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The laments of a college athlete during a pandemic

Madison Wrightstone ’23

Being an athlete has always been a key piece of my identity. Now I fully recognize that that might immediately cast me in a particular light, but in all honesty, it is completely true. Everyone has that thing about them that makes life feel a little fuller and the world feel a little brighter. Since I was three years old, the world of sports has been a comfort, a safe space away from the troubles always looming close by. Having the ability to make the decision to continue playing softball in college is one that I was incredibly thankful for, and even though my experience has been incredibly nontraditional in so many ways, the role of being an athlete for Juniata has already made such an impact on who I am as a person.

So, what do you do when that safe space is suddenly ripped away from you in a matter of hours? An injury is one thing – a rational explanation that albeit awful, it at least creates a smoother tear in the wounds of your life. But what do you do when a global pandemic shut everything down for six months? I, along with athletes all over the world, lost 210 innings of softball I will never again get the chance to play. I lost practice hours, time with my teammates, and the chance to play the sport that has meant so much in my life. And while I am incredibly lucky at the prospect of getting to play my sophomore year, I am still losing out on a traditional season once again.

Being an athlete in a world where the threat of coronavirus shutting us down any day now is not something I would have ever guessed I would have to experience. Having to be masked up everywhere from practices to the locker room to the weight room is truthfully not the biggest inconvenience, even if it is frustrating at times. Sometimes I do get a bit nostalgic for the days where I felt like my lungs would collapse after running VLB stairs even with an uninhibited supply of air. Our time in the locker room is now much more limited in order to make time for cleaning and limit large groups being so closely together. This means no more naps on the comfortable couch or playing Mario Kart with my best friends for hours before practice – which is honestly one of the things that I miss the most. And even as I sit here writing this, I still have no idea what my season is even going to look like. March 1st is just around the corner and we are not even sure when our first game will be.

A year later, in so many ways it still feels like we are just rolling with the punches. It is incredibly difficult to be hopeful and it is even more difficult to cling to the false promise of something that has the possibility of being ripped away at any moment. While I always knew one day that I would put on my cleats for the last time, put on my uniform one last time, step onto the field side by side with my teammates for one last time, I never expected to have that overwhelming panic as a freshman playing her first 10 collegiate games in Florida. Despite how unintentionally pessimistic this post ended up sounding, I have never once felt unsafe or like my health was at risk due to any of the practices we have had this year. Juniata has been not only incredibly understanding about the value of athletics in terms of their students’ mental health, but also in the context trying to make the best out of a bad situation. The world of athletics is one that has been negatively impacted by coronavirus in so many ways and yet we continue to bounce back. And despite everything happening in the world around us, I, along with so many others, will continue to hope. Here is to hoping for a chance to play a season this spring for athletes everywhere, but specifically go Eagles!