MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) - From big victories in a must-win weekend to trying to build on seven national titles, the Gophers women’s hockey team has multiple means of motivation heading into the NCAA Tournament.
But no one has willed this team quite like Taylor Williamson.
“From where she was to where she is now, that’s toughness, leadership and character,” Gophers Women's Hockey Head Coach Brad Frost said.
Hockey is in Williamson's blood. Her father and grandfather both played for the Gophers. The sport is a major part of her life, but it was almost taken away in the last year.
At the end of last season, Williamson felt a little off, but attributed that to stress. Everything changed when an MRI revealed a cyst on her brain, requiring immediate surgery.
“It was like the size of my fist,” said Williamson. “Once I was operated on, the symptoms initially went away, which was a huge relief for me and my family. We were thinking ‘Awesome, problem solved.’”
Fast forward to this season and Williamson was on the fast track to returning after her scary episode - that is until new symptoms emerged in October with severe results on the ice.
“I was doing everything I could just to hold on to my stick,” Williamson said. “And here I am playing Division I hockey.”
Taylor wasn’t the only one to notice a difference in her game either.
“If you didn’t know what’s going on, you would say ‘Why is this kid on the ice?’,” Frost said.
Doctors diagnosed Williamson with myasthenia gravis (MG), an autoimmune issue that affected her speech along with the muscles in her arms and legs.
“When I was at my lowest, my muscles wouldn’t work,” Williamson said. “I would be trying so hard to put my hands above my head. The most simple tasks all of a sudden became the toughest thing I could ever do.”
A disabling disease started to take over inside of her body, but doubt never did.
“When (family and friends) saw me at my lowest low, I guarantee you that they were thinking that there’s no way that [she] can make it back from this,” Williamson said. “The whole time I thought, 'Yeah this happened, but I want to play hockey again.'”
Thanks to a balance of hard work, doses of medicine and a huge helping of faith, Taylor returned to game action a few weeks ago at 100 percent.
“I’m at my full [strength],” Taylor said. “I think I have all of my muscles working again.”
She’s back and trying to bring the Gophers back to a Frozen Four. It is a ride she's been on before, but this one, like her diagnosis, is one in a million.
“For me coming back and playing, that’s been a huge benefit for me,” Williamson said. “I take every shift like it’s my last.”
Taylor also told Fox 9 that her brain cyst and MG diagnosis are actually not related. The autoimmune disease is something that Taylor will continue to live with, but she wants to share her story to help to find a cure in the near future.