How are varsity athletes dealing with the OUA’s pause on sport?

Men’s Volleyball’s Dax Tompkins and Swimming’s Sophie Deasy discuss their reactions to latest COVID-19 related break

University sports are prospectively scheduled to resume no earlier than Jan. 24.
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Almost two years on, the pandemic is still disrupting the schedules of varsity athletes.

Following a surge in province-wide COVID-19 cases in December, the Ontario University Athletics association (OUA) extended the varsity mid-season break from Jan. 6 until Jan. 24 at the earliest—effectively pausing all competitive varsity athletics events until the end of the month.

Following the OUA’s pause of play, on Jan. 6, the Ontario Government announced a list of “elite amateur sports leagues” whose teams and players were permitted to continue training with adherence to a modified set of health and safety protocols.

To the dismay of many, the OUA was not given “elite amateur” status.

As a result, varsity athletes across the province have been unable to formally train and meet with their teams for a little over a month, with at least another week still slated before the break is tentatively scheduled to end. 

To learn how Queen’s student athletes have been managing throughout this period, The Journal reached out to Men’s Volleyball’s Dax Tompkins, and Sophie Deasy, captain of the Queen’s Swim team.

When asked about his initial reaction to the provincial government’s ruling, Tompkins said it was nothing short
of disappointing.

“I spent Christmas break in Halifax with my dad and my brother and my sister, and I found out the day I was supposed to fly back to Toronto that our training had been cancelled,” he said.

“I was pretty gutted.”

Cognizant of the health and safety concerns surrounding the pandemic, the third-year middle blocker stated he’s in full support of doing whatever’s safest, but he believes the OUA’s lack of distinction was disrespectful to student-athletes across
the province.

“It’s one thing not letting us train for whatever COVID [-related] reasons, but not including us in the list of elite sports is really insulting to athletes who spend so much time and dedicate so much time […] to make their sport their
 life,” he explained.

“It delegitimizes their craft.”

Although he—along with the other members of the volleyball team—have been unable to formally train, Tompkins said he’s still been able to stay healthy by using his home gym, going on walks, and doing yoga. An average day for him may not include volleyball, but he’s staying prepared to return whenever he can.

As a team, Tompkins mentioned that the men’s squad is staying in touch with each other through weekly Zoom calls and something they call the “QMVB Photo Journal.”

“Anytime that we’re being active, or even eating something healthy, we’ll put a photo in the
chat,” he said.

“That’s been really helpful because it’s hard, even when we have Zoom calls once or twice a week […] to stay connected.”

According to Deasy, staying connected virtually is also something she and her Swim teammates have been slowly grappling with since the provincial training restrictions came into effect.

“We meet Wednesdays, Fridays, and then Sundays for about 30 minutes to do a [virtual] workout, and then as well we have ‘check-in’ socials […] It’s like a round of trivia or trying to chat with everyone for about an hour. We normally only have those ones once a week,” she said.

“It’s the best thing to do right now […] but it’s hard because at this point in the year, we’re supposed to typically have become so close together […] all that’s been taken away, so it’s been hard.”

Deasy, a fourth-year Psychology student, shared Tompkins disappointment in being unable to train, particularly because she believes that her and her teammates were poised to have a record-breaking season. Yet, all told, she thinks this pause has had an equally detrimental effect on her mental health as it has her physical.

“Not having a meet to […] compete at or having the pool resources. Not even being in or around the pool or training facility, I think it has hurt myself, and obviously other athletes, very much mentally,” she said.

“You’re missing out on that new dynamic and social support of close friends and that circle of people that you can almost always depend on.”

Although the pause of university sport is scheduled to cease no earlier than Jan. 24, as of the writing of this article, no new developments have emerged with confirmation of resumption of university sport at that date, nor a further extension.

Speaking to the prospect of potentially returning this semester, Deasy stated she’s cautiously optimistic about her performance, but will mainly focus on having fun in her last opportunities to swim at the varsity-level.

“If we do get that chance to compete […] it would be amazing,” she said.

“But at this point, I’m not expecting to go anywhere near my best time. Maybe just around it.”

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