By: Garrett Mitchell
As the country has come to grips in recent months with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, people from every walk of life have seen their every day normal routine change dramatically amid work stoppages and stay-at-home orders and lockdowns.
For Jason Currin and Jennifer Chesson, the global health crisis has thrust them onto the front lines of the battle to curtail the spread of a virus that continues to claim lives and sicken countless thousands.
Currin and Chesson are the longtime athletic trainers of the Woodruff Schools’ athletic program. They have seen the athletes in their charge endure the loss of their senior sports seasons and experience a final year brought abruptly to an end by an unseen adversary that doesn’t wear shoulder pads or sport a blazing fastball.
Both have the utmost sympathy for their athletes and understand the pain of not being able to compete.
“My heart goes out to all the athletes and coaches who lost their respective seasons,” said Currin, who has served as the head athletic trainer for Woodruff since 2009. “They worked so hard and invested so much time into their sport and, from circumstances they cannot control, lost the opportunity to compete for a state championship. I especially feel for the senior athletes.”
Chesson, who has served alongside Currin caring for Woodruff athletes for the past five years, echoed her partner’s sentiments.
“As a prior athlete, I can only imagine feeling like the world was ending when the current athletes got their season taken from them,” she said. “I was a softball player for majority of my young life and I practiced and played year-round. My softball career was cut short due to an injury and that was hard enough. I feel even worse for our seniors still trying to sign with a college of their dreams to play their sport. Without their senior season, it makes it that much more difficult to sign on with their dream team. I wish they all had the chance to play, enjoy their senior day as athletes, and share some amazing memories with their teammates, coaches and family.”
Curin and Chesson, both having expertise in the medical field, realize that safety is paramount. They are quick to point out that, as much as it hurts, the lives of the student-athletes are far greater and more important than a game.
“Throughout this pandemic, the most concerning aspect has been the health of our coaches and athletes,” said Chesson. “I think being out of school and keeping the athletes away from such a high chance of illness was the best move. Seeing this illness take forefront of a lot of people’s lives put it into perspective. I would never want one of my athletes, their family or their coach to be infected with COVID-19, and the best way to prevent that was enforcing separation, even if it hurt the soul a little to do.”
Currin added that he applauds state and South Carolina High School League leadership in giving precedent to the safety of athletes and coaches, ensuring that youth and high school athletics will still have a future once the pandemic subsides.
“I feel our state leadership and healthcare systems have done a great job making recommendations and our citizens have stepped up to follow these protocols and recommendations to help stop the spread of this disease,” he said. “This has truly been a team effort and I feel we will come out of this much wiser and aware of how quickly something like this can turn everything upside down. As athletic trainers, we will always do everything in our power to ensure the safety of everyone we come into contact with.”
Chesson, especially, has seen firsthand the toll that COVID-19 can take. In addition to her role with Woodruff athletics, Chesson also works for the Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System (SRHS) where she has worked at COVID-19 testing stations.
Even when school and athletics resumes, said Chesson, having to adjust to a ‘new normal’ is almost inevitable.
“As a SRHS employee, having time away from the school does not mean I had time to sit back and relax,” she said. “I have been working at the USC Upstate COVID-19 testing site since school was cancelled. Though I have had my hands full with my hospital duties, the safety of my athletes will always be on the front of my mind.”
Chesson added, “I don’t think anything can prepare us for a new normal. Working through each day at the testing site has proven to be difficult and trying. I think that whenever we do get back to athletics that it will be an adjustment for our athletes and our coaches. We will have to consider many new rules and regulations set forth by health officials in order to maintain a healthy environment, but I don’t think it will take long for them to adjust. Woodruff athletics has shown in the past that we can adjust and adapt to whatever changes are made around us.”
Currin, who also teaches athletic training classes at R.D. Anderson Applied Technology Center in Moore, said he has used the time away from athletics to hone his teaching skills. Additionally, Currin is leading the charge to put in place protocols for a safe return to athletics for athletes and coaches with many states’ leaders, including South Carolina’s, indicating that a return to athletics in the coming weeks is imminent.
“I have mainly used this time to rethink the way I teach my students at RD Anderson,” Currin said. “With school ending in March, we have been challenged to find new and meaningful ways to continue our students’ education. I have also spent a considerable amount of time communicating with members of our sports medicine team to prepare for the upcoming seasons (summer and fall). We are preparing for physicals, workouts, rehabilitation, practices, and hopefully games.”
Currin added that the toughest adjustment for him has been having to be away from his athletes at Woodruff, all of whom he cares for deeply.
“I miss being around our student-athletes,” he said. “We have an incredibly special group of student-athletes in Woodruff who I sorely miss. I cannot wait to get back out there to watch them compete.”
Chesson is also optimistic. She noted that Woodruff athletes are quite resilient and that when the time comes to take the field once more, whatever precautions are in place, that the young men and women wearing the Maroon and Gold will be up to the challenge.
It is also Chesson’s hope that, for those underclassmen athletes who still have an opportunity to compete, that they will learn from this pandemic not to take their opportunities for granted. “We have a great staff and amazing athletes that will pull together as a community around sport,” she said. “The adjustment period will be there, but the hope is that it will be short and painless. I hope that all of my athletes will take this time to learn how to be grateful with the opportunities they are given and also teach them how to adapt to unexplainable circumstances, even when they feel it unfair.”