March 14, 2020, was Ann’s husband’s last day. Her pool closed that week as well, along with all public pools in Los Angeles. Her lifeline evaporated. Without her stalwart haven, her pool, Ann’s mourning deepened further.
We seem to speak of missing our sports during this time in terms of professionals. No NBA, no Wimbledon, no Olympics. Yes, we are a nation of fans, and we miss our professional athletes. They not only wow us and entertain us, but they set a standard for the pursuit of excellence that inspires us in our own respective realms.
But, keeping the original spirit of modern sports in mind, the joy of movement and play among the masses crucial to our society’s collective physical and mental health, it’s the amateurs who are also suffering hardship through this virus era.
The high school soccer player who will never get her senior spring season back. She not only missed her final precious time to play with her teammates, perhaps the highlight of her secondary schooling, but she also hasn’t had a chance to work out in front of college scholarship recruiters.
The 50-year-old basketball player who hadn’t missed a Sunday morning with his buddies for decades. That Sunday morning was fundamental to his happiness, and depression has set in without it.
The woman who finally obtained paid leave to fulfill her lifelong dream of swimming the English Channel. Most beaches have been closed, along with pools. She has missed the crucial stretch of training for a summer attempt.
The seniors for whom pickleball is the new rage sport. They are feeling low, their courts closed, not able to replace the game that helps them recapture the vitality of their youthful athlete selves.
Even through the thickest of our isolation periods, we have been able to stay in shape. After all, a small space with no equipment whatsoever is all one needs to do some jumping jacks and hold a plank for a few minutes. But gymnasts can’t substitute time on their balance beams by doing hundreds of sit-ups. Swimmers can’t replicate the form needed to power across the surface with a dry-land simulation of the freestyle stroke. Team players can’t hone timing and unspoken synergy by doing solo footwork drills in the backyard.
We athletes of course realize our sacrifices don’t deserve mention at the same time people are suffering, people are dying, health-care workers are taking chances on compromising their own well-being on our behalf. Many individuals have not been allowed time at the side of loved ones who perished, not allowed to host a proper burial. Unspeakable loss has come during these extraordinary times. We also respect the perspective that we’re no more special than college students missing their graduations or marginalized students without computers missing the entire end of their school year.
But we athletes have come to live out loud a set of values. We hold high the discipline and the unrelenting focus it takes to chase long-term goals. We believe in the self-esteem and the life lessons of winning and losing that come through playing sports.
Today, at 70, I am perhaps an exceedingly enthusiastic novice tennis player. It would be absurd to compare this new passion to my swimming career. But the essentials aren’t really any different. The drive to learn everything I can, the refusal to skip one moment of practice, the obvious priority this noble sport has taken in my current life — the commitment mimics all the values I brought to my swimming life.
I am clear about my good fortune in thriving through this covid-19 era, compared to so many others. Yet I would say losing tennis, even temporarily, has hit me the hardest.
For those of you who count on your mountain hikes but have been grounded with trails closed, for you who compete in your local bowling league, for you who play sports for the sheer pleasure they bring you — and for all you pickleball players — I believe you when you, just like a New York Yankee or a golf superstar, say you sorely miss the thing that rocks your world, your sport.