Screenshot: Instagram/Canisius College

Over the summer, Canisius College cross-country runner Emily Scheck was disowned by her family after her mother discovered a photo of Scheck with her girlfriend, leaving her to rely on donations from friends to pay for food.

Then, according to Outsports, the NCAA and Canisius College, a private Jesuit university in Western New York, insisted Scheck either return the donations or leave the team.

Scheck told Outsports that her parents gave her the choice to attend conversion therapy or be cut off, both financially and emotionally, from her family. After ignoring the ultimatum, Scheck came home to find the license plates removed from her car and the car stuffed with all of her belongings. Her parents also left her with a Discover bill full of charges for a recent family vacation and no way to pay for school, books, or food.

“At the start it was definitely tough,” Scheck said about those first few days when she realized she was suddenly on her own without support of family. “I was lucky to be in preseason the first couple of weeks because coach could get us meals in the dining hall.” Yet since then she has struggled to find food, often relying on her girlfriend for dinner. “We’ve had a lot of meals together,” she said.

After a coach promised to find housing and food money for Scheck but failed to do so for several months, Scheck’s roommate started a GoFundMe that quickly generated $25,000, enough for a semester’s tuition with some left over for food, books, housing, and car insurance.

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However, within days, Scheck was contacted by the NCAA, who said she could either return the money or quit the team.

That’s when someone at the school or the NCAA— Scheck isn’t quite sure — took notice. She said she was contacted by an NCAA compliance officer at Canisius College and told she had two options, per his communication with the NCAA: Return every penny and maintain her NCAA eligibility, or keep the money and leave the cross-country team.

Scheck quit the team. In a statement to Outsports, the college defended its decision:

After a review by the College’s compliance staff, and following consultation with the NCAA, it was determined that the online crowdfunding webpage was organized and promoted in a manner not permitted under NCAA legislation. Canisius informed the student-athletes that it would be necessary to end the online fundraising effort and work with the website host to return the donations received in order to preserve the student-athlete’s eligibility.

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But after a flurry of deservedly bad press around the college and the NCAA, they changed their tune, announcing yesterday that Scheck could keep the donations.  

Meanwhile, for three months Scheck was a full-time student working two jobs and competing for the college as a student athlete while relying on friends for food. To date, the GoFundMe has raised $43,295.