Chargers Running Back Finds Healing on the Gridiron
After losing both of his parents just days after his 15th birthday, Christopher Liggio ’20 turned to football, a sport that enabled him to discover a sense of purpose, his potential as a leader, and, ultimately, the power to heal.
November 4, 2019
By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications
When Christopher Liggio ’20 was six years old, he asked his parents to let him play football. Worried about the possibility of her son getting hurt, his mother, a doctor, initially said no. Determined to play, he eventually persuaded her, but mom still worried about her son’s safety.
"For the first year or so, my mom didn’t go to my games because she didn’t want to see me get hit," Liggio explains.
A talented athlete, Liggio also grew up playing baseball and lacrosse as well, but when he was in high school, he focused on football. The youngest of three, he looked up to his brother, Nicholas, who played baseball and wrestled, and his sister, Jacquelyn, who did gymnastics and played softball.
As Liggio got older, his parents’ marriage became strained, and his mother eventually filed for divorce. Just days after his 15th birthday, Liggio remembers detectives arriving at the family’s home in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, saying they had "bad news." They told him and his brother that their parents had died in their mother’s office in an apparent murder-suicide.
"It didn’t hit me right away because it’s so surreal," says Liggio. "You don’t think something like that is going to ever happen to you. You don’t know how to react when it does happen."
Struggling to make sense of it, Liggio went to football practice the next day. Though he didn’t practice, he says he needed to get out of the house. Football had already become the escape that he needed.
It was when he and his brother gave the eulogies at their parents’ funerals that he began to realize they had truly lost them. As he tried to accept what had happened, he leaned on football and the support of his teammates. His entire high school team and his coaches attended his mother’s wake, offering support and comfort.
"Ever since my parents died, football has been something in my life that I knew I could count on to get my mind away from what was happening," he said. "It lets me be myself, and it has been a crucial part of my life ever since. You build great relationships with your teammates, and they become family. They helped me to heal.”
Football remained an important part of his life during his last two years of high school, when he lived with his aunt and his sister. Continuing his football career was also an important factor in his decision to then move to Connecticut to attend the University of New Haven.
"I always try to do my best at whatever it is that I’m doing."Christopher Liggio ’20
Though he has had some very difficult days, the grit and determination that have driven Liggio on the gridiron have helped him to heal. It took several years before he was ready to process his feelings and discuss his past – something he has only recently begun to do.
Although, he says, he repressed his feelings for the first four years after his parents died, he has now acknowledged his past, speaking about it with an openness and grace that belies his age. He is also candid about the importance of addressing his mental health, and he encourages others to be proactive in taking care of their own health.
"Most people don’t know about the situation because I didn’t want them to," he said. "I’ve always felt that people would look at me differently, so I always pushed away the feelings I had about it. That way, I didn’t have to think about it."
In addition to talking with a therapist, channeling his energy into football has been a crucial component of his healing because he knows he needs to work hard to succeed. Liggio credits his father, a landscaping business owner who helped manage a medical billing company with Liggio’s mother, with instilling a strong work ethic in him.
"Being able to push myself, whether in the weight room or on the field, has been helpful," he says. "The camaraderie of my teammates and coaches – even though most of them don’t know about my situation – and knowing that they care about me gives me a sense of relief. That’s helped me to heal."
Liggio’s dedication has paid off, and it has been noticed by his teammates and coaches. At the beginning of the season, he was voted captain of the University’s football team. Though he does not consider himself to be a vocal person – something that, he says, became more pronounced after the loss of his parents – he has gladly embraced the opportunity to grow as a leader.
"I’ve been someone who leads by example," said Liggio, a running back who has amassed nearly 1,000 rushing yards and touchdowns over the course of his career. "I let my work ethic speak for itself, because I strive to do everything right. I always try to do my best at whatever it is that I’m doing."
Liggio has learned to take the lead in his life off the field as well. Initially a paramedicine major, he planned to follow in his mother’s footsteps. While he wanted to do something that would make her proud, he ultimately realized that was not the correct career path for him. He later changed his major to communication, and he hopes to sell commercial real estate.
Now in his senior year, Liggio’s parents are never far from his mind. He believes he’s matured since before they died, and he hopes they are proud of all he has achieved – on and off the field.
"I like to think that they’re watching all the time," he said. "I think they would be happy with what I’m doing right now. I think they’d be glad that my work ethic is still the way it was when I was a little kid."