Mount Union theater student Addie Wisniewski returns to the stage after recovering from a fall

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ALLIANCE – She remembered the fall.

Addie Wisniewski woke up disoriented for the first time in 34 days. She heard voices and opened her eyes, but she couldn’t see anything with her left eye. The accident had blinded her in one eye. She had suffered head trauma, a fractured skull, a broken neck and a cerebral hemorrhage.

“The doctors told my parents that I was probably not going to survive,” the 21-year-old said. Mount Union Junior said.

But Wisniewski persisted.

The music and drama student, who uses a wheelchair, spent the next few months relearning how to speak and swallow. She returned to the stage less than a year after her fatal fall and aspires to create a space where performers with and without disabilities can share their love of theatre.

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Discover the love of theater

Wisniewski grew up in a family of athletes. His mother played basketball and ran track, while his father played baseball and golf. His younger sister played basketball. Wisniewski tried a handful of organized sports as a child.

Around the age of 10, she joined a baseball league for handicapped children. The league allowed players to accumulate an unlimited number of strikes. Wisniewski was at bat one day when she received a third strike. She was encouraged to continue.

“No,” replied the native of Medina.

Then she left the field.

“I was frustrated because I’m very competitive and wanted to hit and play the game properly,” Wisniewski said.

For a time, she struggled to find a hobby that suited her. But things changed after her neighbor and close friend starred in a school play.

Wisniewski has always loved to sing. Why not try theatre? With her mother’s encouragement, she signed up for her first musical in seventh grade. She was cast as a bird, a fish, and a “Who” in her college’s production of the Dr. Seuss-inspired musical “Seussical.”

Wisniewski felt an immediate connection to the scene.

“I fell in love with it,” she said. “It was amazing. It felt like I could be someone else and tell a story, and people were looking at me because I was telling a story and not because I was different.”

She was born with osteogenesis imperfecta, a rare genetic condition that causes a person’s bones to break easily. She adapts and translates the movements into the performances in order to be able to tell the same stories.

Addie Wisniewski performs during Mount Union's production of

Wisniewski began taking dance lessons and singing lessons. The following years took her and her family to the community theater stage in northeast Ohio. She performed in “Young Frankenstein” and “The Little Mermaid” at the Weathervane Playhouse in Akron; “Be More Chill” at Broadview Heights Spotlights; and several productions at his high school.

“One year I did about five different productions. My parents would drive all over northeast Ohio to various theaters so I could do it,” Wisniewski said.

A lecturer from Mount Union served as musical director for “Be More Chill”. He was the one who introduced Wisniewski to college.

“I chose Mount because I felt like I could be heard. It was less about numbers and more personal. They wanted to know why I was here and why I wanted to do what I wanted to do” , she said. mentioned.

“She is really happy to defend herself”

Wisniewski graduated in 2019 from Highland High School in Medina County and began attending Mount Union this fall. Her freshman year of college took an unexpected turn when the coronavirus pandemic hit. Wisniewski was involved in a college production of “Chicago” which was scheduled to open about a week after the March 2020 closings.

“(Being a student) has definitely been interesting, especially as a musician and theatrical. Having music lessons and other classes online was very difficult,” she said.

Aside from the pandemic, Wisniewski said his time at Mount Union was filled with personal growth. She enjoyed building relationships, she said, while working on her craft.

Physician Assistant student Abbie Engler practices interviewing Music and Drama Major Addie Wisniewski at the Mount Union's Arch Avenue facility on Wednesday, April 6, 2022.

Wisniewski’s teachers recognize his determination and enthusiasm.

“She’s really happy to stand up for herself and let you know what she can do in addition to what she needs help with,” said Sarah Russell, assistant professor of costume and makeup at Mount Union.

Russell has known Wisniewski since his freshman year in college. She teaches costume design classes and works on productions at Mount Union. Before Wisniewski took Russell’s costume tech class, the couple sat down to discuss the class.

Ryan Patterson, assistant professor, technical director and facility manager at Mount Union, said Wisniewski had a “magnetism” on stage that helped him connect with an audience.

“It’s a charisma that really shines,” he said.

But as Wisniewski began to find his form at Mount Union, another life-changing experience occurred.

The accident and the recovery

It was a freak accident.

On January 10, 2021, Wisniewski fell from a curb and from her wheelchair, sustaining multiple life-threatening injuries. She was rushed to hospital by ambulance and placed on a ventilator.

She spent over a month in a coma. Her family played music in the hospital room.

When Wisniewski woke up, she was surprised how much time had passed.

“I didn’t realize how long I had slept,” she said.

The recovery process was long and difficult. For the next month, she remained in the hospital and relearned basic skills like speaking, swallowing and driving her wheelchair.

“I already live with my disability…obviously this accident is not what disabled me, but it certainly added to everything. I’m just very grateful to be alive,” said Wisniewski.

She was discharged from the hospital on March 10, but her recovery continued for several months. She wore a splint around her neck while her wounds healed and underwent various types of therapy.

“That was when she was relearning how to feed herself, relearning how to use her vocal cords…there were a lot of challenges there. We didn’t know if she was going to be able to sing again,” Russell mentioned.

Addie Wisniewski poses at the Giese Center for Performing Arts at Mount Union on Friday, April 22, 2022.

The first time Wisniewski performed after her accident was when she returned to Mount Union in the fall.

Despite a laborious recovery, Wisniewski never gave up, Russell said.

One of Wisniewski’s biggest challenges this year has been memorizing lines, but that hasn’t deterred her.

“She’s like, ‘You know, the way I used to do this doesn’t work anymore. I’m going to have to try a new tactic.’ She never lets herself get down. She just faces challenges head-on,” Russell said.

Wisniewski said the support of her family, as well as the cards and prayers she received from members of the community, played an important role in her recovery.

Her first production after the accident was “A Christmas Carol” in November 2021. She played a vocalist and sang throughout the show.

“It was really amazing and emotional to be able to do what I love again, especially after the odds were really stacked against me. To be able to do what I do again was the best feeling in the world,” Wisniewski said.

What are Wisniewski’s future plans?

Less than a year and a half after the accident, Wisniewski has largely recovered.

She continues to deal with the effects of traumatic brain injury, blindness in her left eye and post-traumatic stress disorder. But she said she was “grateful” to be alive and doing what she loves.

“Honestly, I had an amazing recovery. I don’t really know how,” Wisniewski said.

She has big plans for her future. She sat in the lobby of the Giese Center for Performing Arts at Mount Union on a Friday afternoon in April, talking excitedly about her goal of opening a theater company for performers with and without disabilities.

“I think in the theater industry with artists it’s hard to find jobs. But it’s also hard as a disabled person to find a job or people who can work with you. So I I thought ‘Why not just put them together and kind of create something that helps everyone?’” she said.

Wisniewski said she didn’t know many people with disabilities in theater when she was growing up. She hopes to inspire others.

Her teachers believe she has the tenacity to achieve her goals.

“She’s one of those people who knows what they want and goes for it,” Russell said.

Wisniewski will be in a production of “Hair” through the Millennial Theater Project at the Akron Civic Theater this summer. She also plans to attend the 2022 Rollettes Experience, a multi-day event that takes place each year in Los Angeles and features speakers, performers and coaches who understand what it’s like to live with a disability.

The Rollettes are a wheelchair dance team based in California. The group was founded by one of Wisniewski’s greatest inspirations, Chelsie Hill. Wisniewski works with the Rollettes as an ambassador, helping to raise awareness of the event and encouraging other women and girls to get involved.

Wisniewski said she felt like she had been given “a second chance at life” by surviving the accident.

“I’m not the same Addie I used to be,” she wrote in an email. “But in many ways, I’m still stronger than the old Addie, and she was pretty tough.”

Contact Paige at 330-580-8577 or [email protected], or on Twitter at @paigembenn.

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