By Olivia Lubarsky, Student-Athlete at Towson University and former Mental Health America Collegiate Mental Health Innovation Council (CMHIC) Member
From the moment we are born, we are taught that life is more meaningful when our goal is fulfillment, rather than reward. As student-athletes, we do not receive reward through financial gain, rather we earn our fulfillment through success in moments. For me, my moment to celebrate the culmination of my collegiate athletic career and overall gymnastics career was just a few days away.
Towson University’s “Senior Day” gymnastics competition was scheduled for March 15th. During practice on March 12th, my teammates and I received the heartbreaking news that COVID-19 protection measures would cause a shutdown of all University and NCAA operations. My gymnastics career was over. Just like that. But it was supposed to end under the arena lights, wearing my university’s competition leotard and pouring my heart into one final floor routine. I was going to walk across that competition floor one last time, with the utmost gratitude and pride for my roller coaster of an athletic career. But that was taken from me, and many athletes nationwide - whether losing senior meets, conference championships, national championships, or even entire seasons.
I am struggling to establish structure in my life; gymnastics was more than just my sport. Athletics influenced every decision I made on a daily basis, from the seemingly simplest of actions: making sure that I slept enough at night to last through a practice and making sure that I fueled my body with the proper nutrition to perform at my best in competition. Now, I am trying to create my next chapter without really being able to leave my college bedroom.
It hurts. And in all honesty, about one month later, I still don’t think I’ve processed it all. In no way am I saying that the decisions to cancel athletic competition seasons were wrong. And, if anything, being a collegiate athlete has taught me the tremendous power of teamwork in overcoming obstacles, knowing that I am not alone and that we will get through this.
I will never let COVID-19 define my athletic career. Even though I lost closure in my last deserved moments of gymnastics, I didn’t lose the thousands of hours I spent in the gym that shaped who I am today. To quote my fellow senior teammate, Zoey Packard: “Whether you won four championships, or you never saw a moment of playing time, be proud that you stuck with it and you never ever gave up. That little kid inside of you is so proud of you for that.”
All of our hard work was not lost; we made it. Now is the time to apply the multitude of lessons that being a student-athlete has provided. We will persevere; we will take this challenge one day at a time, acknowledging the setbacks, but never letting them stop us. Because for now, we are all on the same team. We play at home for all of the healthcare professionals on the frontlines, fighting this battle for those who can’t. And we will beat this opponent like we always do.
To all of the student-athletes who are lucky enough to return to their sport, this time has shown us that our sport is a gift. Never let a practice pass you without knowing that you worked as hard as you could. Play for those who don’t get to play again and always play for the little kid that started it all. Make the Class of 2020 proud. We look forward to the roars of crowd-filled stadiums, the buzzer-beating shots, and the perfect tens that we know we will see soon.
Born and raised in Santa Monica, California, Olivia Lubarsky is a senior on the Division 1 gymnastics team at Towson University. Olivia is currently completing her final semester, and upon graduation, she will have her bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, with a concentration in Legal Studies, and a minor in Psychology. Olivia was a member of the 2018-2019 Collegiate Mental Health Innovation Council, as well as the President of Towson Athletics’ Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) for two years. Olivia gave a TEDx talk at this year’s TEDxSanLuisObispo, in response to her Own Your Roar initiative, which strives to unite mental health and athletics and show that mental illness is equally valid to physical injury.