A day in the life of an athlete: COVID-19 edition

by Marisa MacDonald, Sports Reporter

They arrive at school just like regular students: masked and drowsy. But unlike most, the time and effort to deal with their equipment before starting the day takes priority. 

Junior Martie Fairchild, member of the girls varsity lacrosse team, arrives at school with the advantage of her car and a secured parking space. She said she finds it convenient to store her cleats and lacrosse stick in her car, picking them up later on her way to practice. 

Meanwhile, sophomore Mariel Shapiro plays junior varsity softball. Shapiro does not have a driver’s license or a car to leave her softball gear in, so she heads to the softball shed behind the school to drop off her bag. Shapiro’s bag holds her softball glove, spare balls, bat, batting gloves and helmet. 

The shed is unreliable; Shapiro has to text varsity softball coach Jesus Rodriguez to come outside and open it, and even then, her message is rarely seen in time. 

“Sometimes [the shed is] unlocked, but not usually. A lot of the time, I just have to walk around with it,” Shapiro said.

The locker room is closed this year due to COVID-19 restrictions, which means that Shapiro and other athletes have not only lost a space to store their gear, but also a space to bond with teammates. Over shared laughs with teammates or a last double-check in the bathroom mirror, the locker room offered athletes a space to get in the right headspace for the day ahead.

Fairchild said she is missing a crucial part of her morning to have to face first period biology without the morning pick-me-up she had gotten used to over the years. “I was able to drop my stuff off, but it was more than that,” she said. “I would be able to see my teammates, I’d be able to see my friends and it was just good vibes all around.”

Shapiro and Fairchild go about their day like normal students, except with calculated snack and water breaks to make sure they have enough energy for practice. 

When the last bell of the day rings, they’re off to get ready for practice or a game. Due to the school day’s later end time, Shapiro misses 50 minutes of her pre-calculus class on most Mondays when she has a game. 

“Because [school] ends so late, athletes can’t go to flex blocks. Right now, they end up just struggling on their own,” she said.

After school, the locker rooms remain shuttered, leaving Shapiro and many other athletes desperate to find a bathroom to change in. Often, Shapiro sees piles of bags in bathrooms, where people gather to change before their respective practices. 

Once ready, Shapiro and her team begin their 20 minute trek to Countryside Elementary School for their 90 minute practice. South’s limited field space forces JV athletes to practice at nearby schools and fields to make room for Varsity teams.

Shapiro said practices usually consist of playing catch with a partner, followed by some drills that include practicing catching fly balls in the outfield or ground balls in the infield. 

The nature of lacrosse is physically spread out, which lends itself to COVID-19 social distancing guidelines, but not so much to team bonding. Regardless, Shapiro said she and her teammates have found ways to grow closer. 

“You’re not normally close to people while you’re playing,” she said. “We spread out on all the benches but we still play music on the bus and at practice.”

This season, because of the pandemic, Fairchild’s team put in extra effort and emphasis on team bonding activities after a hard practice.

“When we have morning practices, we’ll go out to Bruegger’s Bagels and we’ll all eat outside,” she said. 

Fairchild said the pandemic has added another layer to consider; depending on the intensity of the practice and the humidity of the air, she often switches masks while playing lacrosse.

“I switch through two or three masks during the game and then one or two for practice, just because they get gross,” Fairchild said.

Practices have changed this year as coaches stress social distancing and mask wearing, but Fairchild said she is still enjoying her time with her team. 

“We do drills and 7 versus 7 scrimmages during practice,” Fairchild said. “We’re outside, we’re masked up.We’re doing the best we can, but wearing masks is frustrating.”

Her after-school practices and home games end around 6:30 p.m, and Fairchild finally gets home around 7 p.m, when her day as a student-athlete is officially over. 

In addition to softball, Shapiro dances and has to rush straight to the studio from practice three times a week. On those days, she doesn’t get home until 10 p.m., and only then can she start her homework that some of her classmates got started on six hours earlier. 

Despite the unusual nature of sports this year, Shapiro said she’s been able to still have a great time. 

“Of course there are differences,” she said. “But we can still play together, so it’s fun.”