Purdue Project Purple
Jakob Ziegler (left) and Ellesse Lunde

Jan. 31, 2013

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Inspired by the testimony of former NBA player Chris Herren, two Purdue student-athletes are leading a community charge to promote the awareness of substance abuse the week of Feb. 4.

It's called Purdue Project Purple (#purduegoespurple).

Ellesse Lunde, a senior on the women's swimming team, and Jakob Ziegler, a senior on the men's golf squad, listened to Herren tell his story during a presentation at Purdue on Nov. 8 as part of the athletics department's John R. Wooden Leadership Institute.

They came away moved by Herren's recovery from substance abuse - he has been alcohol and drug-free since August of 2008 - and his commitment to helping individuals and families struggling with addiction. Herren established the Herren Project in 2011.

"The atmosphere was enthralling at Mackey Arena when all Purdue student-athletes came together to listen to Chris Herren's speech," Ziegler said. "We were deeply touched by his story and the way he talked to us. He repeatedly said that he was just an athlete like us, sitting in the same seats, thinking that substance abuse could never happen to him and that he did not realize how he got sucked in by his addiction."

Throughout the week, Boilermaker student-athletes will wear Project Purple T-shirts during their practices and workouts. The week will culminate with the Paint Crew, the renowned men's basketball student group, wearing the shirts to the nationally televised game against Michigan State on Feb. 9.

All other students and fans attending the basketball game are encouraged to wear purple.

"Substance abuse is a real issue," said Lunde, to whom the project has personal significance due to her brother's struggles with the issue. "Many families deal with people either within or related to their families who are substance abusers. Many times, the issue is kept `hush-hush,' and I think the only way for this epidemic to get better is if awareness of it is promoted."

Project Purple was launched by Herren to break the stigma of addiction, bring awareness to the dangers of substance abuse and shed light on effective treatment practices.

"Herren's story about coming clean and his message about how Project Purple is helping shy individuals reach out and seek help to come clean inspired me a lot," Ziegler said. "By raising awareness for Project Purple, I hope that at least one more individual in the country reaches out for help."

Look for tweets and Facebook posts throughout the week about Purdue Project Purple.

"Ellesse and Jakob are really passionate about keeping Chris Herren's message about the dangers of drugs in the minds of our student-athletes as well as with teenagers in our community," said Cathy Wright-Eger, leadership advisor for the athletics department. "They have both stepped up to help generate awareness with Purdue Project Purple."