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Heartbroken College Softball Player Reacts To Coronavirus' Impact

(Photo by Tom Wasiczko)

It’s been less than a week since COVID-19 concerns forced the NCAA to call off the 2020 Women's College World Series. While I lack the medical expertise to speak on the severity of the coronavirus itself, I am one of many heartbroken student-athletes and can certainly try to articulate the impact it has had on my teammates and me.

It may be easy for the average onlooker to say, “sports are just sports,” and roll their eyes at our frustrated and heartbroken posts. It might seem selfish to be upset about a game in the midst of a global health pandemic. However, as I’m sure thousands of other student-athletes who currently find themselves in a similar situation as me would agree, the sport we’ve dedicated our lives to is more than just a game.

Softball has been a constant in my life for as long as I can remember. It has introduced me to my best friends, kept me healthy, influenced my education and career aspirations, taught me lessons I’ll continue to use long after I’ve hung up my cleats and played a key role in shaping my identity. It’s given me something to love, something to work for and something to hold on to. Playing collegiate softball is a childhood dream I’ve been chasing my whole life, and up until last Thursday, nothing and no one was going to stand in my way.

For the freshmen, it was supposed to be the start of something new. Their class spent the past four or five years grinding it out in travel and high school ball in hopes of competing at the highest level. After surviving the dreaded recruiting process, it was finally time to take a breath and get back to playing for the love of the game. They left home, moved into dorms and met their new teammates. They passed their first conditioning tests, persisted through their first 6 a.m. lifts and waited for their chances to play. Now, they’ll have to start all over next season with minimal experience to show for this year’s hardships.

Sophomores and juniors were ready to make a difference. Some played as underclassmen, some rode the bench and some got their chances sporadically. They were starting to find their voices. They wanted to prove themselves, not just as starters, but as stars. They wanted to stand out, make the big plays, get the clutch hits and step up for their team.

For those like myself who were coming off an injury, it feels like an eternity since we’ve gotten to play. I redshirted my sophomore year due to a fourth consecutive knee operation, which has been a series of obstacles in my life that kept me off the field for the better part of five years. I can’t even put into words how excited I was to finally get my shot. Rehabbing is so exhausting, both mentally and physically, and the love of the game is what gets you through the process. To have it taken away again after putting in so much hard work is absolutely devastating. The comeback season is going to have to wait.

I feel unworthy to explain what it must feel like to be a senior student-athlete right now. They’ve sacrificed their past four years at their school, poured their blood, sweat and tears into the team and were in the midst of the most important, emotional and life-changing seasons of their careers. No one wants their time as a student-athlete to end unless it’s on their own terms, and even then, some wish they could play forever. These women lost more than just a season. Many of them lost their final bus rides, final game day hair rituals, final team dinners and final home series. They’ll miss out on their last conference rivalry matchups, last extra-inning comebacks, last postseason runs and last ring chases. The things they’ve desired for so long and suffered through so much for have been suddenly ripped from their hands without any warning or chance to fight back. It’s unlike an injury or losing in the semifinal of a conference tournament in that it’s completely and totally out of a student-athlete’s control. For many, this really could be the end of their playing careers.

Yes, we’ve all been given the option for an extra year of eligibility, which is something the NCAA definitely got right. Some student-athletes may choose to use it, but others, realistically, won’t be able to. The financial details of the NCAA’s latest decision have yet to be worked out. Other student-athletes may simply not be able to handle another year of that kind of taxation on their bodies, or may have jobs or other opportunities outside of softball already lined up. Regardless, this is a heartbreaking and tragic time for college softball.

So, where do we go from here?

In times like these, I look to one of my favorite quotes. It’s from Rocky, and states, “It ain't about how hard you hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward.”

I believe next year is going to be one of the best, most tenacious and most competitive seasons of collegiate softball in the sport’s history. If other student-athletes are as passionate and determined as the women I’ve been blessed to play on a team with these past few years—and I’m sure they are—we’re all going to use this time off to become the best versions of ourselves, on and off the field. Women, especially women athletes, are constantly finding ways to defy and overcome the obstacles, boundaries and limitations that others set on us, and this serves as just another example of that.

I challenge each and every spring student-athlete whose season was cut short to take the hit and keep moving forward. Keep grinding. Get your workouts in. Hit anything and everything. Throw the ball off a wall. Just keep moving.

This season may have been cut short, but there’s a new one coming sooner than you think.

Kelly Bright is a Softball America intern and junior outfielder on the Fordham University softball team. You can follow her on Twitter here.

sarah taffet photo courtesy of fordham athletics.jpg

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