The Gift of Grit: Meet Sarah Wilson

When Sarah Wilson, #30 on the Nyack College women’s basketball team, said, “My family is very large!” She was not exaggerating.

“I actually have thirteen siblings—six brothers and six sisters. My dad is the pastor of our church (New Hope Community Church in New Hope, PA) and my mom is a stay-at-home mom, which is no small task having so many kids. My mom is literally super woman. We are a close family, but also extremely competitive in everything we do, which made growing up in my house so much fun. I am sixth from the top and I enjoy being one of the middle kids and staying connected with the older and younger kids.”

You can tell from the way she proudly describes her family, which includes biological, foster and adopted siblings, Sarah is no introvert. She describes the Wilson household as competitive. To be more exact, she is a competitor who is a winner. In high school, her basketball team won four league championships and one district championship.

So you can imagine her horror when the 5’ 5” ball of energy began to experience an alarming symptom—just when her Nyack basketball career kicked off.

“I first noticed something was wrong during my first games when I was falling over because my legs kept giving out on me. I also started to notice that my feet weren’t picking up enough when I ran; so I was dragging them at points in the games. My teammates would say to me, ‘Pick up your feet, Sarah!’ But I knew something was definitely wrong when the coach signaled for me to go into a game and when I went to stand up, I fell over.”

Sarah Wilson is proof that you can’t keep a champion down.

The team physician referred her to another doctor. During her first Thanksgiving break, her pediatrician at home recommended that she see a neurologist, who in turn suggested that Sarah see an infectious disease doctor, thinking her symptoms signaled Lyme disease. The infectious disease doctor pointed her to a neurologist in Philadelphia, who she saw for three months of testing—with no definitive answers. Next came visits to a neurologist in New York City. Within two visits and more testing, she was diagnosed with Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy (CIDP), a rare and progressive autoimmune disease that affects the nerves in the arms and legs.

The doctor had a strategy for addressing this condition, which is not usually found in young people. Sarah explained, “I wasn’t able to walk without two arm crutches and even then my legs had difficulty supporting me. I was not able to catch a ball or even think about dribbling. He told me he wanted to start me right away on IVIG which is a drug that is administered through an IV for a certain amount of time each week. I started off getting it once a week and after only three treatments, I started to see improvement and hope. About two months in, I was learning to walk again without my arm crutches so my doctor saw enough improvement to start me on a higher dose of IVIG. With the new treatment protocol and lots of physical therapy, I have been able to learn how to walk faster, shoot the ball again, dribble and even run!”

“All throughout my illness, I have been getting lots of physical and aquatic therapy. Even before I was getting my IVIG, I was seeing therapists to help me keep going. Coming into this year, I wasn’t cleared to play because I was still weaker in my legs and I didn’t have braces that were practice-ready. It wasn’t until almost the end of pre-season where I had gotten enough strength back and AFO braces that were light enough for me to play in. The braces basically pick up my feet for me when I run, they also help stabilize my legs and make me feel more comfortable when I play. Now I’m cleared to play as long as I wear my braces. It is important for me to be careful to not overdo it and listen to my legs when they are acting up. My coach is doing a very good job of easing me in more and more each day of practice to help me get to where I used to be.”

Was there ever a moment when Sarah wanted to give up?

“Giving up maybe crossed my mind once or twice in the midst of not being able to walk because I would think, “If I can’t play basketball what am I doing here?” But I had such a great support system from my team and coaches, who continually reminded me that staying was what I wanted to do. I also learned God didn’t have me here just to play basketball. There are other reasons for me to stay. For one, God was teaching me patience and perseverance. He also showed me that I could help out the team even on the sidelines.”

That’s a gift called grit.