Impact of COVID-19 on F&M Athletes

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By Audrey Berling || Contributing Writer

The emergence of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, has proven to be a tough challenge for everyone. In my opinion, one of the largest groups that is being affected negatively by this virus is athletes. I’ve recruited a few fellow Franklin & Marshall athletes to shed light on what it has been like to be an athlete during COVID-19. 

The first issue that many athletes are facing is the unfortunate early ending of their season. Multiple spring sports have been cancelled as a result of schools closing in an effort to suppress the spread of the virus. The spring sports that were cancelled at Franklin & Marshall include tennis, track and field, softball, baseball, lacrosse, golf, and rowing. This is a large portion of our student athletes that are missing out on their 2019-2020 season. Track and field’s Fiz O’Connell ‘22 says, “It’s definitely frustrating to lose my outdoor track season because it’s my favorite season of the year. My team and I work hard literally all year so that we are the strongest and fastest once the spring season rolls around.” O’Connell’s words can be assumed for most athletes. We work hard year-round in preparation for our season. To have it be cancelled is devastating. 

Seniors and freshmen are perhaps the most disappointed– seniors especially as they were looking forward to a positive end to their college athletic careers. Andrew Pace ‘20, one of three seniors on the Franklin & Marshall tennis team, says, “There were so many things we all talked about achieving this year, and for the first time they actually seemed more like likelihoods than possibilities. Losing that was horrible.” He also went on to mention the emotional impact the cancellation had on him: “It hurt me a lot the days after. The biggest thing that helped me feel better was although I may lose that true team experience, tennis will always be something that can and will always be a part of my life.” Senior year is the last time these athletes have the opportunity to create strong bonds and memories with their teammates. Pace’s insight is a great window into the pain that COVID-19 is causing amongst seniors and athletes in general.

In the same vein, freshmen athletes at Franklin & Marshall have spent years perfecting their sport and working to excel in the classroom to get to where they are today. After all that work, playing their first year of collegiate sports is a dream come true. Class of 2023 spring athletes do not get this experience. Besides seniors and freshmen, any spring athlete attempting to make a bid for All-American is now stripped of that possibility for the 2019-2020 season. All-American is one of the highest honors an athlete can achieve in college. It is a huge letdown to have that opportunity taken away.

Along with lost opportunities, the abrupt cancellation of athletic seasons and departure from school has left many athletes feeling lonely. Teammates that they formed bonds with and prepared to compete with are now spread across the country. Without communication with teammates and without a season to be training for, a lot of athletes lose a sense of purpose. All of these things are new and tough challenges for athletes. 

The next problem athletes are facing is trying to keep their bodies in good condition. Gyms and other athletic facilities have shut down due to COVID-19 and athletes are unable to access the equipment they need to keep their bodies in shape for their specific sport. For the athletes not lucky enough to have an at-home gym, a creative approach to training is required. Squash, along with wrestling, is a Division 1 sport at Franklin & Marshall. The training for these two sports in particular is very specific. As a squash player myself, I have found it very difficult to work on the things that improve my game while in quarantine. All squash courts in my area have been shut down along with gyms, and I don’t have workout equipment at home. Squash is an intense sport that requires sharp hand-eye coordination, a lean frame, strong endurance, and powerful movement. It is hard to train for squash when there is no access to courts or gyms because I do not have the tools to develop my racket skills or my explosive movement. I will definitely come out of quarantine with decreased racket skills, but so will every other squash player. In the meantime, I have been utilizing my neighborhood to go for jogs and have been using my kitchen as a place to do things such as ab and leg workouts. However, this will probably only maintain my fitness level instead of increasing it. 

Wrestling’s Noah Chan ‘22 says, “Given that wrestling is a contact sport, actually practicing the sport has been impossible. I am just hopeful that this whole thing passes before I become washed up.” Chan’s comment on the impossibility of sport-specific training during COVID-19 is something most athletes are facing. We are all worried about losing the skills we had previous to the outbreak. We will all come out of quarantine with less skill, but I think there is a positive aspect to this situation. If every athlete is subject to decreased skills in their specific sport, they can take this time to focus on developing a different area of their game. For example, all athletes can spend time (that used to be spent on specific sport training) to now focus on using different exercises to build strength, eating better to achieve a frame that will benefit them next season, and improving their mental aspect of the game. 

This is such an uncertain time for everyone in the world. Athletes in particular will have to work hard to stay positive about the situation and use it to make them stronger people. I am confident that the community of Franklin & Marshall athletes will look out for each other and offer a helping hand to anyone struggling.

First Year Audrey Berling is a Contributing Writer. Her email is aberling@fandm.edu.

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