With one jolt from behind her, Margaret Walker, MCAS ’18, was no longer unbreakable.
Still fresh off the high of getting her driver’s license the month before, a 16-year-old Walker was driving her sister home from tennis practice when she was rear-ended by a car traveling over 50 miles per hour. She suffered a bulged disc and a fractured spine in the process, but neither of these compared to her fractured sense of identity. Throughout high school she had been known as “the soccer girl,” a persona she held with pride after countless years of playing the sport that she loved since preschool.
Walker fought against her injuries to keep up with the part of her personality that was most important. Until the end of her junior year of high school, she continued to play soccer despite her back issues by wearing her hard back brace throughout the day and then taking it off during soccer practice. The pressure of college recruiting season and her love of the sport fueled her to push through the pain. Despite her toughness, however, at the end of junior year she realized how much she needed to give her back a real chance to heal. After taking some time off, she was forced to accept that she could never pick up the same speed and strength in playing that she had had before her accident. Despite her talent and grit, the caustic turbulence of fate ultimately forced her to give up on her dream of playing soccer at a college level.
Coming into her freshman year at Boston College, she struggled to carve a new identity for herself and remained frustrated and upset by her situation until her sophomore year. Watching BC soccer games was an experience too agonizing for her heart to take.
Walker is not one to mope around, however. Buoyed by the support of her new friends at BC and her own curious mind, Walker soon enveloped herself in the world of science as a biochemistry major. Her dreams of being a doctor allowed her to find her new identity. She endearingly refers to herself as a science nerd and specifically wants to work in orthopedic spine trauma.
She additionally credited the support of her family and especially her best friend, Richard Wilson, MCAS ’18, for helping her realize the reality of her situation and still be hopeful. Wilson, coming from a very religious background, helped her to relocate her sense of purpose.
“I told her that there’s always a reason for everything, and even though she can’t play the sport that she loves, as a doctor she can save lives and that will be her impact,” he said.
While Walker is not particularly religious herself, Wilson’s words inspired her to seek new possibilities.
“Whether or not this happened to me for a reason, I can make a reason out of it and make the most of it and focus on my studies and becoming a doctor to help people in even more traumatic situations,” Walker said.
She still has issues with her back and has to be careful to avoid certain exercises and activities so that she doesn’t injure herself further. To keep on strengthening her back she does her own physical therapy exercises, displaying her commitment to her recovery.
Despite her strong-willed persona, Walker is caught in a constant state of caution. The constant reminder of her injury motivates her to help others so that they do not have to go through the same emotional and physical experience that she did. Thus, she joined Students for Soldiers due to her passion for helping others through trauma, as well as her patriotism that is embedded in a deep respect for soldiers serving our country.
“I don’t have the courage to fight on the front lines, but I think this is the best way that I could help those who do risk losing their lives everyday,” Walker said.
Walker is president of Students for Soldiers, which originally started in 2013. The club served as a way for BC students to show their gratitude to veterans by volunteering in the community with veterans, hearing their stories, fundraising to support them, and assembling care packages for them. While the club had been active at the beginning of first semester last year, Walker was puzzled to find out that going into second semester the club had been deactivated due to unfulfilled requirements within the Office of Student Involvement system. Undeterred, she tried to contact the president of the club to no avail before contacting OSI directly. After formally hearing from OSI that the club had been deactivated, Walker gained the office’s permission to restart Students for Soldiers.
Walker hopes to reinvent the club with a particular focus on directly meeting with veterans as opposed to fundraising. The club is currently working on how to become involved with an annual charity dinner that takes place for veterans in the Boston area. She’s always had a passion for art, soldiers, and veterans and wanted to find a way to work with them at BC. Her own grandfather was in the International Guard and Walker herself wants to be a military doctor potentially in the army sector after going to medical school.
She is confident that the military will always have a role in her life and credits Students for Soldiers for setting her off in the right direction. After graduating from BC, she plans to go to medical school, particularly the F. Edward Hebert School of Medicine at the Uniformed Services University. If not there, Walker hopes to go to medical school back in her hometown of Chicago and then join the military afterward. The idea of performing service for others as a career is non-negotiable in her mind.
Her desire to help those around her extends beyond her studies and even Students for Soldiers. During her freshman year, she went on a medical mission trip to Peru, where she worked with people who did not have access to clean drinking water. While at an orphanage there, she met a little girl who was visibly enchanted by her camera. Walker proceeded to show the girl her camera and they even ended up taking a selfie together.
“It hit me that something like a camera, something that was so common to me and that I hadn’t thought twice about, was so mesmerizing to this little girl who had never seen one before,” Walker said.
She volunteered throughout her her junior year at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital and this past summer also volunteered at a hospital in Colorado, where she gained experience in an emergency room working with people with traumatic brain injuries. One particular instance that stuck with her involved a newborn baby that kept having seizures and the doctors could not identify a cause. What really moved her about this situation was the fact that she never found out what happened to the baby, which bothered her deeply. Even though doctors never usually see a patient through their ordeal in an emergency room and beyond, she feels prepared to face these sorts of gruesome situations and is not repelled by trauma due to her own history of spinal trauma.
Her work with patients with traumatic brain injuries over the summer at the hospital in Colorado through the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center involved her taking them mountain biking and climbing, things they normally could not do from their wheelchairs if the program had not offered them the chance.
“I want to be able to help people who have had traumatic situations like that just because I know what it was like and I know how frustrating it was to go through something like that at such a young age,” Walker said.
With her time at BC winding down, she has taken advantage of many opportunities to enhance her spiritual growth. She dabbled in the Buddhism club freshman year and now studies it further in a class, which has impacted her. She was a leader for Kairos and loved how the experience emphasized connection with others. While she is a little sad to leave BC, she is excited to start her career in the real world and help others in a bigger way.
“I feel like my life would be wasted if I didn’t use the blessings that I have to do good for others,” she said.
Featured Image by Sam Zhai / Heights Staff