Breaking the Silence: Coping With My Last Race in Wake of COVID-19

Boston-College-Huddle-March2020
Photo Courtesy: Izzy Barrett

Taylor Covington is a senior swimmer at Boston College. She is a former Swimming World Intern and current Swimming World contributor. She was swimming at the CSCAA meet when the COVID-19 cancelled NCAA events

This is the silence I have been dreading.

Six nights ago, I perched myself on the plush edge of my parents’ hotel bed, letting my eyes trace the tired, tacky pattern woven into carpet. I balanced my phone on my fingers, ignoring its violent buzzing in favor of the predictable structure afforded to me by the rug, each perfect diamond bleeding into its neighbor. The ominous purr of the A/C unit gave the room a dead sort of tranquility, blotting out the sounds of traffic and chaos that existed beyond our drawn curtains. I recognized the quiet.

It was the same omnipresent, eerie silence that dampened all of my senses each time I imagined that final race. The crowd’s roar would fade into a distant echo, and I’d have to strain to hear the starter’s faint whisper with instructions to step up to the block. Even the water would express its sympathy, trading its vicious roar for a melodious tinkling at my clean entrance, parting politely for my every stroke. I’d break the silence by hitting the touchpad, and for the last time, victory would be defined by a boisterous team huddle, the crowd erupting into cheers, and coaches triumphantly pacing the deck while throwing their fists in the air­.

Team-huddle-March2020

Photo Courtesy: Marti Doherty

Then naturally, from that point forward, victory would be a little quieter–a firm handshake at graduation, a letter of acceptance, validation from a boss–things that were all of equal or greater importance, but still, just a little quieter.

I jumped at the sound of my dad’s voice.

“Lots of NCAA Championships are getting cancelled.” He squinted at the notification. “Geez, now the NBA is suspending its season.”

I hadn’t cried since the initial email (the one so chillingly titled “Coronavirus Announcement”), but strangely, this news broke the dam. I began reprimanding myself for mourning something so trivial–a basketball season, a swim meet–during such a serious global health crisis. People were dying, they were at risk, and they were afraid. But this was uncharted territory.

Sports had always been an insulated realm, untouched by the chaos of our universe. They gave us somewhere to turn when the real world didn’t make sense, a place to escape. They gave us the structure and justice we couldn’t identify in our own lives, a place where everyone, even enemies, played by the same rules–if only for three hours or four 12-minute quarters.

Life without sports was quiet.

Screen Shot 2020-03-19 at 2.26.41 PM

Photo Courtesy: Marti Doherty

My dad moved to the bottom edge of the bed and gave me that long-awaited, post-meet embrace, as a noiseless cinema of the day’s events passed through my imagination.

I had woken up that morning after 90 minutes of restless sleep. The bulleted list that outlined the rest of my college career slithered through my mind in an endless string: “Cancel all on-campus classes, effective tomorrow, through the end of the semester, and move to online instruction,” even more devastating, “Close University residence halls and require students to vacate their rooms by Sunday at 9:00 p.m.” all under that haunting subject line. The list had greeted me the previous night during warm-up at the competition pool, the email notification sliding over the text I had been re-reading the entire plane ride. It was the latest text to my coach: “This is the best I have felt all season. I’m so excited.” How naïve.

And to think that I was one of the lucky ones. Meet officials had decided to proceed with the first day of competition before cancelling the rest of the meet; I would get that final swim. Surprisingly, I nabbed a best time in my first event, albeit in front of a stack of empty bleachers per the “no spectator” stipulation, and I had the opportunity to time trial my best race to end my career. I never expected to feel such gratitude, going out on a time trial with a glaringly vacant seat in the “crowd,” the precise spot I was supposed to turn to immediately after my race. I remember touching the wall, and for a brief moment, I just imagined him there, my dad who coached me from ages 11-18, beaming at me with pride, witnessing full-circle what we had built together.

Then, there was that brutally beautiful moment when my coach embraced me, followed by a few of my teammates. It was less a huddle of celebration, and more a quiet circle of compassion, where my best friends’ grainy faces soon appeared on a phone screen in front of me. The ending wasn’t what I expected, but in the most awkward and unsettling way, it gave me what I understand now to be a precious sliver of finality–a brief, imperfect moment of closure before parting with my identity as a student athlete, facing the unnatural decision of which piece to mourn first.

On-the-block-BCvsBU-March2020

Photo Courtesy: Marti Doherty

I write this from an Airbnb in southeastern Massachusetts, one that my roommates and I rented three nights ago from a family of four. I’m stationed on one of the bottom bunk beds, adorned with a nautical comforter and canvas pillows embroidered with pirate lingo. A week ago, this bed was probably the site of dramatic pillages, the lower deck of “The Black Pearl” lapped by turbulent black waters. Today, a barricade of non-perishables and bulging suitcases flank its posts, as professors’ metallic voices echo from various computer speakers throughout the house. We don’t know when or if we are going home; we don’t know when we will see each other again if we do. We look out at a completely paused version of the bustling, lively world we used to inhabit, the one in which we seemed to have some definite place.

Athletes in the class of 2020, please know that we are feeling this deafening silence together. I feel the still waters that you were supposed to turn white, the cold bleachers that were supposed to overflow. I feel the deserted fields, courts, and rinks where your dreams were supposed to come to fruition. But we are no strangers to the silence. We have proven ourselves as quiet victors time and time again.

Two weeks ago, we forced that last rep, even when no one was watching. In the stillness before the sunrise, we were grinding through practices, holding pace for one more round. Sometimes, we spent entire nights in the library, and still found a way to crush a double the next day. We squeezed in that stretch even when it was inconvenient. We struggled with injuries, and we asked for help. We contemplated quitting, and we came back every time. We rallied behind victories and bounced back from failures. We comforted teammates behind closed doors, and we inspired people we never met. Sometimes, we put the team on our backs. Other times, we let them carry us. We are the products of all the things we did in the dark for those brief, shining moments in the light. We are used to enduring pain and wholesomely trusting that it won’t be in vain. Just like we always have, we will break this silence soon. I, for one, can’t wait to hear you.

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Photo Courtesy: Marti Doherty

 

94 comments

  1. Kathy Allman

    This is so well written. Thank you for sharing ❤️

  2. Greta R. Namath

    You can always swim but if you get sick and pass away that’s it. Hope you can go back to swim soon.

  3. avatar
    Victoria Brady

    Great article! Thanks for helping me cope.

  4. avatar
    Kevin

    Love the article , Tay. I am so proud of you in so many ways. Your dedication to everything you do has always amazed me. So many athletes lost that “fun” part of their lives, but obviously our world is in crisis . The hard training and time you guys put in as athletes to go along with difficult studies , is hard to grasp for many. Student/ athlete…but you’ve always been my little girl. Love, Dad

  5. avatar
    claudia lin

    Very inspirational. Stay strong!!

  6. avatar
    Anonymous

    Well said! So proud of you!

  7. avatar
    Sarah

    Amazing work Taylor, you are an angel!!!

  8. avatar
    Kristi Fec

    Thanks for your helpful insight! Love to read your articles 🙂

  9. avatar
    Jamie Doherty

    Wow, thank you for for putting into words what so many are feeling! Incredible work, stay healthy!

  10. Tanya Penrod

    You know, everyone keeps pointing out that if you get sick or die or what of the other people. Can’t we allow the athletes to mourn the abrupt passing of a very real part of their lives? It doesn’t mean they don’t value life or that they’re being selfish in any manner. They simply realize that they lost a part of themselves. For some of these athletes, this is it. Sure they might swim again but most will never swim with that team or competitively ever again. Usually, short of injury, they have a chance to prepare themselves for that final swim, not have the proverbial rug jerked out from under them. Let’s recognize their struggle and stop basically telling them to suck it up.

  11. Benjamin van der Wel

    Beautiful story, thank you. After this crisis has passed U.S. Masters Swimming will be there & any team will love to have you. <3 Swimming shall go on.

    • avatar
      LARRY mcMahan

      Taylor,
      That was one well written article. Very powerful and I feel for you. You are truly a remarkable young lady and i wish you the very best. Who knows what is to come. But never hive up on swimming.

      Coach Larry
      Pickens Piranhas

  12. avatar
    Kelley

    Best article yet, sweet, strong girl. I am so sorry to you and all of the seniors who were so abruptly shorted and robbed of the experience. One day, this will be a story you tell…”remember that horrible Covid spring”…but right now i know it just sucks. I am feeling a little robbed of coming back for graduation.
    Chin up, you still my favoritist BC swimmer ever in the history of evers!

  13. David Fierke

    Only athletes know the loss of the end of competition. Its real. It hurts. And it will be with them for a long time.

    • Tanya Penrod

      David Fierke, amen! And it’s a whole ‘nother level of mind game when your career ends abruptly. I know how it feels to have my athletic career cut short due to injury. I can’t even imagine how these athletes feel.

    • Rachael Pounds Pabon

      So, so true!!! I am 42 and I can still feel that last bus ride home after my last softball game. I will never forget the pain. I cannot even imagine having it and like this. I feel for all these kids everywhere. 😢

  14. avatar
    Benjamin van der Wel

    Beautiful story, thank you. For many reasons I can relate to much of what you wrote.
    After this crisis has passed U.S. Masters Swimming will be there & any team will love to have you.
    Swimming shall go on.

  15. my kids are much younger but even they are disappointed about end of long course season before it even starts. My tween swims 6 days a week and has committed fully to this sport. These athletes have given years of their lives to their teams and sports. This is part of their being and who they are. Sure they can swim but they lose that part of their being. No one is saying that any isolation is not important but they should get to grieve the lose of part of their life that they did not get to play out.

    • Tanya Penrod

      Jennifer Squires Leuschner, dealing with that with my early teen too. Thanks to that fun pre-plague theme, he’d really been struggling the last couple of years but things were finally coming around again. He as excited and fired up to be training. Eventually he”ll be back in the water but he feels lost without his team.

    • Tanya Penrod definitely hard. Between school and swim both my kiddos had a lot of time filled. They are feeling a little lost this week. My 11 year old had a breakout year for her own times. She moved to the highest age group training for her age group in December and has put in so much work. She was closing in on so many of her goals. It is hard to see her missing swim and her coach and friends and seeing those goals stalled. My son is younger and less invested at this point but still misses it a lot. Stay healthy

    • and honestly we have a good group and I miss a lot of the families too We were in spring break week before this so we are already 2 weeks out

      • avatar
        Ben

        Brings back So many memories, and tears.
        Thank you

  16. Andrea Banicz

    My daughter was supposed to go to NCSA in Orlando next week. That’s not happening and I’m not sure if she will qualify next year. She worked so hard to get to this point, she was so excited for months and now she will be sitting at home. No meets, no practices, no friends to swim with… 😥

  17. Paul Anthony

    We are going to look back at this and realize shutting down everything was wrong

    • Ron Buda

      Paul Anthony Tell that you those who have and will lose loved ones.

    • Paul Anthony

      Ron Buda Seasonal flu kills more each year. They are just focusing on COVID-19 stats because it’s new.

    • Ron Buda

      Paul Anthony You don’t get it. This is a NOVEL virus. This means the RNA signature is a combination of animal and human and so does NOT fit the model of the flu. Whereas we have anti-virals, vaccines and Tamil-flu to use with the “flu”, there is nothing yet to use with Covid-19. You have shown old information. The flu should not be compared to Covid-19. Coved-19 has mutated which make it even harder to study. My daughter who has worked front line in foreign countries for the last 12 years to combat infectious diseases such as this had the same opinion as you to begin with…now she is extremely concerned because this is expanding at a faster rate than the flu and the US is extremely unprepared to cope. Please continue with your due diligence, stay healthy and keep others in mind.

    • Dana Jacob

      Paul Anthony you need to do some research. I thought this a few weeks ago. Wrong.

    • Em Harrison

      Paul Anthony very correct you are but what happened when the flu was a new thing? Would be interesting to hear the experiences. I guess unfortunately We can’t know or give the answer straight away to something new we havnt learnt about.

    • Paul Anthony

      Em Harrison There is more than one kind of “flu”

    • Paul Anthony

      Ron Buda You drank the kool aid. As of today deaths in USA from Covid 19 = 217. Flu killed 12,000 Oct to Feb

    • Paul Anthony

      Dana Jacob History will prove you wrong.

    • Ron Buda

      Paul Anthony Stay stuck in that thinking. I give you information straight from my highly intelligent daughter, suma cum laude in genetics, who has worked front line against several emerging diseases for 20 years and you deny that and say, ‘I drank the kool aid”. You are part of the problem. Good luck to you, because you will need it. Oh, but luck favors the prepared…too bad. Remember your king said, “ many people have died that have never died before.”

    • Ron Buda

      Paul Anthony Medium.com is a platform to blog your opinions. I will take info from the CDC over it, thank you. The hysteria is buying toilet paper.

      • avatar
        Craig Lord - Swimming World Editor-in-Chief

        Indeed Ron… fascinating angles on many statistics, none of which will persuade an Italian watching 160 people (a whole generation) in three close-knit villages, wiped out in 36 hours, and death rates to 500+, 550+, 630+, 550+ in a sequence of four days that its ok to be relaxed and lockdown measures are too extreme. Reading that piece reminded me of the math teacher who told a class of youngsters very shy of his own intellectual capacity for the subject at hand that eternity meant that you could never touch the wall, because if you stood 3m away from it and kept getting closer by half and half again and half again etc, eternity showed that you could never reach the wall. A nine-year-old then reached out and touched the wall with a gesture that every swimmer would recognise, and knew he was smarter than teacher, even if just for that milli-second when his nervous system linked wall to brain and confirmed: “But I just touched the wall”. Cue smile. A caricature – but then in some regards that’s what that piece felt like.

    • Paul Anthony

      Ron Buda Check the references in the article, including the CDC. You didn’t read it did you? Read. Learn. Share.

      • avatar
        Craig Lord - Swimming World Editor-in-Chief

        I did Paul. I don’t come to the same conclusion because that’s opinion, which is fair enough but there are stats in there that speak to subjectivity, like ‘how many Americans think they have it’. As stated, the folk living this (including the doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers) and dealing with the death are reporting things that don’t square with the theories and conclusions of the clever young chap who penned the piece but may have a long journey ahead as a student of life, if he’s lucky.

    • Ron Buda

      Paul Anthony no, it would not down load so I tried to find it from the source. However, I have seen similar articles and know and understand the numbers, percentages, mortality rates, etc. Agreed that people react to unknowns with fear that evolved into anxiety and with some, to panic. The reaction to panic is to do something they can control, ie: buy toilet paper to confront the impending doom. To disregard this RNA animal/human cross as the KNOWN and studied flu and to compare it to other health challenges of the past MAY be a dangerous error. Therefore, I choose to not panic (have purchased extra TP) and take heed to the specialist in the medical field and not our incompetent elected officials who are politicians with no knowledge of virology. To err on the side of caution, I believe, is the prudent decision.

  18. Jim Barbiere

    This is insanely well written. Author is extremely talented.

  19. Heather Moody

    My daughter a Senior and is so Disappointed I feel for you all !!!

  20. Donna Pim

    So sad for you all after working so hardxxx sending love

  21. Allison Macdonald Carson

    My daughter (17yr old highschool Sr)j was to go to the Canadian Olympic trials March 29th. She’s still holding out pointless hope it will be rescheduled. My heart aches for all these seniors and athletes.

  22. Em Harrison

    I relate sport is an everyday passion but after travelling and experiencing certain countries that may not ever get the opportunity to even play or try certain sports we are so lucky for what we have. although it’s hard and it’s an outlet everyday routine it’s a time to challenge ourselfs look at it in a positive way an try different aspects to achieve our goals in the long run. When I travelled I remember handing a cricket bat to a young kid and I’ve never seen such a special thing the kid appreciated it like they have never seen such a thing and didn’t even know what it was. I would love to qualify for the Olympics one day for canoe but i will not let this impact me and set me back achieveing my goals it’s actually been fun trying and looking at different avenues I might be wrong but sometimes we have to accept things for as they are and they can’t always go our way and we have to take on what ever approaches us.

    • Tracy Gehrke

      Cathy Grimm she’s cleaning her locker out today. I can’t believe how her career is wrapping up!

    • Cathy Grimm

      Tracy Gehrke ☹️. Thinking about you guys!

    • Tracy Gehrke

      It was a fantastic post. Definitely a tear-jerker!!

  23. Sad indeed. Our coaches (Saskatoon Goldfins) have started doing some virtual dryland training with our swimmers. Just to keep the connection and fitness level up.

    • Karen Eilers

      Tracey ‘Heck’ Kennedy our team is doing the same thing. Our teenagers are in the pool 6 days a week and this has been devastating to them. I’m a working nurse and I understand but still super hard for the swimmers.

    • Karen Eilers So true. Thank you for the work you do as a nurse. I wish you and your family the best of health!

  24. avatar
    Alex M.

    Article hits at the heart. Beautifully written and expressed.

  25. avatar
    Sharon Andrews

    The writer is extremely talented and insightful. Yes, the virus has had a huge and difficult impact on everyone. It’s devastating in the lives it has taken and touched. It is a horrible thing . That does not negate the fact that athletes are mourning a part of their lives they have worked extremely hard to succeed in. Yes, I’m sure they grateful for their health. We should never take that for granted . But it is normal and even healthy to mourn losing something you love and take pride in. All athletes have to work hard to be successful. Most college athletes have worked 10 to 15 of their 21/22 years on this earth preparing for that perfect swim, basket, run, score..etc.. Some will get another shot when this is over. For others, their shot will be gone forever. So athletes, mourn your loss. As a parent of an student athlete, I mourn with you. When all this is over, we will heal. That’s the only thing we can do. Stay safe all. Wonderful piece Miss Covington.

  26. Cheryl Trueman

    My son in a national swimmer. Everything has stopped for him it’s devastating 😡😡😡😡😡

  27. Gail Gibson

    Compared to human life, yes, a swim meet/season is Trivial. The cancellation of a competitive season to an athlete, especially a swimmer that easily requires 3-5 hours a day of training/weight lifting/etc., is heart breaking…not the same heart break as losing human life (I had to clarify); but still is heartbreak. An athlete’s sport somewhat defines (a portion) of their life. The endless practices and sacrifices are such a dominating part of an athlete’s life, it is like losing a part of you…especially if you are a senior this year. It is okay to morn your loss as it is deep and painful. Just remember though, tomorrow is another day and new opportunities await because you are alive!

  28. avatar
    Mike Simpson

    Thank you Taylor!
    Pride of Gaffney….
    So glad you hung out in BSpgs for a summer!

  29. Ness Mc

    Sad ,but my thoughts are for the families that have lost loved ones not a swimming competition in this current climate that the World faces.

    • avatar
      Brad B

      You obviously missed the whole point of the article.

  30. Sue Barker

    So sad……. years of early mornings, evening training, gym 6 days a week…… dedicated, hard working, disciplined swimmers who love what they do…. prepare for Olympic trials…. only to be told STOP NO POOL SESSIONS NO OLYMPIC TRIALS…… DEVASTATED. Stay strong. xx

  31. Betsy Hart

    The majority of people will say, ” It’s not the end of the world so get over it.” But it does seem like the end of the world to swimmers..
    Especially seniors in college.🥺 who have banked the hard work and time and totally committed to the sport.

  32. Tim Tully

    Boston College Swimming and Diving

  33. Mariliza Woodhead

    We live in South Africa..
    My son had been swimming most of his young life…ment to swim at SSA senior nationals in a.couple of weeks…now also no meets, no training, no Olympic trials…will just have to stay positive 🙏💖

  34. Ernie Hayes

    Wow, well said. Heartfelt and very touching.

  35. Lisa Happ

    It’s not just swimmers.
    I have 2 daughters in Aus who are involved in Surf life saving. Their state titles and nationals have just been cancelled. One turned 16 today. No party. Then swimming is cancelled. One is about to turn 18. Had planned a massive 18th birthday. Might be cancelled. Worlds also might be cancelled. Immediately her whole planned year is not only cancelled but also unsure what is happening as teachers have left early due to pregnancy etc. in year 12 and she has no teacher? I agree it’s hard if your child is young and they might miss some sessions but the overall affect is massive.

  36. Ann Marshall

    God bless those kids. They’ll be stronger because of this.

  37. Rebecca Yourell

    It is really hard for these kids mentally too after swimming every day, twice a day, to be sedentary children. Only swimmers get swimmers…. it is a great tragedy for older swimmers. It is not a sport you can go back to easily after time off.

  38. Tania Oxton

    Kia kaha to the entire swimming family worldwide. It has just hit here in New Zealand. My daughter can still train at present but we are waiting for that to stop soon. ❤❤

  39. avatar
    Anita Rising

    Beautiful and heartfelt article. Taylor is a brilliant writer; as well as outstanding athlete. So very sorry this season was cut shorter but I still have faith in you.
    NEVER give up.

  40. avatar
    Barry Gallup’69

    Thanks Taylor for sharing your personal story during this difficult period of time.I have great respect for all the Boston College student-athletes,especially the Olympic Sports who did not get the publicity or recognition but participate for all the right reasons.
    I am proud of the way you represent Boston College.
    You are truly a great Eagle🦅🎓

  41. avatar
    Sue K

    Well done, Taylor. You make a difference to BC Swimming and Diving, the sport of swimming, and the world! You are a talented writer; the written word will serve you well. Congratulations on a fabulous swimming and scholastic career and best wishes on your many future accomplishments!. Sending virtual hugs from this mom of your proud prior coach.

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