Senior Erin Wilson's "Emotionally Blank." (Photo courtesy of Wilson)

CLASS OF 2021: Senior athlete rekindles love for art while enduring concussion

Quarantine started early for senior Erin Wilson.

It was Sept. 20, 2019; the high school campus was streaked with red and masked in black. Excited students were awaiting buses to Ancil Hoffman Park, where they would begin the annual high school capture-the-flag game.

By the game’s end, the Red Team accumulated 328 points, the Black Team got 265 points and Wilson had sustained a concussion from colliding with another student.

A trip to the hospital the next day confirmed it.

“I remember I was so sad I would be missing the volleyball tournament that week,” said Wilson, then captain of the volleyball team. “I was like no the tournament! No, a whole week of school!”

However, Wilson wouldn’t be out for a week. She wouldn’t come back to school for another four months — missing the entire volleyball season. Having played volleyball every year since sixth grade, Wilson was frustrated she had to miss her captain season. 

The injury put a stop to all of Wilson’s activities: reading, playing cello and piano, attending school, participating in sports and socializing with friends among other things.

“I was already basically quarantining,” Wilson joked. “I was always so tired. I’d go to bed at 9 p.m. and wake up at 9 a.m and nap again in the afternoon.” 

She said she also suffered memory loss, forgetting her friends’ names from time to time.

Wilson was also sensitive to light, sound and movement nauseated her. As a result, she couldn’t use her phone and usually wore sunglasses indoors.

“I probably looked like a zombie,” Wilson quipped.

Unable to use social media or messaging apps, Wilson was left out of touch with her friends.

She spent most of her time listening to the news through her Google Home, drawing, knitting or sleeping.

Her concussion also affected her junior-year classes, some of which were advanced placement.

When she tried to go to school, she could only stand two classes at a time. Determined not to repeat her junior year, Wilson attended her AP French and AP English Language & Composition classes.

“English required a lot of reading and writing, so I had to plan out when I could read because I couldn’t read for more than 20 minutes at a time,” Wilson said. “And I had to handwrite all my essays, which was just insane.”

She was able to take her AP English and AP French exams in May, along with her AP U.S. History exam.

She finished her biology and AP U.S. History classes over the summer, avoiding a repeat of junior year.

“Repeating the school year was a huge concern,” Wilson said. “I wanted to have my senior year with my friends and graduate with them.”

Her friend of 14 years, senior Nate Leavy, was amazed at her ability to bounce back.

“The fact that she was still able to finish all her classes and succeed is a real testament to her dedication and determination,” Leavy said. “The concussion didn’t stop her. It was more like a speed bump and she took it in stride pretty well.”

“A Zoom Self Portrait” and “An Overwhelming Notion.” (Photos courtesy of Wilson)

Still, Wilson was unable to fully return to her sports and music. She couldn’t do any vigorous physical activities. Even now, she experiences headaches when she plays volleyball with her sister — and she could only listen to the orchestra play. 

However, before the end of her junior year, Wilson was able to return to playing the cello, although the quarantine was already in effect.

Having played her piano since age 6 and cello since fourth grade, Wilson had a hard time not being able to play music. 

“It was really frustrating for me. So that frustration and anger led me to doing emotional portraits — mostly self-portraits,” Wilson said.

The determination that had gotten her started with music when she was in lower school shifted to her art. She painted or drew often when she had her concussion because it helped her calm down and let her emotions out onto the canvas. 

She experimented with different emotions — mostly negative — and eyes. 

“When I’m really enjoying painting a piece, it’s a really good way for me to escape schoolwork or just life in general,” Wilson said. 

When Wilson came back to school, her art also flourished.

AP Art teacher Andy Cunningham praised Wilson’s work ethic.

“With some students, they sit down and don’t do much, but she just goes to work when she walks into the room,” Cunningham said. 

Looking back on her concussion, Wilson said she’s become more appreciative of “the little things.” 

“Before the lockdown, when I was back at school, I was so thankful of being able to see my friends, talk to them, and be back in that environment where we could all laugh and joke around.”

“I still have some repercussions from it,” Wilson said. “But I’m way more thankful for the little things I can do, like going on walks, reading, or doing art and playing my instruments.”

Looking to the future, Wilson said she wants to study abroad for a while to fuel her once childhood and now adulthood passion for adventure.

— By Arijit Trivedi

Originally published in the Feb. 2 edition of the Octagon.

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