Four Years Later 

Four years after the COVID-19 outbreak, Boxers are divided if there is still a pandemic.

Four years ago, most of us first learned about coronavirus as news stories about canceled basketball games and quarantined cruise ships began to circulate—and then, over the first two weeks of March 2020, schools and colleges from coast to coast shut down; at first, for temporary shelter, but then in prolonged and indeterminate stretches of weeks, months and years. 

   After a stretch of time nearly as long as America’s involvement in World War II, the pandemic was declared officially over. Yet, for some students, it isn’t. For others, they want to shelf away like last year’s Christmas decorations, and some are in-between, their time in college contorted by the pandemic. 

   For the vast majority of Americans—and certainly holding true for most students on the Forest Grove campus—medical masks have been ditched, and they comfortably mingle in classrooms, movie theaters, airplanes and gyms. But for Fiona Wilson, a senior at Pacific University, there has not been a direct route back to normal. As far as Wilson knows, she only had COVID-19 once. Despite masking up over the course of the pandemic, Wilson caught the virus in May 2022, during finals week. “It just felt like a really bad cold,” she said in a recent interview with The Index. “I recovered quickly, within a week.” 

   After her brief illness and the recommended ten-day quarantine, Wilson returned to her normal activities—and enjoyed one week of normalcy before disaster struck. “One day I woke up and I could not take a few steps with my heart rate spiking through the roof,” said Wilson. “I suspected long-COVID after a while because I couldn’t walk. I was extremely fatigued, my heart rate was super high, and I was getting severe chest pains. I felt like I was having a heart attack.”

   Even after multiple trips to the emergency room and numerous medical tests, Wilson was unable to get a diagnosis or an effective treatment plan for her symptoms. And even now, after almost two years of seemingly endless doctors’ appointments, blood work and medical bills, Wilson’s symptoms are still present with no solution in sight. “I still get occasional chest pains, but I’m used to it now. It’s not anything I go to the doctor for because I’ve been thoroughly checked out by cardiologists, but it was just a huge amount of doctor’s appointments with no results,” Wilson laments. “One of the major triggers for my symptoms is any type of heat. My body just shuts down; heart rate through the roof, palpitations, chest pains, and severe heat intolerance with really no explanation. I’d say exercise and heat are the biggest triggers. And I mean walking to class, not actual exercise,” Wilson emphasized. “I’m trying to get approved for a wheelchair of my own through insurance because I have a rental wheelchair now. I use it occasionally and it really helps.”

   Adapting to life post-COVID has been grueling for Wilson; emotionally as well as physically. As she approaches her two-year mark of living with long COVID, she still grieves the loss of her freedom and mobility, doubtful that she will ever be able to participate in her favorite activities again. “I used to be—and I guess I still am—a martial arts black belt,” Wilson said. “It was a huge part of my life, and I wanted to do martial arts for the rest of my life, but now I basically can’t do any exercise. So, that’s just completely out the window.” 

   Despite the long road to physical recovery, Wilson says dealing with her new physical limits isn’t the hardest challenge. She has found the emotional journey even more painful as she comes to terms not only with her limits but also with her relationship with her community. “That’s been the hardest, rather than physically adapting,” Wilson admitted. “I think as humans, if something happens to you, you will physically adapt to it quickly. It’s harder to adapt emotionally and mentally, I feel. I think also seeing the people around you who know your situation and still don’t bother to take precautions really hurts.” 


   For others, COVID has provided an odd trade-off, and an opportunity to extend college athletic careers; specifically, athletes that participated in the spring and fall of 2021 and spring of 2022 had their collegiate eligibility preserved. For many, it has meant stretching time in college to five years, as there was a two-year rollback for spring sports and a one-year rollback for fall sports in 2020. For example, CJ Coyler did not have his first collegiate season count against his eligibility since he was a freshman in the 2020–2021 academic year—and he is only now he is clocking into his senior year, but doing so with one-year eligibility remaining, with which he plans to transfer to top-level college program next year.   

   “In my irregular first year, I focused on improving my skills and switched from shortstop to outfield; if COVID hadn’t happened, I would have been like any other freshman stressing about fighting for a starting spot,” explained Coyler. “Instead, I got basically a redshirt year to build that you don’t get at a division III level.” 

   A versatile utility player with a reputation for power-hitting, Coyler began this season with a pair of home runs against Corbin College. 

   “Being a freshman during COVID was challenging for many reasons, but looking back on it now I did spend a lot of time with my class and formed a lot of friendships that might have not happened if we weren’t stuck with each other,” laughed Coyler. During those first months, there was a strict no-sharing policy regarding equipment. Full team practices took place in the spring, and the freshman class became very close because no one was allowed to be in a different cohort. “I also get five years to play at a collegiate level and keep advancing in the sport. It is super cool that my work over the past four years is now allowing me to be competitive at a division I level.” 

   Coyler expressed his gratitude for an additional growth and playing year, but he also shared the sentiment of the majority: he is glad he no longer has to play baseball in the rainy Oregon weather while wearing a mask. The initial two years of rigorous COVID-19 regulations were so draining that he is prepared to never think about them again and only sees homers and sunshine ahead. 


   Other students, like biology major Madi Cabardo, were able to extend their academic time and research because of the pandemic, although she would prefer not to talk or think about it. Now in her fifth year, she was a freshman at Pacific when the 2019–2020 academic year was truncated due to the pandemic. As she recently sat at the UC with her friends on one of the first bright spring days, they barely spoke about COVID-19; the following day, everyone was using up their dwindling bank balances to go home, and they talked about travel plans. 

  Throughout the first two years of COVID, every Pacific student who was physically present on campus was eligible to receive 12 free credits. A large number of students opted for an extra semester to either deepen their understanding of a particular subject or to complete their degree. Cabardo was able to take more classes in her field that she did not have time to squeeze into her schedule before graduation. 

   Moreover, thanks to a summer research grant, she was able to stay one additional semester and devote even more time to her senior capstone project. She continued her work in the Pacific lab throughout the summer and gave a presentation at the Murdock Research Conference 2023, detailing her enlarged study on “prevalence and genetic characterization of Wolbachia in carabid beetles within the plata-his complex.” Additionally, her research was recognized at the Pacific University Undergraduate Research Conference with the “Outstanding Poster” award.  

   “Due to the free semester, I was able to get a research grant that allowed me to continue studying for my degree but also gave me more experience in the lab environment,” explained Cabardo. “During that time I realized I enjoyed being in the lab setting, which allowed me to expand my future career path.”


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