Four other people got on the tube with UMW senior Laura Lang that day on North Carolina’s Lake Norman. In the end, Lang was the only one left. She’d hung on the longest to win the summer-break game, but before she had time to celebrate, something happened. Pulled by a boat, the tube caught air, leaping off the lake and tossing her overboard. She hit the water headfirst.
“At that speed, water feels like cement,” said Lang, who suffered a traumatic brain injury that stole much of her memory and robbed her of rudimentary skills, like simple math. She was 15.
After years of hard work to get back on track, Lang wasn’t sure she’d make it through college. Not only did she make it through, she ended up with a clearer view of herself. She’ll leave the Ball Circle stage next week with a degree in biology, and a minor in neuroscience, then head to a Virginia Tech master’s program. She had a headful of plans when she came to UMW, but most all of them changed. At Mary Washington, she found a passion for public health, a fondness for rugby and a love of community. And perhaps most importantly, she found wellness.
“When I started my job at the UMW Fitness Center my sophomore year I had no idea that the Department of Campus Recreation would change my whole outlook on life,” she said on Facebook in an impassioned plea for gifts on Mary Wash Giving Day. “Campus Recreation has become my family and any donation would be appreciated!”
Walking into her first Fitness Center interview, Lang said, she was nervous, but her investment in wellness had not gotten real. Not like it is now, with her regular exercise routine, diet heavy on fruits and veggies, and habit of taking long walks to clear her head. She landed the job as attendant then moved up to supervisor and student coordinator, overseeing 29 of her peers.
“Laura is an inspiration to all Eagles,” said Alex Bergner, a graduate assistant who worked years with Lang before learning of the life-changing concussion she suffered in high school. “She never used it as a crutch.”
The same holds true on UMW’s nationally ranked women’s rugby team, where Lang played fullback and second row, and served as community service chair. She also volunteered at Mary Washington Healthcare and held a co-chair position on the President’s Council on Wellness.
“It’s this environment where it’s safe, where you can try things and become your own person,” said Lang, who found the future she really wants for herself at Mary Washington. “I needed a place where I could talk to the professors and not just be one in a million in the classroom.”
One of those was Professor of Biological Sciences Alan Griffith, whom Lang credits with honing the writing skills she needed to get into a public health master’s program. She hopes to build a career helping doctors on the frontlines, like the ones who helped her back in high school.
“I’m excited for Laura because she’s going into an area that I think is really interesting and really important,” Griffith said. “She’s a great example of graduates leaving UMW and having this broad set of skills that go beyond getting good grades.”