Blood. It’s where a passion for University of North Dakota hockey lives in Lisa Marvin. Skating for the team now known as the Fighting Hawks isn’t just something she does while pursuing her communications degree. It’s ingrained in her DNA.
Her older sister Layla played four seasons at North Dakota, and was the team captain last year. Their father spent four seasons manning the blue line for the team known as the Fighting Sioux. So did a trio of uncles and cousins. Her grandfather, Cal Marvin, started the school’s hockey program not long after World War II.
When Lisa committed to play for North Dakota after an amazingly successful youth and high school hockey career in her hometown of Warroad, Minn., it was perhaps the least-surprising recruiting news in the history of college sports. She scored more state tournament points than any Minnesota high school player ever, and notched 94 points as a senior.
But the transition to college hockey was tough. Lisa had just one goal as a freshman. The following season, she was off to another challenging start, but had a goal to her credit after playing five games.
Then, on a seemingly normal cold November 2014 afternoon, her truck ran out of gas on the shoulder of a busy street not far from campus. She hiked to a nearby gas station, returned with a can of gas, and was filling the truck, sure to be on her way soon. She doesn’t remember the rest.
Blood. It’s one of the first things Layla noticed when she got to the hospital. It was streaked in Lisa’s hair, along with pieces of glass. David and Kallie, their parents, were at work in the restaurant and motel they own, 135 miles away, when they got a frantic call from Layla. They called the Grand Forks hospital. Lisa was there, in the emergency room. She was alive and stable, but the parents were advised to get there ASAP.
A few hours later, they found their youngest daughter covered in blankets. The room smelled of gasoline. Her right arm was a mangled mess, broken in three places, with a three-inch section of bone gone and a hole bigger than a bottle cap, where bone had punctured skin. All of the ligaments in Lisa’s right knee were shredded. Nerve damage had curled her right hand and wrist into a paralyzed fist.
Blood. It’s red. The same color as the car that came speeding down the road that day. While Lisa stood by the shoulder, pouring gas into her truck, an 18-year-old driver was racing with a friend in another car. He lost control, and slammed into the back of Lisa’s truck. Witnesses later recounted to police that the impact sent her body flying through the air.
The driver was later charged with aggravated reckless driving, and spent several months in jail. For Lisa, the sentence was considerably lengthier.
The arm surgery was performed in North Dakota. Knee surgery in Colorado. Months at home, going through a physical therapy routine three or four times each day. Four more follow-up medical trips to Colorado. A nightmare of medical bills, insurance paperwork, legal issues as the reckless driver went through the justice system, and an uncertain future.
Her father isn’t a patient person, and admits that it seemed like every positive step took forever. But slowly she kept getting better, getting stronger. After a few months of needing her mother’s help for little things like showering and getting dressed, Lisa could put the wheelchair away. The nerves in her hand improved. The pain in her arm became more manageable.
Back On The Ice
Blood. It’s one of the things that connects Lisa and her cousin Gigi Marvin, who has skated for Team USA in a pair of Olympics and has two silver medals to prove it.
In July 2015, the ice went into the arena in Warroad for Gigi’s summer hockey camp. Lisa knew that was the time to try skating again, with one important demand. She wanted the whole family on the ice with her. For Kallie, that meant donning a pair of white figure skates for the first time in maybe a decade. But they did it, and Lisa joined her parents, sister Layla and brother Max on the ice. They skated for 40 minutes. She made her parents promise not to cry. They broke that vow.
“It was weird. I really didn’t know how it would go,” Lisa said. “I was definitely weak, and those first few shots were definitely awkward.”
Last season she was not physically ready to play college hockey again, but she came back to school, re-joined the team and even traveled on a road trip. Each day at practice, Lisa worked individually with Peter Elander, one of the Hawks’ assistant coaches. She was re-learning to skate, shoot and pass, but nobody knew if it would be good enough.
“She was basically cleared, medically, but making a D-I roster was a whole different thing,” David said, who admits the family kept its schedule open for the fall of 2016, just to be safe.
“She kind of warned us and said, ‘Remember, I wasn’t the best player on the team before I got hurt.’ So there was no guarantee of anything.”
But Elander eventually saw a stronger player than the one he knew before that fateful day on the highway. The former Swedish national team coach saw improved skating skills and a harder shot than Lisa had as a freshman.
“Watching her practice, we had no doubt she should have the chance to get back in the lineup,” said Amy Menke, North Dakota’s top scorer, and one of Lisa’s best friends.
In September, when the roster for the Hawks’ first games of the season – a two-game trip to Mercyhurst – was posted, one name on the list was Lisa Marvin. The entire family trekked to the rink in western Pennsylvania, 1,000 miles from home, to see this incredible comeback completed.
In the locker room that night, Lisa admits the nerves were intense. The coach read off the starting lineup, waiting until last to announce Lisa’s name, and her teammates were all holding back the tears when she was named a starter. Not all were successful. North Dakota won, 3-1. But the biggest winner wore jersey #55 and took the opening faceoff.
“I’ve coached in an Olympic finals and my coaching bucket list is pretty full,” Elander said. “I’d never had tears at a hockey game before. That was the first time.”
Blood. It courses through the veins in Lisa’s repaired right arm. There’s a scar there, one she prefers to keep covered. She doesn’t want to be defined by or remembered for the act of a careless driver. She just wants to be a college kid again, going to class, hanging with teammates, playing hockey.
“She’s always been very, very humble, but she knows people are cheering for her,” David said.
She’s been back in action for a few months now, and had a pair of assists in the Hawks’ first 10 games. She’s not on pace for all-conference honors, but she is on pace to graduate. And she’s on the ice, skating for her school, just like a normal college kid.
“When you think of how bad it could have been, it’s easy to get emotional,” David said. “She doesn’t need to play another game for me, or for her mom or anyone. She made it her goal because she wanted to do it for her. Mission accomplished. She made it back.”
Through all of the long nights and frustrating days and the surgeries and therapy and practice, it almost seems like she had to.
For Lisa Marvin, it’s in her blood.
Jess Myers is a freelance writer based in the St. Paul suburb of Inver Grove Heights, Minn.