ANAMOSA — Maggie McQuillen’s trademark is her energy.
And her stubbornness.
“When we get into an argument, if I’m right, she’ll find a way to prove me wrong,” said Grace Lubben, one of McQuillen’s closest friends at Anamosa High School.
More than two weeks after a suffering a severe, traumatic brain injury in an auto/semi accident, McQuillen fights on.
“She has made some improvement with her responses,” said her father, Matt McQuillen. “But surgery was another trauma. Baby steps are important.”
McQuillen, 18, remains at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, where she underwent a 16-hour surgery last week. There are many more to come.
She has not regained consciousness since the March 19 accident.
“We have zero-percent insight on her prognosis,” her father said. “We really won’t know until she wakes up.”
A four-sport varsity standout, McQuillen has compiled a resume deserving of Gazette Athlete of the Year nomination.
She was a River Valley Conference all-division selection in volleyball and basketball. In softball, she was the starting third baseman last season as the Raiders went 31-5 and reached the Class 3A regional finals.
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Her most impactful sport was track and field. She was a member of Anamosa’s 3A state runner-up distance medley relay last year, and ran on a fifth-place 3,200-meter relay.
Among her goals this spring was a state championship in the 400-meter hurdles, an event in which she finished 12th last year.
“She’s one of the key female athletes at our school,” said Lucas Stanton, Anamosa’s football coach and the school’s speed and strength coordinator.
Said Nic Weers, the assistant boys’ track and field coach: “Maggie is an intimidating athlete with an infectious smile. People that have competed against her, they’ve liked her.”
Lubben added: “She’s so energetic, so active, so strong ... This still doesn’t seem real to me.”
Indirectly, COVID-19 can take some blame for this. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, schools were closed March 19.
After spending the first part of her day working on college scholarships (she planned to attend the University of Iowa, and had her sights set on becoming an emergency-room doctor someday), McQuillen went to the Downing Field track for a voluntary workout.
“It was very foggy, and we don’t know all of the details,” her father said. “We believe the semi pulled into her lane (southbound on Highway 151). Her car went under the semi and it sheared the top off. It’s amazing she wan’t decapitated.
“We know the (semi) driver and we feel really bad for him. We aren’t laying blame.”
McQuillen nearly died at the scene, suffering trauma to her skull, brain, face and jaw.
“From the shoulders down, she’s pretty much OK,” her father said.
Matt McQuillen is an attorney in Anamosa. His wife, Beth, is “a very active mom” at home, he said. “We’re a great team. We try to talk our way through this.”
Maggie is their only child.
This was the second traumatic incident to hit Anamosa’s student body in less than two years. Tate Little, then a 15-year-old sophomore, was in a serious car accident in September 2018 and continues recovery.
These days, virtual support is about all that’s possible and practical.
“Because of COVID, our grieving has been short-circuited,” Matt McQuillen said. “People can’t come and see her. People want to gather and hug each other, but can’t.”
“It’s extremely important for friends and family to get together and talk about it, and you can’t do it,” Lubben said.
A tribute to Maggie, with ribbons and signs, has taken shape along the fence that circles Downing Field — “The fence has filled so fast,” Lubben said — and her active persona has spawned a #Moving4Maggie movement in Anamosa and beyond.
A free virtual 1-mile, 5,000-meter and 10,000-meter road race is underway in her honor.
“Last Thursday (March 26) was just a dark, dreary day. This had happened and COVID-19 was moving closer,” said Weers, who in addition to serving as an assistant boys’ track coach is a co-founder of B&W Racing Services — which does timing and results of area road races and cross-country meets. “Anamosa needed something positive.”
Participants are asked to run their “race,” then validate their time by emailing BWRacingServicesLLC@gmail.com by April 30. Everything is on the honor system.
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“It’s really been cool,” said Weers, who runs the company with his wife Heather, along with head boys’ track coach Justin Bader and his wife Jessalyn. “Before bed, I saw there was an email from Orlando, Fla., submitting a time and sending along their prayers for Maggie.”
The McQuillens are saving all of the social-media well wishes, hoping Maggie can read them when she awakens.
“I hope that someday, if she’s having a bad day, she’ll be able to read the Facebook posts and see the progress she has made,” Matt McQuillen said.
Progress will be slow, the family understands. All brain injuries are different, and nobody knows how far back Maggie will come.
“She’s young, and she was very healthy and physically active,” her father said. “Those things are in her favor. But we know this will take weeks, months, maybe longer.
“This isn’t something we chose. But it’s ours, and we’ll make the best of it.”
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