I fractured my femur in late February of my freshman year. As a Division I student athlete in track and cross country, I was devastated. I had redshirted that year, and if I couldn't heal in time for the fall cross country season, I wouldn't race in my first eligible meet. Little did I know, my injury preceded a pandemic that quickly shut down college athletics. Our season was canceled, and my teammates and I were sent home — me to recover, them to miss the rest of their track season.
We spent the summer anxiously awaiting the news that fall sports would be called off by our conference, but it never came. My teammates and I returned to the university for a season unlike any we'd experienced before. A reduced meet schedule, biweekly COVID-19 testing, and smaller group runs have been just a few of the ways we've adjusted for COVID-19. And while those adjustments aren't so bad, the emotional ramifications of the pandemic run much deeper.
I live, eat, sleep, and train with my teammates, which is a double-edged sword. On one hand, I'm incredibly grateful that our university has the resources to test us twice a week. While I have friends outside the team that I wish I could see, it's comforting to know that everyone I spend my time with has been tested recently. On the other hand, I'm nervous to visit the library or even the grocery store, for fear of bringing back the virus and infecting the whole team.
As athletes, we've made a commitment to each other to take as many precautions as we can so that we don't lose our season. If we're exposed, we can't be with the team. Most of us live with other runners and would have to move out for two weeks to quarantine, and that weighs on us. Students who aren't athletes don't carry the same burden, which is why being on campus doesn't always feel safe. I was able to take all my classes online this semester, but some of my teammates didn't have that option.
While it can feel like COVID-19 is always lurking around the corner, I'm deeply thankful that we're back on campus for the cross country season. As a year-round athlete, it's frustrating to train without being able to race, so I'm grateful for the four meets we do have scheduled. Because cross country takes place outdoors, it's been an easier adjustment for us than it has been for other sports. We wear masks for any indoor training, and run in smaller groups without masks outside.
Running is at the core of my college experience, and school wouldn't feel the same without it.
I train indoors more often than my teammates, because I work out on different cardio machines as part of my recovery. While my leg has healed, I'm still working up to the same level of fitness I was at before my injury. Not being able to visit our training staff for the first five months of it made progress more difficult, so while I'm grateful to be back to running, I wish I was closer to racing speed. And while the schedule this fall will be easier for my recovery, with fewer races set further back in the year, I still wish that we had a full season. Many of my teammates trained hard over the summer and are ready to race. Even though I'm not physically where I want to be, I'm excited for them and grateful that they're able to compete at all.
Whether I'm race-ready or not, I'm happy that this season is happening. Although the NCAA gave us an additional year of eligibility, not every athlete wants to stick around for more than four or five years. For many students, particularly those who have already redshirted, losing this season would have meant one less opportunity to race. It's safe to say that most of my teammates, regardless of their graduation plans, are thankful to be back on the course.
While competing during COVID-19 certainly isn't perfect, I'm glad that I'm doing it, and I feel that my university has put the proper measures in place to keep its athletes safe. Watching schools cut programs, conferences opt out, and athletes lose their seasons has made me even more grateful to be racing, no matter how fast I can run. While COVID-19 brings heightened anxiety to campus, running is at the core of my college experience, and school wouldn't feel the same without it.