Nicole Lester

Junior captain and pole vaulter Nicole Lester tested positive for Covid-19 this year. (Photo by Jon Lambert.)

Ever since the global pandemic began, there have been circulating questions on how someone overcomes what they are going through. How does one go through life when it comes to a screeching halt?

As a college student-athlete, how does one continue what they love most when it can be an imminent danger to your well-being? The College of New Jersey Track and Field athletes have gone through unexpected barriers this outdoor season, but persevered through strength and resilience.

When the global pandemic began in March 2020, people expected the worst and worried about the unknown of what was to come. Over a year later in May 2021, track and field athletes at TCNJ reflected on how they felt in a fight to normalcy as practices and competitions began again at the start of the spring semester.

Rapid COVID testing three times a week, masks and social distancing measures at practices and meets are just some of the cautionary measures that have been taken throughout the season thus far to ensure safety among the athletes. If an athlete misses a test, they are out for the week, and if they miss two, they are out for the season.

To be the safest they can possibly be at practices, the athletes are put into group “pods” with several others that run similar events, and workout with that group only for the entirety of the season. This is so, in case someone in the pod shows symptoms or tests positive, only the pod will be shut down for the time being, and not the entire team.

While precautions are made, that does not mean all can be avoided. The team has dealt with several positive tests, pod group shut-downs, and weeks long of quarantining for some.

Junior captain, jumper, and school record holder Nicole Lester talks about the challenges she’s had to overcome throughout the season, including testing positive for COVID-19 herself.

“I was really scared and nervous when I found out I tested positive,” she saidd. “My first fear was not knowing how it would affect me. Little is known about the long-term effects, especially for athletes. My second fear was getting other people around me sick.”

Living in a track house with six other girls, it was more than just herself she had to worry about but also the entire team. Two other girls in her house also tested positive. That has been one of the circulating fears the entire season, not just for Lester, but for everyone. If one person gets sick, it is who else contracts COVID next as well.

“I was lucky enough that through this experience I recovered quickly, and was able to start practicing the same week as everyone else. There is a recovery process athletes have to participate in to return to sport, so thankfully mine was short. While it is still unfortunate that I had gotten it, I was also grateful it was at a point it did not impact my season the same way it has other athletes.”

The one common thought the entire team has is their gratefulness towards being able to practice and compete at all. There has been lots of uncertainty regarding meets, re-scheduling, meets cancelled, and many instances the team was lucky to take part in training and competition when odds were against their favor.

On a team with 150 people, it is unfortunately inevitable some athletes will get sick, and with that, others will also sit out from contact tracing. It is certain nothing is guaranteed, and each athlete has to run every race as their last because there is always a chance it may be.

Junior mid-distance runner Alex Amoia met multiple challenges through the season, fighting through injury as well as experiencing bouts of quarantining sprinkled in through separate weeks.

“The first week we had the opportunity to compete, I was out with a hip injury that lasted for two weeks after. I was disappointed because I knew this chance was not something I would get every week,” he stated. “Twice in the weeks following that, two of my housemates had symptoms similar to COVID and I was not allowed to practice due to quarantining. It was especially frustrating because I was healthy to practice, and this happened right before my two week post second shot time period was up.”

Amoia went on to talk about how, like all the athletes have been stressed with the entire season, anything can change at any moment. “It just put in perspective for me you can’t take anything for granted. The opportunities you have can be taken away in an instant, as I’ve seen with injury, and COVID, so I’m grateful I’m healthy again and that I can continue competing the rest of the season.”

Time is short, and COVID has shown the entire world how easy it is to take life for granted. These track athletes have shown through all the obstacles they have experienced, their strength, resilience, and belief in one another has carried them through a successful season. While at some points getting to practice each day felt like the minimum, each athlete can reflect on how much they have persevered and be proud of all they accomplished.