Eleanor Lustig ’18 doesn’t like to choose favorites, but she is one of my favorite people. She is down to earth and even more committed to her friends than to her double major in mathematics and environmental studies. I sat down with her to hear about her passion for food systems and what the process of injury and recovery has taught her.
You went to a really tiny high school, right?
I went to this school called Waring School in Beverly, Mass., and there were, I think, 27 kids in my graduating class and probably 10 to 15 kids I was with straight through from sixth grade. It’s a liberal arts high school where everyone speaks French. I loved it. Everyone takes the same classes — you take a humanities class, French class, math class, science class, creative writing and art all the way through. Everyone sings in the chorus. You have a theatre requirement and music theory requirement. And there’s no grades and no raising of hands, and you call teachers by their first names. It’s a great place.
What made you stop playing lacrosse?
I’d always wanted to play lacrosse in college, and I walked onto the lacrosse team here. I got a couple of injuries my sophomore year, so I didn’t play for the second half of the season. Then last January, right before preseason, I got my third really bad concussion – which basically gave me a decision to make about lacrosse. The concussion took seven months to heal before I could start getting back into physical activity. And I ended up deciding that with my history of injury in the sport and the risk… I mean, no one wants their fourth concussion. So I decided it wasn’t in my long-term best interest to keep playing.
You’ve replaced lacrosse with cycling and running.
Yeah. Now I’m on the cycling team, and I love it. The important message I learned my sophomore year, when I ran a marathon and got three overuse injuries in my hip, is that I can’t just run all the time – I have to do other things, too. Now I’m basically alternating between cycling and running so that I make sure that I’m not getting injured.
Can you talk about how you recover from injuries?
One of the big things I’ve learned through the process of injury and recovery is to advocate for yourself. Both with my hip injury and my head, I had teams of doctors that missed the big things. The doctors I saw for my hip in the fall of my sophomore year missed a stress fracture. I took some time off from lacrosse and recovered partially, and then I asked if I could start to play again. I got the go-ahead because the doctors said it was just tendinitis. But throughout the season, it didn’t feel right, and I ended up having to really advocate for myself to get an MRI. And they found a stress fracture that had been overlooked.
Then you had a concussion.
I got the concussion in a car accident in which I lost control of my car, slid in black ice conditions and hit a tree. And so a lot of it was from the airbag. After three months, I kind of plateaued in my recovery. It took me longer than I wish it had to realize most of what I was experiencing was from whiplash and not actually the concussion. Whiplash doesn’t go away unless you really treat it a lot. No medical person told me that I had to actually attack the whiplash, essentially, to make it go away. By the time I started treatment really intensively, about six months out, it took a lot longer than it would’ve if I’d gotten into it earlier to get the muscles to loosen up. I still have problems in my neck and my upper back that I’m not sure will ever go away because they’re so deeply knotted.
What was the recovery like from the concussion?
I learned a lot about patience. Having a concussion for so long really helped my anxiety. Because you’re kind of in a dampened state when you’re concussed, my anxiety never hit the peaks it had used to hit. And it’s kind of stayed that way. I’ve recovered, and I have a greater ability to chill now. [Laughs.] Last spring I was on a reduced course load, and I felt like I had all the time in the world because I also wasn’t playing a sport. That got me thinking a lot about time. I realized I had always been under the impression that I didn’t have time that I actually did have. I always thought, “Oh, I can’t do X, Y or Z because I’m so busy.” I wouldn’t leave time for myself to sleep enough because I had so much to do the next day. While concussed, I learned the ins and outs of appreciating the time you really do have and taking advantage of it. There’s a mantra I like: “Gotta take time to make time.” [Laughs.] And that’s important to me.
You’re passionate about food. Are you thinking of a career related to that?
I have always been really passionate about food in all perspectives. I worked at a really awesome organization called the Intervale Center in Burlington, Vt. last summer. It’s an organization that works to support all aspects of community food systems – helping support farmers and sustainable land use, helping build community around food and supporting lower income community members in getting really good, nutritious food from local farms. I have also been involved with the WRAPS [Williams Recovery of All Perishable Surplus] program throughout my time here and am now part of a nascent student group called the Food Group, which put on the Empty Bowl Dinner. I definitely would love to work in food systems at some level. I love growing food. I love teaching people about food and helping people connect with and through food. I’m also passionate about issues of sustainability – making sure we are growing food in a way that is sustainable for the land and for communities. I want to help ensure that people get food that truly nourishes them in a physical, emotional and cultural sense. But I’m not exactly sure what channel fits me the best yet.
No. I don’t do favorites. I’m really bad at them. I think I take favorites too literally. I’m afraid to commit myself to a favorite.
Okay, well, what are your favorite and least favorite parts of Williams?
I’m much better at least favorites than favorites. My least favorite part of Williams is the expectation that you’re going to do as much as you possibly can while you’re here. We all tend to be overcommitted. I think there’s just an attitude that to brutalize yourself with school work and extracurriculars is to be the ideal citizen of this campus … that this is how you prove your worth, that this is where your worth comes from on some level. I’ve never had fewer commitments during my time here than right now, and I love it because I just feel like I’m so much better able to connect to the people around me. I think the best part of Williams is the people and the place. Williams wasn’t on my radar until I visited in October of my senior fall. The interactions I had with the people were so much deeper than at any of the other schools I’d visited. I turned around in two weeks and applied early decision. That has kind of rung true throughout my time here. There’s no shortage of wonderful people here, and the more time I invest in my relationships, the happier I am.
Last fall, you’d often be at Tunnel by 6 a.m. But you seem like you’re taking a more relaxed approach to senior spring.
Every semester here for me has been so dramatically different. This fall, I was taking five classes, one of which was an independent study. It was a lot. I had this attitude that I was going to work really hard, get those classes done with and take it easy this spring. This ties into what I was saying about recovery and being gentle with yourself generally. The injury and recovery processes I have been through during the past two years have taught me a lot about the balance between working hard and taking down-time. My hip injuries were all overuse injuries from running too hard and too often without giving my body time to recover. Since then, I’ve had to dramatically rethink how I approach running. I’ve learned that it’s not about how hard you train, but how smartly and attentively you train. This change in mentality has carried over to how I approach life more generally, too… Last fall, it was getting up early and going to bed early. This winter and spring, it has been staying up later and letting myself sleep in. It’s all part of a process of being gentler on myself and being responsive to the present.