Turmoil, anguish, bewilderment and disappointment describe the emotions Yale students have felt since the great disruption of COVID-19. As we enter into an unprecedented moment, the countless uncertainties make all of us feel incredibly unsettled. As a spring-sport athlete, I am forced to come to terms with the fact that my junior season has come to a shockingly abrupt and disheartening end. Our months of focused dedication were rendered pointless in one brief email. 

I’m sure many others share the feeling of immediate loss. However, after reminiscing about the moments of happiness, success and gratification that my team has brought me, I am left with a reminder of how lucky I am. Despite the tremendous confusion, the one thing that remains in our control is the way in which we approach our individual Yale experiences. When we return to normal life after things have settled, we should have an even greater appreciation for the lives each of us has cultivated as a Yale student. 

The time I’m spending processing this new reality allows me to reflect on my experience as a pole vaulter on Yale’s track and field team. Throughout the many years I have dedicated to my sport, I have been fortunate enough to remain just as eager and enthusiastic about pole vaulting as I was the day I started. The rush of endorphins, the excitement of finally making small technical corrections and the thrill of flinging myself into the air jump after jump are all part of what allow me to leave practice feeling giddy and motivated. Sometimes, I even fall asleep at night picturing the perfect jump or imagining how proud I would be to continue performing well for my team. Ultimately, it is difficult to put into words how much happiness this sport brings me.

COVID-19 may relieve some college athletes tired of all the difficult work — no more early practices, no more drudgery, no more physical and emotional exhaustion. But I am not one of those athletes. For me, I am frustrated that all of the hard work I have put in has not come to fruition, and I am disappointed that all my senior friends do not get a last season. Nevertheless, I am motivated for next season to make up for the losses of this year. I know I need to come back to Yale with more energy, focus and excitement than ever, making the most of my final year in Yale athletics. 

Sports can be frustrating, anxiety-provoking and can take an incredible toll on both the physical and mental health of athletes. I myself have experienced my fair share of hardships, extreme disappointment and feelings of inadequacy. After having dealt with countless injuries and frequently training alone as Yale’s sole pole vaulter, I understand that motivation can sometimes be scarce. It is safe to say collegiate athletics are not for the faint of heart. They require resilience, dedication and above all else, a love for the sport. 

These are the things that we expect to face as student athletes. We never expected to have to deal with what we face today. And yet, COVID-19 gives us the opportunity to shift our focus from all of these difficulties to the real reason we train, practice and compete: our love for our sports.

All of this is not unique to athletes. Yale is a place where individuals from diverse backgrounds and with a myriad of interests get to develop the passions held closest to their hearts. Whether it be students in sports, theater, a cappella, dance, sketch comedy or debate, this university is filled to the brim with talented people pursuing what they care about most deeply. Because Yale has so many gifted individuals, it also has a perfectionist culture where there is little room for error. The pressure for greatness and to live up to the Yale name can distract us from our joys. All of a sudden, obstacles seem insurmountable, frustrations become all-consuming and this negativity causes us to lose sight of what we love about these pursuits. 

Now that none of us are on campus, it can be even harder to remember and recognize the things that drive us — that make us love our own versions of Yale. But you can be sure that I will be using this time away from school to come back more inspired and eager than ever. 

I know that everyone at this prestigious university has big plans for themselves after their time in college has come to an end, and I have faith in Yale students to be able to achieve those goals. However, there are certain ventures that we will only get the opportunity to capitalize on while at Yale. As I look forward to what will now be my final season as a member of the track and field team, I recognize that our time at Yale is so limited. Next season will be my last opportunity to experience the flood of excitement and adrenaline that I now get when pole vaulting. Why not ignore my imperfections and embrace the aspects I love about my passion?

NBA Hall of Fame athlete Kobe Bryant once said, “If you love the boring agonizing moments … then you know that is when you have found something that is really true to you.” If we are able to overcome the hardships and frustrations that distract us from what we love and why we love it, then our Yale experiences will be more fruitful — bringing us fulfillment instead of disappointment. 

Even and especially with all of us quarantined away at home, I challenge us to search for the positives. Let our great performances excite us, and when we fall short of our expectations, let us not linger on the failure. Instead, let our setbacks drive the exhilaration that we know we can feel. 

I hope everyone can experience the same love that I feel for my sport. I know it’s down there in each and every one of us Yalies. Don’t let that love be overwhelmed by discouragement, sadness or frustration, even though during unprecedented times like these, the end goal can seem far off and intangible. For each of us that end goal might look different, but for me, it’s running faster, jumping higher and flying over the next bar.  

ERIN GERARDO is a junior in Timothy Dwight College. Contact her at erin.gerardo@yale.edu .