The New Normal How COVID-19 is impacting life on and off campus for NCAA members

“We should start journaling about this.”

I remember my lacrosse teammates and I agreeing to this idea as we were flopping down onto our hotel beds after an exhausting game in the Clearwater, Florida, heat. It was March 13, and on the bus home from the game, we got the news that our season had been canceled.

We had a clue that this was an important moment, but we couldn’t yet wrap our minds around just how pivotal it would be. We definitely knew we should document it. And, anyway, journaling has always helped me feel steady when times get tough.

So I started journaling.

A month and a half later, I still can’t yet wrap my mind around what that moment means, probably because all of this feels pretty new. Yet despite this feeling of bewilderment and despite how many of my professors talk about this “unprecedented” moment we’re all in, some small part of it has felt familiar to me.

I, like many athletes, already knew the feeling of losing a season (and then another season, and then another).

The first day of lacrosse practice my sophomore year, a gnarly knee-to-head collision took me out of not only sports, but also everything else. I was just starting to get it together, too. My field hockey team had won our conference in the fall, and everyone was amped for our lacrosse team’s first Division III season. I was also our newly elected Student-Athlete Advisory Committee president. How was I going to handle that responsibility if I couldn’t even play sports anymore?

Truthfully, though, the concussion was so bad that returning to sports ended up being the least of my concerns. My doctors had no idea why I wasn’t healing, and the weeks turned into months, which turned into nearly two years with concussion symptoms. I felt a sense of despair I never had before. It was like I was doing everything right, yet still I wouldn’t heal.

I felt completely helpless.

I don’t even remember this next part, because of, you know, the concussion. But, in my journal, I wrote that I would wake up some mornings and cry because I wasn’t supposed to be waking up with headaches still. When I flip back through those heartbreaking old journal entries, I wonder if I had any clue how good things would turn out to be.

And at some point during the quiet, lonely moments of my concussion, I found strands of courage and hope to reach for — that things really would turn out OK. I told myself: This can’t last forever, right? Even if the headaches lasted a few more months and I missed my senior seasons, I still would’ve learned so much about how to pause, listen to my body and take care of it. I began writing feverishly to my future self, vowing that when I got better, I would appreciate everything so much more and never forget how bad I missed the world.

I’m writing that vow to my future self now, too.

I got cleared to play the day before my senior field hockey preseason started. I broke down in tears as I walked out of the doctor’s office and immediately called my dad. “What, is your check engine light on or something?” is how he answered the phone.

Every moment from then on felt magical.

Even the day I ran a 600-yard sprint for cursing in the middle of practice (100 yards per letter), I smiled to myself at how silly and precious a moment like that was. During every pregame national anthem this season, I shed soft tears as I remembered the despair I once felt and compared it to the wonder I was feeling in that moment.

I see this sense of despair now everywhere, stirring within everyone.

The other day my brother returned from a 24-hour EMT shift, collapsed on his bed and recounted to my mom and me, “So many people are dying.” We live in northern New Jersey, just 30 miles from the New York City epicenter. He needs to talk to stay sane, just like I need to write.

So he talks, and I write. And we hold onto these things that keep us feeling steady.

Above all, I remember the courage and hope that I started to feel back during my concussion recovery, that things would get better and that I would never forget how much I loved and appreciated the world.

And I remember that things really did get better. I try to remind myself of that now.

There will still be a loss of many things from COVID-19 — I knew that feeling then and know it now — but we will emerge anew. We will remember how we thought things would never get better, and then they did. Until then, I plan to write in my journal, listen to my brother, put my toes in fresh grass and relive beating Susquehanna in overtime as much as possible.

And I plan to find hope. I hope you do, too.

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