The Return to Normal

by Mackenzy Garden, USA Field Hockey Contributing Author & Stevens Institute of Technology Student-Athlete

We’re starting to return to normal. Most of us have been wishing for this for more than a year and a half. I am excited to see my friends while walking around campus and hang out in the locker room with my teammates. I am even excited to sit in a lecture hall. But no one is talking about what this return is going to feel like for those that just got used to the new normal. I have recently been haunted by this idea. I am afraid of the expectations that my family, school administration, coaches, professors, and so many others will have of me as soon as the return to normal starts.


Like many of my classmates, in March 2020 I moved out of my college dorm and back into my parents’ home. This was supposed to be an extra week of spring break. A nice chance to relax and not have to worry about classes. This changed quickly. After a few weeks my sisters and I realized that we would all be stuck at home with our parents for a lot longer than intended.


As an athlete, any time I got stressed I would workout. If everyone in the house was on a conference call or in class, I would go for a run out of boredom. If one of my sisters wanted to hang out in the sun, I would beg them to “tan” on the turf field and time my sprints. This felt good. I ran a half-marathon, one of my greatest accomplishments. I was in the best shape of my life. At the time, I thought I had a season to prepare for and all of this free time was perfect to come back to the fall feeling stronger and faster than ever after losing the spring season. In a matter of weeks, what was supposed to be my sophomore year was thrown away. I was diagnosed with a stress fracture in July and just a week or two later, it was announced that no one in my conference would be playing sports that fall.


I could not talk about working out, field hockey or anything related without breaking down into tears. I had worked so hard to channel my stress into something that positively benefited me. This was all turned around so fast. I spent the next few months in a medical boot and the months after that in physical therapy. I knew my team would eventually play together again, but I didn’t know when or what it was going to be like.


Now, about a year later, I am training for what is now going to be my junior year, but only second collegiate season. I am afraid of being out of shape. I haven’t played a full season in two years, and I am used to playing field hockey year-round. I am afraid of being over-whelmed and that I forgot what the stress and time commitment of being on a college athletic team is like. I am afraid that I am going to work so hard for months, just to have it all taken away again by something crazy and unexpected. I know I am not alone in the feeling, but I don’t think enough people are talking about it.


For the other athletes feeling this way, know you are not alone. Take it one step at a time. Push but listen to yourself. I learned a lot last year about pushing myself too hard and I am still learning about how to find that happy medium. Reach out to your teammates, coaches, friends and professors. Tell them how you are feeling. The return to normal is going to bring both positive and negative feelings, just like anything else. It’s okay to be both excited and afraid of the return to normal. It’s going to be a big change but remind yourself if you can make it through a pandemic, returning to play your favorite sport with your best friends is going to feel so much easier. Start the conversation. The return to normal is not all positive for everyone and it’s okay to talk about that.