Anna Wilson: I'm more than a basketball player and more than Russell Wilson's sister

Stanford senior Anna Wilson was forced to consider a life without basketball when concussions threatened to keep her off the court. Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire/AP Photo

I DIDN'T EXPECT my basketball career to unfold the way that it has. And I certainly didn't expect to receive a Twitter notification telling me that my senior season at Stanford was coming to an abrupt end due to a global pandemic. I thought I'd have a few more games, another chance to make a run at a championship. One last dance, as they say. Under normal circumstances, that might have felt devastating, but I've been thinking about life after sports for quite some time. Many of my fellow athletes are being forced to think about it today, much sooner than expected. But this is one thing I've learned: Your identity isn't based on your circumstance.

I grew up in Richmond, Virginia, in a nice area. My dad was a lawyer. My mom was a nurse. I have two older brothers. One, Harry, with whom I share a birthday, is 14 years older than me. Russell is eight years older.

Yes, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is my brother. I'll come back to that later.

My dad got very sick when I was in fifth grade. He was diagnosed with diabetes in his early 30s, but his health worsened when I was around 10. Around that time, he stepped on a piece of glass while walking around the house; he didn't feel it because of the damaged nerve endings in his foot. The resulting infection led to his leg being amputated.

My dad was a two-sport athlete at Dartmouth -- football and baseball. He went from being an athlete to struggling to get out of bed in the mornings, and that really affected my family. After the amputation, we moved out of our multistory house into an apartment because he couldn't walk up the stairs. While we lived at that apartment, my mom went on a work trip -- I was staying with my grandmother -- and my dad fell and hit his head. My mom found him when she returned, unconscious but breathing. He had suffered a stroke, and the complications resulted in him losing his ability to speak clearly and write with his right hand. I recall helping him take his pills and checking his blood sugar. His health continued to decline while I was in middle school. He was in the hospital on June 8, 2010. I remember it clearly because it was the day the Colorado Rockies drafted Russell. My mom and Russell were talking in a separate waiting room from me. When they came to get me, my dad stopped breathing -- he'd lost the strength to continue on his own. He died the next day. I was 12.

After my father's death, my mom became a single parent. Both of my brothers were out of the house -- Russell was at NC State. I was often the only person at home. Having a parent who was so sick put things into perspective early for me. I had to grow up fast because I felt like I needed to be strong for my mom.

Sports had become an outlet for me when my father was alive. It took my mind off him being sick. After he was gone, with my mom being at work all the time and my brothers being away, it filled some of that void.

So I lived at the gym.

BEFORE MY SENIOR year of high school, I convinced my mom to let me live with Russell -- who by that time had played in two Super Bowls and won one with the Seahawks -- outside Seattle. I wanted to adjust to the West Coast before enrolling at Stanford, where I had committed as a sophomore. I went to Bellevue High School and I had a plan for how I wanted my senior year to go. I wanted to be a high school All-American, play in the Jordan Brand Classic, those types of successes. I wanted to be great in everything that I did -- and that included sports. We went 29-0 my senior year and won the state championship and the Nike Tournament of Champions. When you're in high school, those things seem so big and so grand.

But during practice before the McDonald's All American Games in March, I suffered a concussion. It was my third, and it was bad. In that moment, I wasn't in my right state of mind. Everything was a blur. I struggled in class for the last two or three months of high school. My vision was poor, and I couldn't focus.

Even when I came to Stanford that summer and through the fall, I was still dealing with my concussion. My symptoms were so strong. I was out for eight months, and that's when my definition of success started to change. At that moment, basketball -- this thing that had provided such a path for me -- was being taken away. I was told I might never play again. I still went to classes and practice and traveled with the team, but I felt very separate from them. When you have an injury, it's hard to feel like you're a part of the team. You're not in it. You're on the sideline. I wasn't engaged with the coaches or the team. I was a cyclist, doing half-marathons on the stationary bike. Something I had used as an escape when I was younger, as a tool to find joy, I wasn't feeling any of that. It took me a long time to feel that joy and happiness again.

Freshman year is so formative as an athlete because it's when you build confidence and learn. But if you're not playing at all, it's impossible to get into a groove and know what you contribute to the team. I played just 48 minutes that season, but I recovered. I went through an intense rehabilitation to recover from significant brain trauma. I went on to play three more years at Stanford.

Along the way, my focus started to shift. My vision of who I am began to align with who I was becoming because of all the obstacles I overcame.

Excellence is everywhere at Stanford, but everyone's version of success and excellence is so different that I had to learn that my own definition of success is itself important. I think any kid nowadays is like, "You make it to the WNBA, you're successful. You score however many points, you're the team's leading scorer, then you're successful." But in life, those things are fleeting.

I started thinking about who I am off the floor. I started searching for what success is outside of basketball. If I didn't play sports again, what could I possibly do that still brings value to the world and to my family? That might seem super cliché, but it really was like, "What else gives me purpose?" This is where my faith comes in.

When things aren't going my way and it's tough on the court, I always whisper, "He must increase, I must decrease." That's John 3:30. I wrote that on my left wrist and "joy" on the top of my left hand before every practice. For me, that means minimizing myself -- to put others first, and Jesus first, is more important than anything else. My faith has helped me with my definition of success. It's definitely not all about me.

TODAY, I HAVE the faith of knowing that I've dealt with a lot of struggle. I've dealt with the loss of a parent. I've dealt with living in the shadow of a great athlete and people's expectations. There are so many things outside of sports that I've been able to accomplish just because I've made it to today. I never gave up. And a lot of people can't say that they've made it to today.

Over the years, as I've gotten older, I've gotten much closer with Russell. And I feel like his shadow, for me, has dissipated. I don't feel like I'm living in it as much as I was in the past. I feel like I'm very much my own person now, following my own path.

I see the world uniquely because of the perspective that I gained growing up. But it's the passions that I have gathered along the way that sustain me on my journey. Art is my passion and it has also helped me see beauty in the lowlights and highlights of life. I got into photography because I would take pictures to help remember things when I was struggling with memory issues due to my concussion. My photos are in black and white but the beauty in art and life is in the array of gray tones -- the uncertainties and surprises. It all started as a hobby. Now, four years later, I'm majoring in art practice, which means I study a variety of art mediums and how to apply them in our current context. With so much uncertainty right now, I'm not sure what I will do after graduation. I'm just trying to take it day by day.

Still, I've found my own passions. I know what excites me, and I know that whatever I end up doing I'll be able to give it everything I've got because of what I've been through. Although life is very moment to moment because of everything that's going on in the world today, I'm looking forward to what the future holds.

Even though my senior season ended the way that it did, there is always something good that can come out of the bad. I got to sit in our team's circle for the last time, and I got to tell those people how they made me feel. I got to express that regardless of how my journey started, I saw the struggle all the way through. I made it.

With all the ups and downs of being a student-athlete at the most competitive academic and athletic university, I've learned more than I could've imagined. I wouldn't change a thing. I have friends and mentors for a lifetime. When I lost a dad, God provided an entire family that helped me become the woman I am today. I know my dad would be proud.