Student-Athletes Finding Creative Ways To Bring Sports Home

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Nick Schwartz (middle) was supposed to start his freshman year of baseball at St. John’s University, but that will be delayed for a while now.
(Photo courtesy of Andrew O’Connell/St. Johns University)

Christian Rega has established himself as a leader for the St. John’s University men’s lacrosse team. Away from the Queens-based facility, he’s established himself in a different way.

Rega, a junior, has chosen to take the scenic route, for the time being, running approximately two miles around the inside loop at Wantagh Park a few times per week. He ends his day with a game of Call of Duty Black Ops to keep his hand-eye coordination sharp.

“As I sit in the house I can only keep my hand eye coordination sharp with Call of Duty,” Rega said. “I have been an avid player since I was 10, it helps me work on my reflexes and teamwork when I play with others. The mental aspect of lacrosse is a major part of the game, but also life.”

This is the new reality for young athletes on Long Island who are staying in shape, an area that has seen a large number of  COVID-19 cases.

While the optimism of a possible flattened curve is great, a return to school and sports is not coming in the near future for most athletes, with colleges committed to keeping students in online classes for the remainder of the year.

Losing sports has been painful for all athletes, but that is especially true for those in their last year of NCAA eligibility.

Nolan Vest and Kelly Gardner, who are from Coram and Lake Ronkonkoma, respectively, are two student-athletes on the SUNY Cortland track team. Both of them saw their final years of track eligibility stripped away from them quicker than a 100-meter race.

However, there was some initial uncertainty that made the whole situation difficult to process, with schools initially issuing emails talking about online classes on a temporary basis only.

“At first, there was a lot of confusion and uncertainty surrounding the future of our last season,” Gardner said. “For the first week, I was really upset and still hoping to have a season. Once those hopes kind of fell through, the sadness of the end of my time in track at Cortland hit.”

Again, the difference for both her and Vest was that there won’t be another year of Division III track. This was the end of the line for their track careers.

“I started track when I was 8 years old in a Catholic Youth Organization ,” Gardner said. “I was hoping for all of the senior moments to help me prepare to move on from track since it was such a huge part of my life. I never got the closure I was hoping for.

“At the same time, though, having an abrupt ending to my last season allowed me to be truly happy in my last meet. However, I would have still preferred to have known that it would be my last one.”

Nolan Vest was in his final year of track eligibility before school sports were canceled for the remainder of the semester.
(Photo courtesy of SUNY Cortland)

Vest, meanwhile, has tried to just focus on the positives of his time at SUNY Cortland.

“It was really disappointing at first, but I’ve been able to come to terms with it,” Vest said. “I’ve tried to avoid thinking about it too much and tried to just actively reflect on the years I’ve had.

“Being part of a team was awesome and is something I’ll certainly miss.”

For the athletes who are set to continue their careers, the experience has been quite different compared to those who are moving on to a new chapter.

Athletes looking to impress colleges face a difficult road ahead that could very well require creative ways of getting their names out in the public eye.

Teams expecting to return still have expectations for their players during this time.

“We have talked to all of them and asked them to get something athletic in a few times a week,” Hofstra University lacrosse coach Seth Tierney said. “With our season being completely over, we will have plenty of time to get in shape for next season. We hope and plan to be on the field together in the fall. At that time, we will begin the progress like we normally would do regarding building chemistry, evaluating talent and teaching the fundamentals.”

However, players are at liberty to go beyond that. Tierney’s son, Ryan, who is an attackman for the lacrosse team, has done so himself.

“We have a nice gym in our garage that has been enough to get by to continue working out,” Tierney said. “I’ve been going on bike rides with my sister and have been trying to run with the dogs as much as I can.”

Nonetheless, coaches are certainly giving some form of direction. Tierney and Rega are still getting packets from their strength and conditioning coaches. Those packets consist of exercises, such as yoga push ups, ankle rocks, mountain climbers, split squat jumps, and more.

“They are very helpful and really get me breaking a sweat,” Rega said. “Our coaches have been really supportive during this time because they know how much the sport means to us. Sports in college is a job, but it’s a job I do with a smile on my face every day no matter the circumstances.”

Getting the work in for Rega hasn’t been the most difficult part for him, but it’s more about his ability to motivate himself to do it.

“It has been sort of tricky to motivate myself,” Rega said of life as an athlete in quarantine. “I ran a 5K for HEADstrongs #LastShift2020 campaign so that kept me motivated. My teammates and I would smack talk each other on who would get the better time. I trained almost everyday for the virtual event.

“On the day of the event, April 6, which was Student-Athlete Day, I ran a 21:58 with my coach and fellow Wantagh resident Dan Paccione. That smack talk really helped bring my competitive spirit to life so I’m happy to have competed in that campaign.”

Some athletes are even incorporating technology into their routine, such as St. John’s freshman catcher Nick Schwartz, who was looking forward to his debut with the baseball team.

“I record videos of myself in the batting cage and I even just watch videos of others just to see what I can do drill-wise to get better and prepare myself for whatever season we’re going to have,” Schwartz said.

With a series of unknowns for the future of sports, athletes at every level are going to have to come up with innovative methods of exercising and will need to push themselves to stay in shape.

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