An Early Farewell

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Head coach Tracy Hellman talks to the Augustana cross country team after a hard workout in November.

Last week, COVID-19 pushed the sports world into an unprecedented era of confusion, frustration and heartbreak. Bleachers were emptied. Competitions were cancelled. National leagues were shut down. Athletes of all abilities — from NBA all-stars to rookie road racers — felt the sting of dashed dreams.

Following suit, the NSIC officially decided last night to cancel its 2020 spring sports seasons.

While my heart breaks for my final outdoor track season that never came to fruition, I support the NSIC’s decision — a tough but wise call, given our rapidly spreading global pandemic.

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Racing the 1000m at the NSIC Indoor Track and Field Championships in Mankato. Photo by Clint Sesow.

Loving our neighbors rarely means staying in our comfort zone. (Of course, I’m speaking metaphorically. Please stay in your “zone” and practice social distancing.) Especially in times like these, we must abandon our own selfish desires and embrace (again, metaphorically) the needs of vulnerable populations. While I won’t likely die from COVID-19, participating in organized sports and other large-group activities increases my chances of becoming a disease vector and infecting people with weaker immune systems.

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My teammates and I (pink socks), pray before the 3k at SDSU on Feb. 14.

In the days leading up to the NSIC’s decision, I constantly refreshed my email, Twitter, anything, frantically searching for a concrete answer to my ambiguous athletic career. Apple informed me that my screen time went up 72% last week. I already knew what was coming; I just wanted to see it written in black and white.

Still, when I opened up my inbox and saw a mass email from Augustana Athletic Director Josh Morton, titled “We are here to support you,” my stomach dropped.

The message reiterated the NSIC’s official statement and expressed how much we as athletes mean to the program. But the strangest thing about reading his email — along with a heartfelt email from head cross country/track coach Tracy Hellman — was realizing that phrases like “seniors” and “careers cut short” and “we will miss you greatly” applied to me.

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My teammates and I wait to be recognized at halftime of a football game in mid-November. Not pictured: the men’s team (they were also recognized).

Through the ups and downs of my years as an Augustana athlete, Tracy and Scott always had one goal in mind for me: graduate having enjoyed your experience here. Fulfilling the goal was bittersweet; ending on a high note (a successful indoor track season in which God healed my performance anxiety) meant realizing how deeply I’ll miss this phase of my life.

I’ll miss our 4-mile easy run route from the Elmen Center, despite how much I complained about the hard-surface running. I’ll miss our goofy post-run conversations and the outlandish stories we told to pass the time while we were doing planks. I’ll miss Scott’s long, inspirational emails. I’ll miss the times when Tracy got so pumped up after a workout that he just screamed — no words, just screams. I’ll miss the “sole sister” letters my teammates and I wrote before cross country meets. I’ll miss the yellow jersey/gold eyeshadow/pink calf sleeves combo on race days. I’ll miss collapsing at the finish line so dramatically that I spike myself. I’ll miss bouncing between two roles — athlete and photographer — at meets and important workouts.

What I’ll miss the most, however, are the small moments in which I was able to use my gifts to help my teammates. I believe that God called me to athletics, not to run crazy fast times or be an All-American, but to encourage others. Our last official practice this season — a grueling hill workout — was fairly telling: my thighs felt like lead, but instead of focusing on how badly was feeling, I decided to offer words of encouragement to my teammates. Few things feel better than finishing a workout knowing that my words helped others persevere.

Fortunately, I know that God is in control, and His ways are greater than ours. Being patient in the unknown is painful, especially for a Type-A extrovert like me, but I’m eager to grow in this area.

On to the next adventure,

Alana

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