Amid the ongoing pandemic and the return of only a fraction of students to campus, Swarthmore athletics remains disrupted. The student athlete “experience” has been gutted and virtualized to a mere shell of its former magnitude. This semester, many student athletes are living off campus, participating in a team culture localized through a Zoom screen rather than Swarthmore’s athletic facilities. For many student athletes, this time away from Swarthmore has brought up a number of concerns — how to maintain one’s skills while away from the college’s and resources, how to stay in shape without the baked-in team regimens, and how to nurture team cohesiveness despite geographic fracturing of the teams.
Without access to the athletic trainers, team meals in Sharples, or joint practices on the school’s fields and other surfaces, student athletes are restructuring their methods of staying healthy and improving their respective skills remotely. Scout Hayashi ’22, a member of women’s track and field, uses ad hoc workout routines with the materials at her disposal.
“Our coach sends out weekly workouts that I do on a local asphalt track, but sometimes I sneak into my high school’s rubber track (a more comfortable running surface),” she explained. “I also have been trying to keep up with lifts. At the beginning of the pandemic I used water jugs, but it turns out repeatedly swinging them around and dropping them on the floor is an excellent way to break them and flood your room. Now I have a few dumbbells and a weighted vest.”
Jenny Lewis ’24, a women’s tennis player taking a gap year after her first year at Swarthmore, has been able to consistently practice tennis from her remote location. Her workout regimen, however, has changed considerably.
“I have not been able to lift a lot while I have been home and, if I were on campus, I would be lifting a few times a week,” she said.
The challenges of participating on an athletic team remotely are not limited to the accessibility of certain spaces or the state of the improvised workouts themselves. While consistent lift and practice schedules are essential for competitive success against other schools, the pandemic has placed these competitive goals on hold. In addition, the team camaraderie — which typically makes these otherwise grueling processes more enjoyable — has been severed with teammates scattered from Pennsylvania to California. Such circumstances have caused Will Drake ’22, a member of men’s lacrosse, to rework his mindset this season.
“When I’m at Swarthmore, I am on a schedule with my team,” he stated. “I don’t necessarily have to think about when I’m going to get in shape, because I go to the team workouts and do extra work with my friends to be the best player I can be. Living away from Swarthmore requires a lot of self motivation, as I am on my own schedule now.”
For many student athletes like Drake, skills and workouts are not entirely distinct from the social aspects of their athletic experiences at Swarthmore. Hayashi, too, finds motivation elusive while away from her teammates.
“Track and Field is not the most inherently enjoyable sport, especially for people whose main events are running events. The practices are painful because the point is not necessarily to master any kind of technique but push the physical limits of your body. So, a lot of the fun comes from practicing with friends and competing at meets. Without the emotional payoff of practice and meets, I’ve been trying to find enjoyment in the act of running again,” said Hayashi.
The teams have been making concerted efforts to foster connections despite the isolating effects of COVID. For Lewis, there remains a thread to her team and coaches through biweekly team Zoom meetings, during which players keep in touch as well as discuss their respective fitness and tennis drill routines.
“We have team meetings every two to three weeks where the whole team attends. In these meetings, we often talk about scheduling of practices/lifts for those on campus, goals that we have as a team, and we also check in to see how everyone is doing,” she explained. “We also have had a few trivia sessions with the team via Zoom.”
Drake reflected on this season’s disappointments and how they contribute to his hopes for his final lacrosse season next spring.
“It’s such a shame that we don’t have a season this year, [but] I use the unfortunate situation as motivation to win a conference championship next spring,” said Drake. “I still have the same love for the game, and I have a new appreciation for playing lacrosse with my best friends and amazing coaches. It’s something I won’t ever take for granted, and I know we will have an amazing season in 2022.”
In spite of team efforts to stay in touch during this unprecedented time, the dislocation of student athletes from campus has drastically changed their athletic experience this season. The emergent challenges of the pandemic have forced off-campus student athletes to reevaluate their personal and team goals, with some using this limbo period to refocus their energies as they prepare for future seasons.