A Bulldog’s Grip
Yale athlete Amanda Walton reclaims her life.
PHOTOGRAPHY Dev Khalsa
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In the spring of 2000, Amanda Walton was at the top of her game. She had just completed her sophomore year at Yale University, had been named First Team All-American in field hockey and received First Team All-Ivy honors in both field hockey and lacrosse. It was quite an achievement for a sophomore starter, one that followed on the heels of being named Ivy League Rookie of the Year in both field hockey and lacrosse her freshman year—making her the second person in Ivy League history to be named Rookie of the Year in both sports.
“She is probably one of the best female athletes ever to come to Yale,” said Ainslee Lamb, who was Walton’s assistant field hockey coach in her first two years at Yale. “She was breaking career records in her sophomore year.”
Just days after finishing her second year, Walton’s life was shattered in a single instant when her Saab was struck at 80 mph by a driver fleeing police in a high-speed chase through a residential neighborhood in Meriden, Connecticut. It was May 28, 2000. The Jaws of Life extracted her from her crumpled vehicle and she was heli-lifted to St. Francis Hospital Intensive Care Unit in Hartford, Connecticut, where she lay for the next month and a half in a deep coma.
When asked about her injuries, Walton cites massive internal bleeding, a shattered pelvis, a broken right foot, a sprained left foot and the severe brain trauma that marks the magnitude of what she struggles with now in her daily life. “I broke my brain,” she said quite simply.
In medical terms, her injury is defined as traumatic brain injury (TBI). Specifically, Walton suffered diffuse axonal injury (DAI), which involves bleeding all over the brain (diffuse, meaning that the trauma involved more than one area of the brain). The outcome is often prolonged coma, with over 90 percent of patients with severe DAI never regaining consciousness. It is a potentially devastating injury that can cause a wide range of functional changes affecting thinking, sensation, motor skills and language.
proving the impossible . . . I love breaking records.”
The fact that Walton survived at all is a miracle. The way her smile infects her entire person, flashing into the corners of her eyes and overtaking her face, is proof of her enduring spirit. It is a force much larger than any medical terms or definitions or standard data.
Walton doesn’t believe in statistics, an extension of what she calls her “I don’t believe in not believing” philosophy. “Nobody ever said, ‘This is where you are going to be and no more,’” she said. “And if they did, I would have said: ‘Take another look. You don’t know,’ … and this may sound a little cocky, but, ‘Take another look. You don’t know who you are dealing with.’” >>>