On March 11, the Yale women’s crew team arrived in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, for a season opener that would never come. Just minutes before gathering as a team for our first practice on the race course, our head coach received the call that the Ivy League was suspending all competition for the remainder of the academic year indefinitely. The news was shocking but soon became the national standard.
We flew back the next day and arrived on campus in New Haven. Soon, athletic leagues around the country — even professional ones — were also canceling their seasons. Days later, Yale moved the remainder of its spring semester online and canceled its commencement exercises. The coronavirus continued to emerge as a severe global pandemic, and every effort to combat it was necessary.
The point of this letter is not to question the decisions that were made. We agree with them wholeheartedly, but this does not make them any less heartbreaking.
In the coming days, we received an outpouring of sympathy from family, friends and alumni. “I’m so sorry this all happened,” they said. “Just as your season was about to start.” For anyone who knows a member of Yale women’s crew, they’ll know that despite our categorization on the Yale Athletics website, we are not a spring sport.
Like many competitive Division I sports, ours is unquestionably a year-round endeavor. Our friends will know that we really begin our season in August, with the first day of the school year. From there, we train at early and late hours, both before and after classes, nearly every day of the week, both on our own and with our coaches. They’ll know that each year we continue this regimen well beyond final exams and through the NCAA championships at the end of May. We rest only briefly afterward, before training over the summer to start our hunt again in August. In short, March is in no way the start of our season, yet there we were, crying in Tennessee at its end. Like many Yale students, particularly the class of 2020, we were left wondering. How would it have ended? What course would it have taken? What moments will I never know the feeling of? Would we have won?
What makes this all the more heartbreaking is precisely what should give us solace. Ultimately, this decision hurt because we invested in something, because we cared about something, because we aimed and fought for something, with someone. To anyone who feels as though they have invested much for a return that they will never see, I assure you: So much of your reward has already been won. It is the very act of investing, of pouring your energy if not your passion into a pursuit, of chasing excellence, of feeling connected to others as you go, that makes it all worthwhile. Our final acts only have meaning because of how strongly they were founded by the acts that built them.
As we try to wrap our heads around all that has just unexpectedly changed, I’ve found it helpful to consider the following perspective.
To student-athletes: Would you rather have competed solely in your championship at the end of the year and attained the trophy that comes with it? Or would you rather have spent the last four years of your life tirelessly chasing that trophy, continuing to dare, even knowing that the highlight reel would be cut short?
To my fellow seniors: Would you rather have sat in front of Michelle Obama on Old Campus, savoring her words under the sun as your Class Day speaker (I remain convinced that for 2020 she would have been chosen) and only had this day in your time at Yale? Or would you rather have fully experienced 93 percent of your days on campus, knowing that this day would never come?
If you can’t have it both ways, which would you choose?
Although we have unknowingly walked away from campus without these culminating acts to look forward to, and perhaps without some of our physical belongings as well, we can all walk away with two immeasurable things: the strengths you know you now possess having endured this journey and the friendship of the people who made your journey possible. These lessons fill the essence of this quote, one that I turned to often throughout my time and training at Yale: “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning, but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well.”
However far away we may be from what we expected, I hope you are able to find some comfort in knowing that because you have taken part, the most indispensable things are already with us.
Elizabeth Duserick is a senior in Davenport College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.