As a student athlete at UTM, managing both the academic workload and competing at the Varsity level requires a significant time commitment. Prior to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, a typical day in the life of a student athlete would usually include attending classes, going to daily practice, studying, workouts in the High-Performance Centre (HPC), and travelling to games or competitions. However, once the Covid-19 pandemic hit Canada last March, student athletes at UTM faced a halt in their day-to-day routines.
The pandemic has affected everyone in various ways, but particularly for athletes, the pandemic has taken a silent toll. The effects of the lockdowns in Southern Ontario have massively affected countless athletes’ mental health. This is especially concerning given that exercise is widely known to help with mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.
Dr. Shady Ashmalla, head of surgery at Sunny Brook Hospital, told the Toronto Star that for high performance athletes, being told that you can no longer train at your sport takes away a large part of who you are. Dr. Ashmalla says that this is dangerous: when an athlete’s opportunity to train every day is suddenly compromised, it creates a massive hole in their life. Then, the risk of that hole being filled with depression and anxiety skyrockets.
Throughout the lockdowns ordered in Ontario, UTM’s student athletes faced the challenge of finding unique ways to keep up with their training, while enduring the uncertainty of future games and competitions. When asked about how the lockdown affected her mental health, Mackenzie Kieswetter, goalie of the Varsity women’s soccer team, said that “mentally [the lockdown} sucked. I had been playing this sport for years, then all of a sudden, I couldn’t. Emotionally, it was the hardest part for me.”
Yet, many people are afraid to discuss the negative implications of the lockdown, because people are afraid that they are going to come across as if they are not in support of the lockdown. This is extremely problematic because talking about and realizing that others are going through similar disappointment and frustration is beneficial.
A member of UTM’s men’s soccer team reported to The Medium that “coping with the difficulty of losing my sport is a feeling that can’t be expressed in words […] knowing that the season was cancelled and that I could not play the sport I love with my teammates was extremely difficult to get over. Being able to talk to my teammates and realize that the feeling [was mutual] really helped calm me down.”
Dr. Ashmallah reported to the Toronto Star that the discussions surrounding Covid-19 are incredibly polarized. The lockdown is absolutely essential, yet people are suffering mentally and it is not being talked about. The most important thing for athletes right now is to start the conversation, recognize your emotions and feelings, and reach out to those around you.
Although UTM athletes have faced negative implications due to the second-wave lockdown, they have found ways to cope with their disappointment of losing their sports season. When asked how she coped with the effects of the lockdown, Anuska Budhu reported that “I had to mentally force myself to take a breather and look into other aspects of my life, and to enjoy the extra time I had with my family and with myself.”
In terms of maintaining her athleticism, Emily Sevcik said that she managed to keep training on her own by incorporating fitness exercises into her daily routine, making use of resistance bands and weights at home.
Alessia Moia, a member of the women’s soccer team, suggested that if her fellow athletes are facing frustration from not being able to compete or train, they should try their best to get outside. Moia said that she would “encourage other athletes to do the most that they can with the circumstances given. Even just getting outside and kicking the soccer ball around helps tremendously.”
In addition, Anuska Budhu told The Medium that “there is so much to be grateful for. The time that this pandemic has given us shouldn’t be wasted. If you spend all your time mourning what we’ve lost, then you lose sight of all the gains that the lockdown has offered you.”
Although student athletes have faced countless disappointments over the past year, UTM’s athletes have continued to demonstrate their resilience and ability to overcome these massive challenges.