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."
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 dorag, 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.