It’s been a rough year for Gabi Cohen. Between a fractured pelvis and torn ligaments, her progress on the lacrosse field has been stunted by injury. But Cohen, on the sidelines with her team every step of the way, still managed to win last year’s athletics’ community service award.
Cohen, a junior midfielder, teamed up with now-senior captain Victoria Kanaris and a handful of Northeastern University students to create a public service announcement-style documentary that highlighted New Englanders struggling with autoimmune diseases. The idea came from former Emerson lacrosse player Maggie Penza, who was working with the 50 Cents for 50 Million campaign, which raises funds to work toward a cure, according to the group’s website.
The two visual and media arts majors ran with the suggestion. Cohen, now concentrating in documentary production, said the ability to discover and document the health issue appealed to her.
“It was just a project that we were both pretty excited about, because we were like, ‘Well, we ourselves don’t know anything about it, so it would be really cool if we could get involved and educate other people [while] educating ourselves,’” Cohen said.
The three-minute, 35-second video featured testimonials from experts in the medical field, and from families and patients fighting the disease. It was released last year.
Cohen said she interned for Vice last summer and enjoyed collaborating with their feminist department. She said she’ll use the summer to hone in on what exactly she hopes to do going forward in documentary.
Kanaris said she handled much of the editing work for the PSA, but discovered Cohen’s knack for conversation and envisioning the final product while in the field shooting video.
“She’s really good at asking questions in a natural way, steering the conversation where she would like it to go just to get information that is going to be meaningful on-screen,” Kanaris said. “She’s always a step ahead of the person that we’re interviewing. She also has very good vision aesthetically. She knows when things look good; she has an eye for it.”
The pair was stunned when Emerson’s athletic administration recognized them as co-recipients of their community service awardfor the work—neither Cohen nor Kanaris had submitted the video for consideration. In fact, according to Cohen, word had gotten to senior associate athletic director Erin Brennen via Penza.
Cohen said the unexpected honor sent a message that the higher-ups are committed to celebrating all forms of performance, including in the community.
“It was definitely really cool, because this was just something that I was doing low-key, that I thought was really cool and important, but it’s great that the athletics department makes an effort to recognize what their students are doing,” Cohen said.
While players from all of Emerson’s teams were called upon to submit any extracurricular community activities, Kanaris said she and Cohen never truly saw their initiative in that light.
“I hardly even thought of this as a community service project, because it was working directly with an old teammate and her friend,” Kanaris said. “We were just doing this because we wanted to make a video and get the word out.”
Beyond the pure satisfaction of putting her skills to the test and helping to spread the word about autoimmune diseases, Cohen, a midfielder, said working with those she sees in the locker room on a daily basis outside of lacrosse brings an added sense of comfort when they put on their uniforms come game time.
“It has a sort of bonding thing outside of the field,” Cohen said. “The way you connect on the field definitely translates to the way you are on the field, because you have to be able to read each other [and] know each other’s habits.”
Women’s lacrosse head coach Kat Egizi said the team-building aspect of community service is something she encourages for everyone on her roster.
“We as a team really strive for putting them in positions where they’re able to interact and connect away from lacrosse,” Egizi said. “It’s so important to the connections we have with our team culture and things going on on the field.”
Kanaris said Cohen’s participation in the PSA is something she can hold onto despite the fact that her tireless rehab hasn’t yet resulted in a return to game action.
“You have different experiences that help you deal and cope with things that are happening in the moment when it comes to lacrosse,” Kanaris said. “Whether it’s just something in your attitude—keeping positive—or with Gabi, she obviously can’t be as involved on the field, but she’s still passionate about something off the field, and that will keep her happy.”
As the Lions recognize athletes for an array of accomplishments during Division III Week, Cohen said her effort is only a small piece of the puzzle.
“It’s crazy how much some of these other students, and me and my team, are able to do, because we have our full academic schedule, we have two hours of practice every single day, plus games,” Cohen said. “I don’t know where all these other kids find the time to do the crazy stuff they do. I don’t know how I found the time to do the stuff I did.”