Maddy Dwyer, the sole senior on the Stanford women’s softball team, never imagined she would be sent home by a pandemic. If anything, she thought stress would be what bought her a plane ticket.
When she first heard about COVID-19 at a tournament in Tennessee, her family was going through a difficult time and she had just ended a three-year relationship. Coupled with decreased playing time and the pressures of school, she was “ready to run and hide.” Still, when the announcement came that their season had been canceled, Dwyer wept with her teammates on the field that some would never get to play on again.
Back home in Southern California, she says, she processed the effects of the pandemic in tandem with the losses in her life; love, stability, and softball. As a woman of faith, she believed that God had her best interests in mind even though she was hurting. This flint of faith ignited a personal and spiritual reset that, she believes, changed the trajectory of her life.
“I asked myself what I wanted,” she recalls. “Not what my parents, or my ex, or what Stanford wanted from me.” These questions led her to decide that boundaries were what was missing. “I went into a total factory reset. I found a new appreciation for life and decided I couldn’t keep living for other people. I have to live for me, and I don’t think I would have found that inner peace had I left Stanford the way I thought I was going to.”
It’s hard to know, without deeper examination, what exactly a knife nicks when it cuts into something. The same is true for COVID-19 and its prevailing effects. For some that meant loss. For others, it meant narrowly escaping loss, gaining a perspective of appreciation. For several of Stanford’s student-athletes, the cut ran deep into unexpected territory.
A core belief of Stanford Athletics is that “physical activity is valuable for its own sake and that vigorous exercise is complementary to the educational purposes of the university. But what if the university’s academic pressures and the demands of a Division 1 sport aren’t always compatible? Cameron Buzzell, a senior football player, faced that head on.
A walk-on wide receiver and FLI student from the Makah Reservation in Washington state, Buzzell knew his window of opportunity for playing football was limited. By the time he tried to make the team as a frosh, other players had spent a summer with coaches. Being competitive meant he needed to dedicate himself to football, and he did.
His dedication earned him playing time in the last quarter of the last game of his junior year. Coaches and teammates knew spring ball would be where he could stake his claim on playing a full senior season.
Then the pandemic hit. “They told us practice was canceled and we were sent a Zoom link. That’s when I knew I wouldn’t get to play in a college football game ever again” he says.
Buzzell focused his newly available time on a senior capstone project with three classmates, with increased awareness of issues surrounding police brutality last summer. Upon returning to campus and beginning the work of starting a company that addresses these issues, he hit a wall and quit football. Quite literally, he ran into a door while rushing from a company meeting to a workout. He realized in that moment that though football had given him so much, it was time to let go and trust the new investment of his efforts.
Other student-athletes affected by COVID-19 found motivation in survival. John Kirkpatrick, a senior on the men’s sailing team, was devastated by the news that Stanford would be cutting 11 sports from its varsity roster, including sailing. When the news struck in 2020 that Kirkpatrick and his teammates had one year left after losing their spring season, they had a choice to make: throw in the towel or whip it right back.
There was little time for reflection after being sent home. Instead the sailors found a strong desire to prove themselves as a team, Kirkpatrick says. A year later, returning for the 2021 spring season, the sailors are “more in sync than ever.”
(They also learned, in May, that Stanford had reversed its decision and would be not eliminate the 11 sports.)
Kirkpatrick’s sister was a senior when the pandemic struck. She lost her final chance for a long-awaited championship season with her team. Kirkpatrick says he is doubling his efforts in part for her.