Physical and Emotional Struggles of Athletes During Quarantine
Any athlete in the world would tell you that this quarantine amid the COVID-19 crisis has been a knockout punch in the gut. An athlete’s normal life is based on a daily routine that starts from the moment he wakes up to the second he tries to sleep, with all little things having a specific purpose. Losing this sense of purpose has been a journey that has taken a physical and emotional toll on me as an athlete.
The first stage of quarantine actually came as a relief. Not expecting the crisis to go on for as long as it did, I actually welcomed quarantine at first as a means to heal my body of any mid-season pains and small injuries. Time-off would rid my body of any fatigue and allow me to return with a second breath to perform at a higher level; therefore, I took some time to fully rest and enjoy the comforts of my couch and my bed.
The second stage was returning to light activity, similar to the start of any off-season. I downloaded a yoga app and started improving my mobility and flexibility around 4 days/week. I then started incorporating HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) for the other 3 days of the week, trying to maintain cardio levels as much as possible. Running on pavement hurts my knees and back, and Lebanon doesn’t quite have the luxury of having many accessible parks to run on grass so that was out of the question for me.
About 3 weeks in, realizing the quarantine would go on for a longer time than expected, it was time to invest in home fitness equipment in order not to lose all the muscle mass that I had worked for in previous months. I had a pull-up bar installed in the middle of my living room (against the wishes of my mom), strapped a TRX band on it, bought a couple of dumbbells and kettlebells, and started using whatever means available to me in order to properly train. It has not been the ideal situation for any athlete, but you’d be surprised how much you can do with simple body weight exercises if you perform the correct exercises in the correct maneuver depending on what you are trying to achieve.
It has been over 2 months and I have yet to touch a basketball. The courts remain closed and this has been the longest time without hooping for as long as I could remember. As a rule of thumb, the time taken off requires the same amount of time to get back to the same level. If I were to start basketball training today, it would take me 2 months to get back to the level of skill that I was before quarantine started. I can only imagine how rusty the NBA games will be if they decide to continue the playoffs soon. Many of the players have courts at their homes, but the majority do not and have admitted to not having the chance to even touch a ball during this time.
Athletes use sports as a means to relieve stress, to blow-off steam. Sports allows me to lose myself and distance from any daily problems or struggles I might be going through. Playing basketball provides me a platform to heal myself mentally and drain my energy in order to achieve a healthier mental state. Not being able to play basketball has stirred up an emotional roller coaster in me that I have not been sure where to put. I’ll be lying on my couch watching Netflix and suddenly get the urge to run around the house in circles having my dog chase me. I find myself thinking and overthinking about things that may or not matter. Before quarantine, I had an escape from reality in sports, something to give my mind a break. Now, whenever a thought pops in my head I spend a crazy amount of time just thinking about it pointlessly even though I know I am unable to do anything about it.
I have had trouble sleeping with no set hours. Somedays I would sleep at 7am, some days I would take a 5-hour nap. My eating schedule has been messed up and now I eat when I’m bored or hungry. Before quarantine, I could always set an alarm for the whole week, knowing when to wake up, when to eat before morning and evening practice, and how to conduct myself throughout the day with the purpose of being able to perform. Now my daily routine cannot be categorized as a routine since it is all randomness. Lack of routine hinders my ability to cope with unpredictable changes in time, since I seem to have lost a purpose of what to do.
Lack of Competition:
Sports is competition; competition with others and competition with yourself. The high of a win and the sour taste of a loss defines an athlete’s life. Being unable to compete, I find myself turning everything in life into a competition. I resort to Playstation a lot more than I used to just to feel the rush of a win. Not having true competition can have negative impacts on an athlete. I tend to turn small things into a competitive state (which can be exhausting for my girlfriend sometimes). When solving a jigsaw puzzle together, I talk smack to her now whenever I find 2 pieces that fit together... I get really edgy when playing a board game and have lost the feeling of enjoying a simple game with the inexplicable need to turn everything into Game 7 status.
In conclusion, I don’t know how much longer I can survive in this state. I hope this isn’t a preview of what athletes go through once they retire from playing professional sports. The one thing for certain is that the time off has made me appreciate more and more every time I will get a chance to lace up my sneakers.