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AN END TOO SOON DARTMOUTH GRIEVED OVER THE SUICIDE OF SARAH DEVENS, A RARE ATHLETE AND FRIEND

July 24, 1995
July 24, 1995

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July 24, 1995

AN END TOO SOON DARTMOUTH GRIEVED OVER THE SUICIDE OF SARAH DEVENS, A RARE ATHLETE AND FRIEND

Another long, exhausting practice would end, and her teammates
would scatter like kids stepping off a school bus, rushing to
the locker room, the library, the parties, the rest of their
lives on the campus of Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. Sarah
Devens would stay put. The Devil, as they called her, would just
keep going, running laps, taking shots, pushing a little harder
than everyone else. "The Devil was amazing," says her close
friend and former coach Heather Crutchfield. "She was hyper and
crazy and just so alive. She never slowed down."

This is an article from the July 24, 1995 issue

Devens played on three varsity teams at Dartmouth--field hockey,
ice hockey and lacrosse--and the 5'4", 125-pounder was named a
captain of all three. She seemed to go from game to game and
practice to practice without coming up for air. One athletic
season ran into the next, and the end of the school year meant
the beginning of camps and clinics.

She told friends that she wanted to take a break, but she didn't
dare. How could she? She was Sarah Devens, the best female
athlete Dartmouth ever had. She was never the richest or the
smartest kid in her class, but when the games began, no one was
better. How could she quit sports? Sports was probably the
reason she was there, in the Ivy League, at the top of the
academic ladder. The teams needed her. The school needed her.
She was Dartmouth's Tasmanian devil in a do-rag, indefatigable
in practice and competition. She never slowed down.

"People think sports is so much fun, but it's not always like
that," says Daphne Clark, who had known Devens since
kindergarten. "Sarah couldn't just go out and enjoy herself. She
had to be great. If you're the Devil, people expect perfection."

Of Devens, they may have expected too much. In early July she
returned from a field hockey camp in Maryland and was preparing
to travel to Boulder, Colo., for the Olympic Festival. In
addition, she had made the U.S. "B" team; naturally, she wanted
to be on the first team. She was disappointed and depressed, but
most of all, her friends say, she was exhausted. She was tired
of trying to be everything to everyone. "In her mind, quitting
probably would have seemed selfish," says George Crowe, the
women's ice hockey coach at Dartmouth.

Last week, in her bedroom at her father's house in Essex, Mass.,
she took a .22-caliber rifle and killed herself with a shot to
the chest. The Devil couldn't outrun her demons. At age 21,
about to begin her senior year in college, Sarah Devens finally
slowed down.

Devens's sophomore year was winding down when the Dartmouth
lacrosse team's season came to an end. For a few days she had no
practice, no games. Some friends asked her if she wanted to go
mountain biking, and she jumped at the chance. "She called me
and said it was just the most fun thing she had done at school,"
says Blair Linen, a friend from high school. "She said she saw
all this beautiful woods and wilderness around the campus that
she had never seen before."

Devens had spent much of her life on a field or in a rink. She
grew up in an athletic family. Her paternal grandfather, Charles
Devens, pitched for the New York Yankees in the early '30s. Her
mother, Sally Willard, coached Sarah in both field hockey and
lacrosse in elementary school. Sarah learned to play ice hockey
with her father, Charles Jr., and her two brothers, and she was
the captain of the boys' hockey team in junior high. She was
twice named the outstanding female athlete at her boarding
school, St. Paul's, in Concord, N.H.

When it came time to apply to college, Sarah had a short,
impressive list--Dartmouth and Harvard. Her father was a Harvard
graduate, and many of her friends from St. Paul's were heading
to Ivy League schools. Sarah wanted to attend the best, and if
her grades and test scores wouldn't open the door--"Let's just
say her SATs were not spectacular," says one friend--surely her
athletic skills would. No one doubted that she could handle the
athletic rigors of college, but some of her friends wonder if
Sarah would have been better off in a less competitive academic
environment.

The same qualities that made Devens a star on the playing field
made her life in the classroom difficult. She could not sit
still or slow down, and she seemed to have trouble accepting her
own limitations. Devens was far from a failure in the classroom,
but academics did not come easily.

"She just didn't enjoy sitting in class," says Dartmouth field
hockey coach Julie Dayton. "She was hyperactive. She had so much
energy. She was bright and perceptive, but sitting in a
classroom wasn't her preferred way to learn."

"It was a struggle for Sarah," says Clark, her childhood friend
who now attends Harvard. "She's a year ahead of me, and when I
went to Harvard, I was thinking about playing three sports. I
talked to her, and she said, 'No way. Don't do it. It's just not
fun.'"

The story is cut right out of a novel: A privileged young woman
has everything but happiness. Devens grew up in the comfortable
coastal town of Essex, 45 minutes north of Boston. Her blood
could not have been bluer. She is a descendant of Charles
Devens, a major general in the Union Army during the Civil War
and later a U.S. attorney general. A statue of General Devens
stands at the Esplanade on the banks of the Charles River in
Boston.

Sarah's parents were divorced when she was in grade school, but
Sarah long ago "came to terms" with it, says Crutchfield. Her
father, who works in real estate, stayed in Essex, and her
mother, a masseuse, moved to nearby Ipswich. Sarah split her
time between the two homes.

She had enough best friends to stretch from Ipswich to Hanover
and back again. There were nearly 1,000 people at her funeral in
her hometown and another 300 at a memorial service at Dartmouth.
They told stories of a vibrant young woman who loved to play
jokes and have fun with friends; of a girl who, as a
first-grader, took the hand of a frightened kindergartner who
was clinging to her mother and said, "I'll take care of it from
here."

They spoke with great love and passion of the Devil--a nickname
that not only sounded like her surname but also described her
personality. It was a term of endearment, as in "lovable little
devil." She was a mischief-maker, but always with the aim of
helping a pal. "It seemed she was everyone's older sister,"
Dayton says. "She made the bus driver who took us on road trips
a part of the team. By the end of a meal, she knew the
waitress's favorite music and how many kids she had."

While her own family does not have the boundless wealth of some
of Sarah's classmates, they still have clout. According to a
source, The Boston Globe quashed a follow-up story on her death
when the Devens family made an arrangement with the publisher of
the newspaper. The family reportedly agreed not to speak to any
other publication if the Globe backed off the story.

Sarah hated reading about herself, and her friends say she was
almost obsessively modest. When she started gaining a measure of
fame at Dartmouth, it became harder for her to enjoy herself.
"She never even told me that she was voted All-America in
lacrosse," says Scott Dolesh, who was her boyfriend. "When I
asked her why, she said, 'Oh, it's no big deal.'"

When she was named co-winner of the Class of '76 Award during
her sophomore year, presented annually to the best female
athlete at Dartmouth, Devens worried about the expectations that
awaited her over the next two years. What could she do to top
that?

"The more publicity she got, the less she liked it," says
Crutchfield. "She got letters and had stories written about her,
and that just made her feel like she was playing for everyone
else. She wanted to quit one sport and take time off, but she
felt like that would be letting everyone down."

Lacrosse was her least favorite sport, but it was probably the
game at which she was most dominant. How could she quit? This
past year she was an All-America. She was also named first-team
All-Ivy League in field hockey and second team in ice hockey,
which was the game she loved the most. She loved the speed, the
excitement of outskating everyone else, and she would hurtle
down the ice with reckless abandon in search of either the puck
or a passing lane. Her friends say she was crushed last January
when she traveled to Lake Placid, N.Y., to try out for the
women's national team and failed to make it. Women's ice hockey
will debut at the '98 Winter Olympics, and Devens had dreamed of
winning a gold medal.

Last August, The Dartmouth, the school newspaper, asked Devens
about her demanding schedule. Her answer showed her conflict.
While she described her life as "definitely stressful," she
admitted that she would have trouble giving up a sport. "It's
very intense," she said. "There's not much time to hang out. But
I don't know if I would be happy if I quit a team. Part of me
wishes I could take a break, but I want to be there, to keep
playing."

Her coaches say they encouraged Devens to take breaks, but she
refused. It was one of the paradoxes in her young life. She
would return home in the summer and complain of exhaustion
before heading off to compete in a triathlon.

"I remember last year when we established a policy that she had
to take a week off between seasons and relax, and we all laughed
because we knew she wouldn't," says Dayton. "Sure enough,
somebody would see her running laps in the gym."

Devens sought help from a string of counselors as she went from
game to game, season to season. She finally found a counselor
she liked and had begun showing up at games with a music tape
she had been given to relax. But she kept playing.

Off the field, too, Devens tried to be all things to all people,
and always with a smile or a laugh. "She said she wanted to be
the best girlfriend, the best athlete, the best student," says
Dolesh. But in her own mind, it seemed, she could never do
enough. She would have lunch with someone she met at the rink
after a game, drop off a bag of caramel cremes to Dayton, visit
a friend in the hospital, mail a gag gift and fire off a dozen
E-mail messages--all between classes and practices.

Even as her friends celebrated her life, some stopped short of
expressing complete shock at her death. "It is an awful, awful
shame," says one friend. "But Sarah had her struggles."

Her friends say that in the spring of 1994 Devens seemed to
struggle emotionally, and Dolesh says they broke up briefly.
"She said it was because she couldn't be in a relationship at
the time," he says. "She couldn't explain why. I know she was
down and depressed."

But that time passed, and friends said that they hoped Sarah had
resolved whatever was troubling her. They noticed she was
quieter but thought she was looking forward to the Olympic
Festival. Devens was a psychology major and spoke of teaching or
coaching but had no definite plans for life after Dartmouth. "We
talked about going out West and starting a ranch," says Linen.
"Or just getting away and being ski bums for a year."

On Monday morning, July 10, Devens called a childhood friend and
invited her to go mountain biking. They agreed to meet, but when
Sarah didn't show, the friend drove to the Devenses' house, a
large wooden structure with the year "1803" above the front
door. The friend found Sarah's body and called the police.

There are no answers and little consolation for those still
struggling to understand. "The thing is, she was so good at
everything, as a person and an athlete, that she got on this
vicious cycle," says Crowe. "She wanted to please everybody, and
she couldn't stop. She wanted to rest, and this was the only way
she knew how."

COLOR PHOTO: MEDORA HEBERT/VALLEY NEWS Schoolmates held a candlelit vigil for Devens (15). [Sarah Devens playing lacrosse]COLOR PHOTO: RICK FRIEDMAN/BLACK STAR [see caption above--people walking with candles during vigil for Sarah Devens]COLOR PHOTO: KATHY SLATTERY Devens led the way for Dartmouth in field and ice hockey, two of the three teams she was to captain. [Sarah Devens playing field hockey]COLOR PHOTO: JOHN QUACKENBOS [see caption above--Sarah Devens playing ice hockey]B/W PHOTO: THE BREARLEY COLLECTION INC. Like her Yankee granddad (top right, with Babe Ruth), Devens (above right, with Clark in high school) was a team player. [Babe Ruth and Charles Devens]COLOR PHOTO: CARROLL CLARK [see caption above--Sarah Devens and Daphne Clark]