From Canada to EKU: A student-athlete’s experience during COVID-19

Eastern Kentucky University senior soccer midfielder Alyssa Julien runs up the field with a Chattanooga defender last season in Richmond. 

The decision by the Ohio Valley Conference to postpone fall sports affected student-athletes in different ways, but for Eastern Kentucky University senior soccer midfielder Alyssa Julien, the news was devastating but expected. 

“I wasn’t really like surprised honestly because all the other schools were getting their seasons canceled and stuff but it still sucked,” Julien said. 

As a senior, hearing the season would be postponed was hard, but the soccer team as a whole also struggled with the announcement. Despite their disappointment, players decided to view this as an opportunity to work together to come out strong in the spring.

Julien said, “I think that was like a good part of it was that even though all of us were super sad, we were still trying to look at the positive aspect of it.”

The team returned to practice with new safety measures in place to ensure the well-being of everyone involved was maintained. One of the main measures created was wearing masks during practices. Julien admitted it was difficult at first because the combination of the heat, sweating and running makes breathing tough already without a mask, and she said with a mask, you are basically inhaling it while you run. 

During water breaks, Julien said players will step away from the team and pull their mask down to breathe before pulling it back up to go back in with everybody. 

Learning to play with a mask was not the only adjustment Julien had to make due to COVID-19. When things began to shut down, including schools, Julien returned home to Mississauga, Canada, located near Toronto in the province of Ontario. Julien had to find ways to stay in shape while everything in Canada was closed. She noted that she tried to find soccer fields at schools to practice on, preferably ones without a gate to avoid being told she had to leave. The field conditions were not ideal either, usually going unmowed because the city was shut down. However, Julien did what she had to do and made it work. 

In addition to on-field practice, Julien stayed active through bike riding and running in her neighborhood. On top of that, her mother purchased weights for her to do bodyweight exercises at home.

“I was just trying to do everything I could to stay in shape while [everything was] shut down,” Julien said.

When Julien returned to campus, her mindset remained the same as it did while she was away. She said it was better to be safe than sorry in terms of preparation for a season. Now, with the season slated for the spring, Julien hopes this time can be used to get the new players familiar with the team formation.

“I think since we have such a large amount of time before the actual season starts now, we can really lock in and get to know the formation and be the best version of ourselves that we can for the actual season,” she said.

She also noted that getting to know each other by spending time together off the field and learning each player’s personality will be beneficial to play on the field. 

For senior student-athletes, the pandemic has altered their seasons in a way that no one could have predicted. Whether the season stayed in the fall or moved to the spring, as it has now, Julien learned through this entire situation to always be able to adapt even when things are beyond her control. 

“You always have to be able to adapt and change depending on your circumstances, especially stuff that you can’t influence at all,” she said. “You kind of have to just work with it and if you just sit there complaining, like nothing’s going to change, so you might as well just figure out how to make the best out of a not-that-great situation.”

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