At the University of Detroit Mercy, Abby McCollum always seems to be helping out: She has volunteered for organizations that feed the hungry, plant trees and pick up trash.
But she has also earned a reputation for helping out on the field. This year, McCollum became the first female student-athlete to play four sports at the Division I school – all because the teams were saddled with injuries, and McCollum was poised to help.
She ended up playing soccer, basketball and softball, and even jumped into a sport that she had never played in high school: lacrosse. Her work ethic and multifaceted athletic ability propelled her success.
“I think if you push yourself while you’re pushing others, you’re going to build relationships and trust,” McCollum said. “You build a level of respect when you’re all going through the same thing, and I’ve always tried to motivate people that way.”
The La Salle, Mich., native was originally recruited for track and field, but her shot-put career ended in high school when she hyperextended her elbow. And so, when Detroit Titans head coach Mike Lupenec – who remembered McCollum from her club soccer days – approached her about joining the team, she was excited for the chance.
Lupenec’s hunch proved to be a good one. McCollum garnered a spot on the Horizon League All-Newcomer Soccer Team. As a sophomore forward, she led the Titans in goals and assists.
But she wasn’t done delivering on-the-field surprises. Her desire to help kicked in, and she picked up a lacrosse stick for the first time as a sophomore.
“The lacrosse team was low on numbers, so they asked me to play,” McCollum said. “I didn’t know any rules and was going in completely blind, but I wanted to help.”
McCollum, a criminal justice major, participated in five lacrosse games her sophomore year and took three shots as a forward during the 2011 season. She was familiar with juggling multiple sports, having competed in four at Monroe High School: soccer, basketball, track and football.
She returned to soccer as a team captain for her junior and senior years. She lent more than a helping hand, finishing her career tied for eighth on Detroit’s all-time assists list.
Yet when her soccer career ended, McCollum found herself longing for the routine and conditioning that sports provide.
“After you realize you’re done with your college career you’re kind of depressed,” McCollum said. “You’re finally getting a break, but no one is telling you to get on the line or blowing a whistle in your ear anymore.”
Craving a way to stay active, McCollum found herself in the gym. The 21-year-old dribbled through Calihan Hall, often spotted by head women’s basketball coach Autumn Rademacher.
“I always saw her working out, and her build alone says ‘Wow!’” Rademacher said. “She’s really strong and really solid. I would say to myself, ‘I bet she could beat up on a few people in the Horizon League.’ She’s a real dedicated athlete.”
Plagued by team injuries, Rademacher realized she could use the 5-foot-11-inch McCollum. Suddenly a loud whistle and running suicides were back in McCollum’s life.
She stepped onto the hardwood midway through the season in January. In April, she made her first appearance in a softball game, becoming an unlikely four-sport athlete – all from a willingness to help.