Strength and Gratitude Follow Study-Abroad Accident

Excelsior native Maggie Weiss finds strength and gratitude after an injury abroad.
Maggie Weiss, right, and mom Wendy.

Studying abroad is an exciting rite of passage for many college students, a chance to travel beyond the classroom to explore different cultures, foreign languages and new experiences. For Excelsior native Maggie Weiss, who graduated from Minnetonka High School in 2012, studying abroad has provided not only a broader worldview, but a deeper knowledge of her own strength, courage and perseverance.

In the summer of 2014, Weiss embarked on a two-month study abroad trip to Seville, Spain, before beginning her junior year at St. Olaf College in Northfield. Ten days into the trip, Weiss went out for a morning run and was hit by a speeding bus while crossing the highway. She was thrown into the air before hitting the pavement and skidding to a stop.

Luckily, the accident took place only minutes away from one of Spain’s best hospitals, which includes one of the top trauma wards in Europe. “I guess it was a good choice of study-abroad spot for that reason,” Weiss says.

During her 23-day stay at the hospital, Weiss was put in a medically induced coma and underwent multiple surgeries. While her broken ribs, pelvis and elbow were cause for concern, it was two traumatic brain injuries—one from the impact of the bus, the other from the pavement—that worried her doctors the most.

Weiss returned to Minnesota in a special medically equipped plane, spending a week at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis and two weeks at Bethesda Hospital in St. Paul before returning home to her parents’ house in Excelsior. She continued to undergo physical, speech and occupational therapy through the new year.

Despite her injuries, Weiss didn’t want to miss school. She returned to St. Olaf in the fall of 2014 as a part-time student, and finished the second semester of her junior year as a full-time student.

“It was very difficult to go back,” says Weiss. “As a Spanish and Latin-American studies double major, I was taking a lot of courses that focused on language, an area [of my brain] that was severely damaged in the accident. I lost a lot and had to start from square one, but my professors were super accommodating.”

Weiss, an avid runner who had been on the St. Olaf cross-country and track teams, couldn’t compete as a part-time student, but her coach appointed her assistant manager of the cross-country team while she “got up the courage to compete again,” says Weiss. “I went through a lot of emotional challenges during junior and senior year,” Weiss says. “Journaling helped, and my parents were there for me through it all.”

And she got back on the horse, as they say: Weiss returned to study abroad in Spain during her senior year, and after she graduated last spring, she and her family took a trip to Seville, crossing that highway together nearly two years to the day after her accident.

Despite the challenges of the past two years, Weiss is a passionate advocate of traveling and studying abroad. “It’s a chance to push yourself and see a different perspective of the world,” she says. “Be as brave as you can: Take that trip, get out of your comfort zone and meet the locals, speak the language. Overcoming that fear will pay off.”

Weiss knows now that she can take whatever the future might bring. “I’m very grateful for where I am right now,” she says. “I choose to focus on the good that has come out of my challenges.”

Last summer, Weiss competed at the USA Triathlon national championships in Omaha, Neb., where she earned a spot to compete as part of Team USA in September 2017 at the international Grand Final of the World Triathlon Series in Rotterdam, Netherlands.