The Year We Lost Sports: A Letter to Student Athletes Everywhere
There’s no arguing that 2020 has been one of the weirdest, most stressful, and difficult years of our lives. I can’t continue this blog without acknowledging all of the hardworking, essential men and women in our hospitals, clinics, grocery stores, delivery trucks, first responders, etc. who’ve shown how incredibly valuable they are. I believe I can speak for all of us at The Chunk when I say we appreciate each and every one of you as we battle through COVID-19.
Back in March, when the news of shut downs and cancellations first started to break, I felt a wave of emotions. Of course, my first thought was focused on those infected, those working in hospitals, and those losing their jobs. I feel for those people tremendously and truly hope they get to the other side of this as healthy as possible.
The next group that came to my mind were athletes. I thought about Olympic hopefuls who were gearing up for the trials and their shot at qualifying for Tokyo and the pro athletes whose seasons were halted. I thought about the runners who had overcome injuries and were peaking at just the right time before the Boston Marathon. But the group I couldn’t get out of my head were high school and college athletes. For me, running cross country/track in high school and college were the best, most memorable times of my life. I won’t sit here and pretend like I have any idea what it feels like to have a season ripped away from me. When you’re healthy and ready to compete, there’s nothing you want to do more than get out there, represent your school, and play the sport you love. We’re now four months into this “new normal” and I’ve been itching to write something as a minor, but meaningful, letter to all those student athletes who lost a year of sports.
In high school, there was nothing that mattered to me more than sports. In the offseason and during the summer, I would visualize that feeling of being on the starting line, ready to chase whatever goals I had set for myself that year, focused on proving myself to any college that was interested in me. I’m sure any student athlete who’s reading this understands that feeling, the excitement leading up to a season is almost indescribable. The athletes of 2020, with their spring seasons just starting up, had to all of a sudden… stop. It must have felt like it happened overnight, one day looking forward to your first game or race, the next being told your entire season is cancelled and you’ll be staying home indefinitely. Like I said, it’s impossible for me to know what that feels like. What I do know is that this experience is going to make you all stronger as athletes and as people. I’ve learned first-hand that in sports, and in life, going through struggle and adversity gives you a unique edge over everyone else. You feel that pain, let it sit, then use it to your advantage. It teaches you to never take anything for granted, like the privilege of playing a sport. The next time you get on that field, court, or track, take a moment and smile. Appreciate the simple fact that you’re getting to be out there again, competing, showing that nothing is going to keep you down.
To the seniors who played their last game without even knowing it, my heart honestly breaks for you. There is nothing like senior year, being celebrated for all your accomplishments and the culmination of four years of blood, sweat, and tears. I can’t sugarcoat it and act like this isn’t going to sting for a while, it will. But there’s no way this is going to define you. Use this to motivate you, share your story, work harder than ever for whatever comes next. It’s cliché to say that everything happens for a reason but I’m a firm believer that it does. You don’t know what opportunity might come up just because your career was cut short. Times are changing, coaches are looking at footage of athletes much more now since they can’t recruit in person. Some of you recent high school graduates might receive scholarship offers from coaches who never would have seen you if it wasn’t for this quarantine, the list goes on and on.
If this was the end of your career and you have no plans to compete at the next level, you’re still going to do awesome things in this world. Whatever it is you want to do in life, you now know what it feels like to be robbed of something, you know life isn’t fair sometimes, so you’re prepared and ready for whatever comes your way. Keep an open mind, find ways to play your sport for fun, volunteer to be a coach somewhere once sports resume, and share your knowledge with those younger athletes. Trust me, there is nothing more rewarding than coaching and they’ll appreciate hearing about your experience.
Nothing can replace what was lost this year. The fun memories you would have made, the state or national titles you could have won, the celebrations you all deserved, but none of you can be replaced either. The athletes of 2020 will always be shown respect. You all handled this better than any of us could, and you’re going to be better because of it. I hope this note helps soften the blow, even a little bit, and shows that we’re thinking about you guys. Once your sport does eventually come back, no matter what level you’re competing at, go kick some ass.