Being a student-athlete during the COVID-19 pandemic

by Nathan Herbst | Opinion Editor

I made peace with the possibility that my fall season could be canceled way back in the spring. As soon as the world began shutting down and everything seemed to change, I knew competitions would not be the same for a long time.

Of course, I had hoped things would turn out differently. As a cross country and indoor and outdoor track athlete, I am fortunate to have many opportunities to compete throughout the year. But as the spring came and went without an outdoor season, and I was forced to train alone at home, I found myself yearning for some sort of competition to greet me when I came back in the fall. 

When it eventually became clear that a regular season would not be possible, I was saddened, but not surprised. 

Athletes are supposed to be resilient. When the race doesn’t go out as you planned, your body doesn’t respond the way you want or the other team just seems too far ahead, you’re supposed to grit your teeth and keep trying until you either win, lose or become too exhausted to do anything else. But when life throws a curveball this size at you, there is little preparation the track or field can give you. 

An event like this demands a different kind of response, one that many with an athletic background may find hard to summon: patience and hope. You cannot outrun a national emergency. You cannot out-train a global pandemic. In the face of uncertainty, neither impulsive behavior nor immediate action can do much to get you through the hard time to come. 

Instead, the game changes to one of endurance, consistency and perseverance. Careful preparation and planning for a long off-season become the new priorities as the athletic department, coaches and student-athletes must consider the new role we all have to play during a season with COVID-19.

At first, it can be hard to look at anything but the negatives. But as busy as college athletes are, taking a step back to do some thinking can be quite helpful. 

The rush of practice, competition, classes and jobs can leave little time for introspection, for asking yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing. This extra time off has been a poignant reminder of all the blessings I sometimes take for granted and for which I need to be more grateful.

For many of us, being an athlete is the very core of who we are. The first thing we tell strangers is “I’m a cross country runner” or “I play basketball” or “I wrestle.” Our lives revolve around our craft and practice schedule. Without those, we can feel aimless or empty. The lack of an organized, competitive outlet for our effort and energy is a new feeling for most of us, but it’s important to remember that we’ll experience this again sooner than we might like: when we graduate. That time may be farther off for some of us than others, but if there’s one thing we can take from this experience, it’s that our seasons won’t last forever. 

Sooner or later, we all will have to step off the field for the last time. What are we going to do before then?

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