Car crash sidelines sabreist (Fencing)

Matt Forman

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Freshman sabreist Jill Mahen expected to make an impact in her first year as a Wildcat. But a freak car accident on Sheridan Road has derailed her Northwestern debut.

A day before the fencing team hosted the NU Duals on Nov. 3, the squad had its team picture taken at Patten Gym. But Mahen forgot her purple sweatsuit in her dorm room at Elder Hall.

In a rush to get back to the team, Maden tried to cross Sheridan Road. The light was green, but traffic was stopped in the first lane, blocking Mahen’s vision. A man in a white sport utility vehicle looked back to the left lanes and waved to Mahen, signaling it was safe to cross.

Mahen ran across, trying not to hold up traffic, when a car in the left lane accelerated to make the light and struck Mahen.

The car hit Mahen in the leg, but the whiplash caused her to hit her shoulder on the windshield. The impact of slamming against the vehicle pulverized all of the little bones in Mahen’s shoulder.

She also mildly sprained her ankle and had a bump on her head – neither of which bothers her now, she said.

Mahen kept her arm in a sling for a month and a half to immobilize the shoulder. She had to avoid crowded situations and being bumped to keep from having the bone shift up and interfere with the rotator cuff.

“I basically only had to stay in my dorm and go to class, nothing else,” Mahen joked.

Once out of the sling, Mahen performed range-of-motion pendulum exercises, a form of passive therapy where trainers aid in lifting the arm.

“I didn’t actually start moving my arm on my own until I got back from break,” Mahen said. “It was just about a two-month healing process to that point.”

Mahen is undergoing physical therapy with NU trainers to strengthen her bicep and shoulder. She has been fencing lightly in team drills because she injured her left, non-jousting shoulder. Mahen said she hopes to return to fencing full time by the end of the month.

“I would really like to compete in the NYU Duals (on Jan. 26), and that’s what I’m training to do,” Mahen said. “I’ve been trying really hard and taking as many lessons as I can, but now the doctors are saying the first week in February.”

If Mahen cannot return until early February, she would likely rejoin the team at the Notre Dame Duals on Feb. 9 and 10.

For Mahen, watching her teammates compete has been the hardest part of the recovery process.

“It’s awful,” Mahen said. “About a week after my accident, I was supposed to be competing in the North American Cup in Dallas, and because of logistical reasons I ended up going anyway, even though I couldn’t compete. I was watching the girls fence, and it was absolutely brutal. It was probably the hardest thing ever.”

Mahen was not with the team in last weekend’s sweep of the Temple Invitational in Philadelphia, and she will not travel to this weekend’s United States Fencing Assocation North American Cup in Atlanta.

“I was so bummed out (last) weekend when they went to Temple and I couldn’t be there cheering them on,” Mahen said. “Being here, you feel so removed. It’s really tough.”

Because Mahen missed the majority of fall training, she said she doesn’t know how she can contribute to the team when she returns. But throughout such a difficult process, Mahen said she has remained positive.

“I’m going to be way behind compared to everyone else,” she said. “It will definitely be more about being there for the girls and cheering them on. I’m going to be supporting them through the toughest part of the season regardless of where my fencing abilities are at.”

Reach Matt Forman at

matthewforman2007@u.northwestern.edu.

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