As many River Hawks find themselves separated from some of the greatest bonds they will have in their lives due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the virtual world is keeping teammates, coaches and their support staff connected and determined to reach better days.
“It’s pretty easy in this time to get really lonely and feel all by yourself,” said senior distance runner Christopher Alfond (Ashby, Mass.). “I think it’s definitely important that we continue talking. It’s okay to feel alone and unmotivated. Just know it’ll pass and I think definitely leaning on your teammates is one way to help you through it.”
Just like for Alfond, senior year for many student-athletes can be the most important and rewarding year of their collegiate careers. With the global pandemic terminating the most vital parts of the winter season and almost all of the spring, leaders like junior outfielder Vinnie Martin (Lodi, N.J) of the baseball team represent a voice that echoed through many of the UMass Lowell locker rooms.
“Our coach shared the news and no one really knew what to say, but Vinnie (Martin) made a speech talking about some seniors on our team that have gone through injury and a bunch of things, just how it got pulled away from them was brutal,” sophomore pitcher Gerry Siracusa (Kinnelon, N.J.) explained. “It’s kind of a wake-up call for us to cherish what we have day by day because you never know when it’s going to be done.”
The news was received by student-athletes while at practice, on a bus, at a hotel, or at a team dinner, but all ended with the same conclusion — heartbreak.
“We kept getting updates from our coach I’d say at least two or three times a day,” commented field hockey sophomore Lindsey Kilpatrick (Manlius, N.Y.). “We were on the phone with her trying to figure out what exactly was going to happen. It went from practice being optional, to practice being postponed for two weeks, to obviously everything ending. It was definitely a crazy time. It was hard to see where things were going,”
Now transitioning to a new technological norm, freshman Alex Palermo (Reading, Mass.) and the rest of the women’s lacrosse team are grateful to have their teammates still by their sides.
“Just being able to all go through it together is helping us become closer as a team. We were getting so used to seeing each other every day. We just got back from a trip to New York where we were with each other every second of every day right before the whole thing happened, so I think what is happening now is just bringing us closer together and making us realize that we’re all a big part of each other’s lives.”
Group chats on Snapchat, Facebook, Zoom, and WhatsApp have all become powerful tools for these athletes to help keep their spirits high, to stay on course with their academics and to maintain some type of workout regimen.
“Everyone lives with each other on campus, so this is definitely really hard for us, but we have a text group chat, we have a Snapchat group chat, and something really interesting that our coaches have done is create a Facebook group chat, which has been a forum for us to talk as we would if we saw everyone day to day,” Kilpatrick stated. “We’ve been posting recipes, motivational pictures or quotes, just things to help our brains stay active. We also have two Zoom calls a week.”
“We have a Zoom meeting we started up with our coaches, which is fun to get to see everyone and chit chat,” added Alfond. “Talk about training, talk about life. And from teammate to teammate, just sending texts. Making sure everyone is doing what they are supposed to and just holding each other accountable.”
Being home during the spring and away from their teammates is not something many baseball players are accustomed to, but Siracusa insisted the team is staying closer than ever.
“For the most part we have group chats almost every day. Unlike other sports, baseball is a 52 game season. We’re traveling all the time, so those dudes become like your brothers. They are the people you hang out with all the time, talk to all the time, in contact with all the time, so I’ve been talking to almost everybody every couple days to see how they’re doing. No one is used to being home in March during the baseball season.”
Although it’s tough, all the River Hawk student-athletes know that the social distancing policies and other decisions that have been made regarding COVID-19 are important to follow for everyone’s safety.
“It’s important, not just for us, but the people around us and the older people in our communities,” implored Palermo. “Being apart from each other is important because it doesn’t just affect us anymore, it’s affecting the globe as a whole.”
With mental health at the forefront, especially in times like these, virtual support from all departments is being made readily available for the student-athletes.
“I don’t think we would be able to do this without the support that we have at Lowell,” Kilpatrick stated. “Our coaches have been overwhelmingly supportive of everyone. We have so many things to do for self-care. They really want to make sure that not only is this a time for us to be a student-athlete, but to make sure that we’re coping with all this, and that we have each other and stay connected as a family because that’s how it is when we are at school.”
“The academic advisors have always been great,” Siracusa chimed in. “I have Melyssa [Woods Ventresca] and she’s nothing but special. Any question you have no matter what time of day, shoot her a text message or email and she’ll be back with a response in ten or 15 minutes. It’s never an issue with her.”
And just as the student-athletes have all moved to online learning for their academics, do not think for a second that these competitors have taken any days off from their athletic pursuits either.
“Our sports performance coach was on top of this the second that the gyms closed,” Kilpatrick said. “We had a bodyweight workout to do at home and the athletic performance staff actually has an app now, so that’s been a really easy way to keep us on our toes.”
“Our strength trainer gave us a bodyweight workout to do at home,” Siracusa echoed. “I try to work out four or five times a week. I have a pop-up net that I hit into almost every day. Get my throwing in for pitching. Just keep the body moving because if I just shut it down for however long we stay quarantined it won’t be an easy way back.”
In addition to their virtual learning and continued athletic training, many teammates have encouraged each other to use this time as an opportunity to learn a new trick or two.
“We all kind of just do random little things with our day and we’ll share it with each other so other people can try it out,” explained Palermo. “Someone will make a recipe, share it with the group and other people will try it out too, or be outside doing wall ball or working out and other people will join in.”
“I’m definitely encouraging people to try new hobbies,” said Alfond. “I’m into photography. I know people have been reading and picking up little things like that. In our preseason camp for cross-country, we have a little talent show, so I’m sure people are taking this time and kind of learning their talents so they can show off come August.”
With summer drawing nearer every day, River Hawks from across the globe are anticipating their return back to campus. The thought of being together again has all the student-athletes wholeheartedly excited.
“Oh my gosh, I’m going to hug them and laugh and just get started on the season,” Kilpatrick exclaimed at the idea of a return. “When we come back in August, there’s no time to waste and it’s going to be all hands on deck with preseason. Our focus has to be there, so I guess probably the first thing I’m going to do with them is a run test!”
“I think I’ll just want to hang out with them and hug them and laugh like we used to when we were all together back in Lowell,” Palermo explained.
“First thing I’ll do when I see my teammates is probably having one of our good, old-fashioned long runs,” Alfond concluded. “We always meet up in the summer. Once this is all over, it’ll be the first thing we do. All get together then come back for a pizza party or cookout at one of our apartments, but really just spend time with each other again and get going on the new season.”
So while the virtual connections may be getting us through the hard times, student-athletes, staff and all of River Hawk Nation are looking forward to being reunited in real life back in Lowell very soon.
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