Thoughts from a social distancing senior student-athlete

Since the announcement of the NCAA shutdown, things have changed rapidly. On Tuesday, March 10, I was dancing in the rain with my teammates after practice. We were laughing because we had all just received an email saying that classes would be remote until spring quarter in light of heightening concerns about the coronavirus. Had we known just how serious things were, we wouldn’t have been dancing. 

We assumed that we would keep practicing and our track season would continue as planned. We were wrong. The next day we had a tougher practice in preparation for our first conference outdoor meet. Before the workout, our coach informed us that the Big West had moved to go forward with “fanless” competition. For a teammate and I, this was our senior year and we didn’t know how we would explain to our family members that their plane tickets and other travel plans would need to be canceled. Looking back, we shouldn’t have been upset. 

Everything after Wednesday was a complete whirlwind of emails and announcements, each more shocking than the last. The Big West Conference went from indefinitely suspending to canceling all competition for the remainder of the season in just two days. Cities delivered “shelter-in-place” mandates with many states following shortly after. 

I cried for two days, heartbroken that my final track season had been canceled before outdoor competition even started. As a track athlete, our sport is the culmination of months of hard work, dedication and sacrifice, all done with the hope that our efforts will pay off as the season unfolds. I felt like everything I had worked so hard for had been ripped away. 

My coach explained to me that the NCAA is working on some form of eligibility relief, so I will get the season back. However, the reality is that nothing is guaranteed. While I will try to see my final season through, I will have to make sure that graduate school is practical for me. If it doesn’t work out, I will have to move on. 

I don’t know what will happen next, but I do know that I am incredibly grateful for my time here at the University of California, Riverside. Being a student here has been more rewarding than I could have ever imagined. Here, I learned some of the most important lessons of my life. I made memories that I’ll never forget. I became a better person. The friendships I have formed with teammates and the mentors that I have gained in my coaches and professors will stay with me forever. In probably the most frightening and uncertain time of my life, I know one thing for sure: I’m lucky to be a Highlander. 

While I am saddened by the loss of a season along with student-athletes all over the country, cancellation of competition is the least of any of our concerns right now. We are living in history. This global pandemic will shape our generation, and the way that we respond to it matters. COVID-19 is not just your common flu. People are dying. Though we are young and healthy, we are perfect potential carriers for the virus. “Shelter-in-place” mandates should be taken seriously. Consider the health of not just your own family and friends, but immune-compromised and older people everywhere. Like many student-athletes, I’ll be working out in my home, and making sure I keep a social distance when I go run, preparing myself for the opportunity to compete again even though it might not come.

Editor’s note: Callie Lawson-Freeman, the writer of this article, is a fourth-year student-athlete on the track and field team.