to find joy once again.

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We discuss:

  • Kelsey’s childhood in Florida as an athlete [2:15];
  • Meeting Nate and early relationship with him [7:45];
  • Nate’s unbelievable work ethic and desire to play in the NFL [12:30];
  • Life with a professional football player, playing through pain, and head injuries related to football [17:00];
  • Nate’s final days of football and early retirement struggles [23:30];
  • The tough transition from the NFL to a “regular life” and how Nate found a way to serve others [28:45];
  • Nate’s struggle with his weight and overall health after retirement [34:45];
  • Kelsey’s anxiety and premonitions of Nate’s impending death, and Nate’s changing demeanor [37:30];
  • The traumatic experience of learning of Nate’s death during her own spiritual journey to Jamaica [45:30];
  • Breaking the news to her children of their father’s death [51:00];
  • The darkest days following Nate’s passing and how her children were handling grief [55:30];
  • A new relationship with death, finding happiness, and the duality of feelings [1:02:45];
  • Nate’s autopsy results showing evidence of CTE [1:07:00];
  • The grieving process [1:15:00];
  • Dealing with grief with kids and how children grieve differently [1:19:15];
  • Healing through her first psychedelic experience [1:23:00];
  • The therapeutic potential of psychedelics, meditation, and more [1:33:45];
  • The concept of “radical acceptance” and the peace that comes with it [1:42:30];
  • The up-and-down experience of writing her book [1:47:45];
  • More.

§

Kelsey’s childhood in Florida as an athlete [2:15]

Growing up in Florida

  • Kelsey grew up in Winter Park, Florida
  • She began swimming at age 4 and racing at age 6
  • Collegiate sports were not on the radar when she was a kid, as they are now
  • She lived in Florida and wanted to be outside; she and her friends loved swimming
  • She didn’t think about college sports until maybe 9th grade when she won
    • She got 2nd at state
    • In her sophomore year, she won state in 100 back and 100 fly
    • She was terrible at breaststroke
  • In high school she didn’t know about recruiting; it wasn’t huge to get a scholarship
    • Especially for female athletes
  • In her junior year her coach told her that she could get a scholarship
  • Her family wasn’t into sports
    • Everybody did their own thing
    • Not  like now with parents driving their kids to special coaches and meets, etc.
  • Kelsey remembers going to a basketball game with one of her girlfriends whose dad had gone to UNC, maybe this was my junior year
    • Long story short, but her friend’s brother dated the swim coach’s daughter
    • The basketball game was huge in Chapel Hill; UNC might have been playing Duke Carolina game
    • Someone at the game remarked that UNC (Carolina) was impossible to get in out of state
      • Kelsey decided to try to get in
      • She met the swim coach and he said, “Call me when you’re at the end of your junior year
  • She doesn’t think she got into UNC at first
    • They had already given a scholarship to a girl from Ohio
  • Kelsey got an offer for Miami and FSU Florida
    • She wanted to get out of Florida so badly 
      • Everybody she knew was going there
      • She wanted to have a new experience
  • She waited on accepting offers from Florida and that spring the girl decided to go somewhere else, so she got into UNC
  • Kelsey turned down in-state scholarships
    • She didn’t want to swim against all the same people she grew up with
    • She was excited to have a new experience at UNC Chapel Hill
  • She spent the 1st 2 years at UNC with just a tuition scholarship (her parents paid room and board)
  • She swam 100 back, 200 back, 100 fly
    • She didn’t want to swim the 200 fly
  • Peter likes long distance swimming
    • When he swam in the pool, the only thing he could swim is breaststroke
    • He’s a pretty bad at freestyle despite the fact that he can swim it for a long period of time (but not fast)
  • Kelsey graduated from high school in ’95 and Chapel Hill in ’99

 

Meeting Nate and early relationship with him [7:45]

  • She met Nate in 1998, the summer before starting her junior year
    • She had just finished her sophomore year swimming
    • She was a hot mess; she’d gained a ton of weight
      • She ate cream cheese and croissant sandwiches because they had training table
      • She had nights out
      • Her face and body were not primed for winning anything
    • She started dating a guy who had a weed problem and was running with a crowd that wasn’t conducive to being excellent
      • This guy was on the swim team
      • At Carolina at the time you couldn’t rush a sorority or fraternity if you were on a swim athletic team; the team was your group
      • She dated this guy for a while before she met Nate 
  • She didn’t love swim as much as she did in high school
    • She didn’t love that her scholarship depended on it and that all her friends did the same thing
    • In high school she had 12 girlfriends but everybody was different; she was the swimmer
    • Once she got to Chapel Hill, they were all fighting for NCAA or a spot on the relay
      • It was a different experience
  • She met Nate at a bar; he was going into his 5th year, senior year
    • She remembers he was an absolutely enormous man with more confidence than you’ve ever seen in your life
    • He had more swagger for a huge fat guy; it was unbelievable
    • That night and he gave her this napkin that said, “If you want the best, say goodbye to the rest. Go home with me and I’ll make you happy.”
    • She met him that night but they didn’t really see each other for a while
  • It turned out one of her roommates was dating a guy on the offensive line named Ryan and so a couple months later they had a house party where we watched X-Files, everybody partied and got drunk and danced, and Nate was there
    • At some point that night, the guy she was dating called and Nate just walked over and took the phone and was like, “She’s with me now.” And that was it
  • From the minute she met him, she knew there was something
  • He was from nothing; a poor kid from Allentown; a guy that hustled
  • Her father was a lawyer and her mom was very politically active
    • She grew up in a country club life
    • Her town was very Southern and Christian
  • When she met Nate, he was so different; he was connected
    • When he would sit and listen to her, she felt  like she was the most important person in the world
      • He did that with everybody

There was a way when he walked into a room that you could tell everybody loved him and he loved them”— Kelsey Chittick

  • She knew that first night something was different about him

{end of show notes preview}

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Kelsey Chittick

Kelsey Chittick is a writer, comedian and inspirational speaker. Over the past 14 years, she has performed stand-up comedy all over Los Angeles and speaks at events around the country. She is the co-creator of KeepON, an inspiring and humorous podcast that explores how our greatest obstacles turn out to be our greatest gifts.

Growing up in Florida, Kelsey was an accomplished student and athlete—an NCAA Championship individual qualifier and captain of the UNC women’s swimming team. She was married to Super Bowl champion Nate Hobgood-Chittick. [Second Half]

Instagram: @kelseydchittick

Disclaimer: This blog is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute the practice of medicine, nursing or other professional health care services, including the giving of medical advice, and no doctor/patient relationship is formed. The use of information on this blog or materials linked from this blog is at the user's own risk. The content of this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Users should not disregard, or delay in obtaining, medical advice for any medical condition they may have, and should seek the assistance of their health care professionals for any such conditions.
  1. Well, you did it again. I was disappointed when I saw the topic this morning, but begrudgingly listened and ended up loving it. Kelsey was a great guest. Thankfully, I was sweating pretty hard at the gym so I don’t think anyone noticed when I was crying.

    I played O Line in high school. I think all offensive lineman share something special. We give our all so that someone else can score touchdowns on Friday Night or Saturday or Sunday. We do it for the team. To succeed, you generally have to be a pretty selfless guy. It sounds like Nate was exactly that.

    I am sorry for Kelsey and her children’s loss, but what she says is absolutely true… her children who had a father only fleetingly are better off than many who either never had a father or had an abusive one.

    My prayers are with them.

  2. Thank you Kelsey for sharing your story which touched me in so many ways. And thank you Peter for your sensitive questioning. This was one of my favourites.

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