Steve Thomson had received a call with similar foreboding on Sept. 29, 1994. He was working in radio in Sioux Falls. His wife, Michele Thury, was also in media, and daughter Ellen was 2.
The call came from Thomson’s parents: Geoff, the middle of three sons, had been riding his motorcycle in northeast Minneapolis and had been struck by a car. He was in grave condition and not expected to survive.
“Geoff was kept alive for a couple of days, but there was no hope,” Steve said. “He was taken off life support and his organs were donated. I don’t know if my parents have ever gotten over that, losing a child.”
On Aug. 13, 2009, Steve had covered the opening round of the PGA Championship at Hazeltine National for WCCO radio, then stopped at the printing firm in Eden Prairie that is his primary job.
There was another call. Younger daughter Erin, 12 and ready to enter the seventh grade, had been injured in a pool accident at her grandparents’ home. Erin was in an ambulance, on the way to North Memorial hospital, with what appeared to be a serious neck injury.
It was exactly that. Erin had suffered an injury to C4 and C5 in her cervical vertebrae and underwent emergency surgery to stabilize her spine. After long hours at the hospital, Steve was encouraged to go home and get some sleep.
“My parents live two houses from us on the [Mississippi] river in Champlin,” Thomson said. “I walked over to take a look at where the accident had taken place. Erin’s goggles and swimming hat were in the pool.”
Thomson’s voice started to crack and now he paused, dealing with tears. Ninety seconds later, he said: “For all Erin has accomplished, for all the pride we have in her, wading into the pool to get her goggles and swimming hat … her old man still has a hard time with that memory.”
• • •
Erin Thomson graduated from the University of Arizona in Tucson on May 19. She did so with honors, with a degree in journalism and sociology. She also did this after suffering quadriplegia in her accident a decade earlier.
Erin admits to being a weather and sports snob. She dislikes the cold and hates hockey, based on being dragged into cold arenas as a small kid to watch her sister Ellen’s games. She dislikes soccer, based on playing the sport as a grade schooler in the summer.
“I couldn’t take all that running around in the humidity,” Erin said.
She smiled and said: “I like the NBA. I go to Timberwolves games with my dad once in a while. I like those, even when the Wolves lose … which is most of the time.”
As a fellow member of the sports media, I’ve long appreciated Steve’s ability to crack wise in a subtle manner. I’d call it low-key cynicism — and it also comes through with Erin.
“My mom and sister have that, too,” she said. “I’d call it a family trait.”
There is an intriguing happenstance in Erin’s life:
Mia Osgood, Erin’s best friend, then and now, was with her in the pool when the accident occurred. Erin was floating face down, unable to move. Mia said, “Are you OK?” and with no response, flipped her over.
“Otherwise, I was going to drown,” Erin said.
A few years later, Erin was able to secure a trained service dog, which already answered to the name Mia. Now retired from those duties, Mia remains Erin’s companion.
“Watch out,” Erin said, introducing Mia to a visitor last week. “She has a face-licking problem.”
Mia is one of the heroes of Erin’s rewarding time at Arizona. It started with a full scholarship from the Nielsen Foundation, an organization dedicated to helping people with spinal cord injuries have productive lives.
“Michele and I dropped Erin off as a college freshman like millions of other people do late in the summer of 2015,” Steve said. “We moved her and the dog into the dorm, and Michele stayed for a couple of weeks, but I remember thinking, ‘Is this really going to work?’ ”
It worked because of Mia, and the University of Arizona’s commitment to disabled students, and a half-dozen students who worked as personal care attendants (“Unbelievable kids,” Steve said), and because Erin was a sharp young woman who was going to make it work.
“Did Erin tell you she missed the second semester of her first year because she had to come home for an emergency surgery?” Steve said. “A problem had developed, she had the surgery, and was home on complete bed rest for six weeks.”
Undeterred, Erin returned to Arizona for fall semester in 2016 and wound up graduating in seven semesters rather than eight.
Erin has been back home now for seven months. She has movement in her arms. She operates a computer with a Magic Mouse from Apple. She spent her last semester on a fellowship at the Daily Star in Tucson and helped build an accessibility app to be used by disabled people when they are living in or visiting a city.
“Graphic designer, video producer … I’d be an asset in those areas,” Erin said.
Then, she smiled and, in Thomson style, said: “I’ve sent out 50 job applications. I’ve gotten some nice rejection letters, but not one interview.”
Write to Patrick Reusse by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org and including his name in the subject line.