Ari Gerber wants student-athletes to feel comfortable talking about mental health.

By Omar Shamout

Ari Gerber playing baseball at UC Riverside.

(UCR/Shane Rodrigues)

Ari Gerber knew something had to change. It was the end of his sophomore year, and the outfielder from San Diego had just gotten a D in organic chemistry — not a positive development for someone with ambitions of going to medical school.

“I felt overwhelmed with baseball practice, games, lifting, and on top of that, class homework,” said Gerber, 22, now a senior. “Because I didn’t set up a base of good studying habits and time management for college, I wasn’t able to adjust.”

So Gerber came up with a new motto: “anti-procrastination.” Whereas before he would do homework, write a paper, and study for tests at the last minute, he knew he had to get a jump on things or he would get buried.

“Now I’m taking notes before class; I’m doing homework as soon as it’s assigned, and I use my days off to prepare for the week,” Gerber said, “I do everything as soon as possible, and it’s worked really well.”

Gerber took the class again the following summer quarter and got an A, kickstarting what his since been a successful college career — he’s even co-authored two independent research papers published in medical journals. But Gerber wasn’t satisfied with simply improving himself. As a member of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee, he’s passionate about advocating for his peers in athletics. Gerber and the other nine members spoke with athletic trainer Jessika Hunt in early 2020 about mental health among student-athletes and how many are scared to bring up the topic for fear of appearing weak. The group has been building a website that offers resources to Highlanders who feel like they need to speak to someone or could use more information.

“We’re trying to set the website up as a place to keep all the resources on one page, so athletes can reach out for what they need,” he said. “The other part is breaking the stigma that mental health is a weakness and anyone that tries to get help is also weak.”

While the pandemic delayed the project, they hope to launch the site later this year. As the baseball team is now back on the field, Gerber is enjoying his last season as a college athlete and relishing every moment with his teammates — unless he’s got studying to do, in which case the team bus turns into his workspace.

“There are guys talking and everything, but for the most part, I use the time, mostly on the way there, to get my notes done for classes and schedule my time for the rest of the week to do my homework,” he said.

Gerber became inspired to pursue medicine as a junior at Santa Fe Christian School in Solana Beach while listening to a teacher recount an experience they had on a school mission trip to India.

“At one of the orphanages, there was a little girl who suffered from a heart defect, and from what I understand, it was easily remedied had there been medical help,” Gerber said. “After returning, they found out the girl had passed away.”

The same week he heard the story, Gerber’s anatomy class began a unit on the cardiovascular system — and he knew from then on what he wanted to do with his life.

“It made me wonder, if it was so easily fixed, why wasn’t anyone there to do it? What I would have done had I had the resources or the ability?” Gerber said.

Gerber hopes to attend UC San Diego near his family after taking a year off to work and save money, but he’ll miss spending time at UCR.

“My favorite part was just walking around the campus,” he said. “It’s really beautiful.”