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Niskayuna native Kate Fagan tells story of Penn athlete's suicide

Niskayuna native Kate Fagan tells story of Penn athlete's suicide

'What Made Maddy Run' is her 2nd book
Niskayuna native Kate Fagan tells story of Penn athlete's suicide
Kate Fagan and her new book.
Photographer: Provided

Editor's note: This was updated at 11:55 a.m. Oct. 1 to fix the spelling of Madison Holleran's last name.

Kate Fagan knows as well as anyone how feelings of insecurity and anxiety can make life miserable for a college freshman far away from home. Fortunately, she had the tools to deal with it. Maddy Holleran, tragically, did not.

Fagan, a Niskayuna native who played four years of Division I college basketball at the University of Colorado and is now an on-air personality for ESPN and a writer for espnW and ESPN: The Magazine, has just had her second book published, "Why Did Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American Teen."

In it, Fagan tells the story of Holleran, a talented, popular and intelligent young woman who ended her life on June 17, 2014, by jumping off the ninth floor of a parking garage.

"I remember hearing about it either that same day or the next morning," said Fagan, a 1999 graduate of Niskayuna High School. "I had lived in Philadelphia for three years and I knew some people on the Penn track and field team so it was immediately on my radar."

Fagan's first book was her own story, a memoir about her time as a freshman with the Colorado Buffaloes in 2000. "The Reappearing Act," published in 2012 was her tale of feeling alone and out of place as a young gay woman on a team loaded with devout Christians.

"Part of the reason why I wanted to tell the story is that I did see shades of myself in Madison," said Fagan during a phone conversation last week. "At the University of Colorado I almost quit my freshman year. My teammates were lovely people. They were just very involved in Christianity and I had a lot of anxiety about it. I write in the book that I was so scared of going to practice that I took an entire bottle of iron pills thinking it would make sick enough that I wouldn't have to practice."

Fortunately for Fagan, things never got worse because she says she was never clinically depressed.

"There are parts of Maddy's story that I cannot quite relate to," continued Fagan. "It was clear she was suffering from depression. Her parents were just about to get her on medication to help, so there was a genetic part of her health makeup that I did not have to deal with. I'm so thankful that part wasn't in the mix for me."

After graduating from Colorado, Fagan spent three years as a Philadelphia 76ers beat writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer before hooking up with ESPN. Along with writing for ESPN: The Magazine and espnW, she does a Saturday morning radio show with Sarah Spain and Jane McManus called "The Trifecta," and can also be seen on ESPN's "Around the Horn" and "Outside the Lines."

"When I was 13 I can remember reading a story about the UConn women's basketball team with Rebecca Lobo, and it was on the cover," said Fagan. "I read the article on their season and said to myself, 'I want to do this. I want to write.' "

Before writing her book on Holleran's suicide, she had already written a story on the tragedy for ESPN: The Magazine.

"There were a lot of simplistic headlines, like 'star jumps to her death over grades,' and we just wanted to explore her story a bit further," said Fagan. "I had reached out to the parents for the magazine story and spent some time at their house in Allendale. They worked with us on a video piece that ran in conjunction with the story, and the response from their community was that it was the one thing they felt really explained to some degree what happened to Madison. So when I approached them about expanding the story into a book, they trusted me. They knew I would do it in a compassionate way."

Fagan has no immediate plans for another book, but she's always looking for an idea. Right now she's happy with her career at ESPN, and if you want to call it her dream job she won't put up a fight.

"I am doing some version of it," she said. "A lot of people realize, whatever your dream job is, you end up doing something that didn't exist when you were a kid. But yeah, I'm very happy, so this is a version of it."

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