A word I’ve heard a lot in the past few weeks is “unprecedented.” And it’s certainly justified. I never considered the possibility of my senior season on the lightweight rowing team being cancelled, much less due to a pandemic, given that the last time national rowing events and collegiate seasons were cancelled on this scale was during World War II.
There were moments when being at home this time of year felt particularly odd. I’m used to a very different rhythm in April, centered around practicing and racing. In the past few weeks I’ve woken up some mornings, felt the warmer weather outside and thought, “Today’s perfect for a row.” Yet I will likely never get in a shell as an athlete again. For every spring sport, it’s unfortunate that the cancellation forced many seniors to suddenly say goodbye to a craft they long loved and honed.
In March, I was excited for the season ahead because I’d seen the team’s hard work up to that point. In a way, the premature ending was like stopping a construction project right before the finishing touches. We had been building something. During the spring, I’d look forward to racing a new competitor each week because we’d finally get to “show our hand,” displaying the speed we had built over the past six months. Unfortunately, my teammates and I won’t have that opportunity. At least in the near future, all the early mornings, tough workouts and mental effort we put in won’t bear fruit in competition.
However, these are small and comparatively insignificant costs if it means saving lives. The cancellations had to happen. Additionally, being home during this time, with the team scattered across the country, I’m reminded of all the great things I get to keep. I can Zoom with my teammates any time to chat, as if it’s just another day and we’re on the bus to Gilder Boathouse or hanging out in a dining hall. I can call or text them to just catch up. We have group messages and held virtual get-togethers. With a few of them, I even get to plan my life after college, as I’ll be living with another senior next fall.
For senior athletes, COVID-19 took away a season of competition and our last semester at school. But we were lucky to have the previous three-and-a-half years because we get to keep the friendships formed in them. Friendships from sport are special — formed like any others but strengthened with blood, sweat and tears (and some laughter in there too). Years of a common goal and tough competition render a network of support and encouragement. Those are the valuables we hang on to once we empty our lockers. We get to keep the shared memories, the life lessons and the inside jokes, and more importantly, we get the opportunity to make more of those after college.
I wanted to race my senior season on the lightweight crew team, but I won’t get to. That stings. However, I have a host of friends and stories that’ll long outlast my time as a Yale athlete. That’s a blessing.