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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

At Gonzaga, Emma Moon guides student-athletes toward their highest potential

Emma Moon, student-athlete counselor at Gonzaga University, for Difference Makers series. Colin Mulvany/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

The student-athletes at Gonzaga University are a self-driven bunch, or they wouldn’t be there in the first place.

But what happens when the cheering stops and the only voice they hear is full of self-doubt?

Sometimes, they turn that voice to the support of others.

Intercollegiate athletics is 1 percent glory and 99 percent guts, and that intestinal fortitude is tested every day, in season and out. Student-athletes must juggle books and balls and boyfriends, and hope nothing drops.

However, even self-starters need a reboot from time to time. That’s where Emma Moon steps in.

“That’s a big part of our job, supporting them so they don’t feel stressed,” said Moon, the director of life skills development at Gonzaga’s Student-Athlete Support Services department.

Moon, 27, knows their potential because she’s walked in their shoes – and their crutches. A former soccer player at GU, the British Columbia native overcame heart surgery and an ACL injury.

She graduated in 2012, straight into her current job at GU.

She’s the “epitome of what being a Zag is all about,” said her supervisor, Mike Roden.

On any given day, Moon is a counselor, confidante or cheerleader for more than 300 student-athletes. She’s paying it forward every day.

Two weeks ago, during finals week, Moon served as den mother for several dozen GU student-athletes who sat elbow-to-elbow in the resource center.

It’s a high-stress time for everyone. Apart from the light tapping of keys on laptops, the room is quiet. Plates of cookies sit nearby, comfort food for an uncomfortable week.

But this isn’t about coddling jocks in order to keep them eligible to play. Most of GU’s student-athletes enter the school with strong academics.

This is about empowerment, about turning callow freshmen into confident seniors who will not only take the world by the horns but give something back.

“The fulfillment is watching them come in as nervous freshmen coming into such an enormous opportunity,” Moon said “And taking part in all our community outreach events, and then watching them on graduation day become strong, confident leaders.”

Using her own experiences as a foundation, Moon has helped redefine GU’s student-athlete Life Skills Program to emphasize community outreach and volunteerism, leadership development and career planning.

Last year, the Zags volunteered more than 3,250 hours in and around the Spokane community, with more than 25 different nonprofit agencies and local schools.

Moon has fashioned a few minor miracles along the way.

Four years ago, basketball player Emma Wolfram came to GU with all the promise in the world. However, after helping the Zags make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament in 2014-15, Wolfram has undergone three major surgeries.

Wolfram played only one game as a sophomore. She stayed healthy last year, but surgery left her on the sidelines again this season

“There have been a lot of times where I wanted to pack it in,” Wolfram said. “You have days where you don’t know how you’re going to keep pushing through.”

Both raised in B.C.’s Okanagan Valley, the two Emmas formed a special bond.

Recalling her playing days, Moon said that some injured players “feel detached, like you’re not part of the team.”

But just as Roden was there for her, Moon repaid the favor to Wolfram. “We had some conversations about the impact she could still have on the team,” Moon said.

Wolfram took it a step further. This year, she’s president of Gonzaga’s Student-Athletic Advisory Council, taking the lead in community outreach events such as Catholic Charities, Habitat for Humanity and others.

“She’s gone through a lot more than I did,” Moon said. “It’s been impressive to watch her.”

Then again, GU’s student-athletes would say the same of Moon.