BOULDER, Colo. (CBS4)– A freshman at the University of Colorado, Aine Williams was getting ready to hit the field for her first lacrosse season with the CU Buffaloes. In the past year, the young woman has had to relearn everything she knew as an athlete.
“Yeah, life’s short. You’ve got to live it to the fullest,” said Aine.
In January of 2018, Aine was entering the second semester of her freshman year at Colorado. Lacrosse season was around the corner, and she couldn’t wait to for her first NCAA season. Until one night, her world came crashing down.
“I remember texting my boyfriend and sister saying I thought I had cancer in my brain because my head hurt so badly. They thought I had lung cancer,” said Aine.
Aine was transported to UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora, where she was diagnosed with Cryptogenic Organizing Pneumonia, or COP. A rare lung condition in which inflammation blocks the small bronchiole airways and air sacs in the lung. The cause of COP is unknown.
“I was put in a medically induced coma and put on life support for about 3 weeks,” said Aine.
When the doctors woke up Aine, she had lost most of her strength. A month earlier she was preparing for a competitive season of PAC-12 lacrosse. Now she was in a hospital bed and learning how to walk again.
“I started by wiggling my toes and lifting my legs,” Williams explains. “Then I had to learn to stand and then finally learn to take steps and start walking. I remember the first time I stood up, they asked if I could stand up twice, and I could only stand up once.”
From the moment Aine woke up, lacrosse was top of mind. Along with support of her family, friends, and teammates, Aine’s motivation was getting back on the field.
“The whole time the message was she wants to come back,” head coach Ann Elliot-Whidden said. “I think if Aine could have come here right after she left the hospital, she would have chosen to.”
“I’m pretty sure the first thing I asked Anne was if I could still be on the team,” Aine recalls. “When she said, ‘Yes,’ I thought, ‘Okay I’m going to get back out there.’”
After months of rehabbing back home in Massachusetts, Aine reunited with her Buffs family this past fall. It wasn’t until she inhaled the thin mile high air, that she realized how far she still had to climb.
“Over the summer I’d been practicing a lot, but once I got back out here with the altitude and actually running with other people, it definitely was challenging. I was afraid of pushing myself, because what if I ran out of breath and needed oxygen? But as the days went on I got more and more comfortable,” said Aine.
Initially doctors were unsure if Aine would ever play lacrosse again. But she knew she would, and boy did she prove them wrong.
“They told me they didn’t know, but they thought it would take 18 months for me to be able to run again. But it’s been less than a year, so I think I’m doing pretty well.”