Thousands of miles from Rider, Spanish student-athletes face virus’ harsh realities

By Shaun Chornobroff

When senior midfielder Valeria Pascuet arrived at the El Prat Airport in Barcelona on March 16, she was greeted by a surprising sight.

The airport was empty. 

“It was kind of scary seeing nobody there,” Pascuet said. “I felt like I was in some kind of Sci-Fi movie.”

The reason for the empty airport is obvious, the coronavirus has shut down most of life as we know it. 

Pascuet is from Spain and lives in a town called Bunuel in the province of Navarra, which has felt the impacts of the virus. 

Spain is one of the most affected nations in the world and it does not seem to be getting better. Between March 28 and 29, Spain recorded 838 deaths due to the virus, its largest daily increase in fatalities. The country’s death toll was at 6,528, according to CNBC.

Navarra is one of Spain’s most affected provinces. Luckily, Pascuet has not been directly affected by the virus but says the restrictions and fear of COVID-19 made an immense impact on her life. 

“There are a lot of police controls to ensure that everyone stays home and if you go out without really having to you can get fined,” Pascuet explained. She says she only leaves her house to take her dog for a walk, but that is quick, only lasting a few minutes and she doesn’t go more than 100 feet from her home.  

Pascuet has felt the pain of the virus the most when it comes to her extended family, who she has barely been able to see much since returning home.

“It’s hard especially when you want to share a moment with them, but you can’t,” Pascuet said of not being able to see her family. “I had to spend my birthday in the air, without my family. It should have been a day to celebrate with them.” 

Pascuet’s family is very close. She has gone from seeing her aunts, uncles and grandparents every day to not seeing them at all. She especially misses her grandmother. 

“My grandmother and I are very close. Over summer and winter breaks, I always go to her house to eat,” Pascuet said of her relationship with her grandmother, but she has only seen her once since coming home. Even then it was different than usual. 

“I had to maximize precautions when visiting my grandmother… since I traveled I didn’t know if I had it (COVID-19) or not,” Pascuet said. “I visited her with a mask and gloves, and now I FaceTime her whenever I can.”

It’s a far cry from the relationship Pascuet is used to with her family, but a reality Pascuet and many others around the world are forced to deal with. 

Almost 300 miles away from Pascuet is the city of Valencia, the home of women’s soccer junior goalkeeper Carmen Carbonell.

Luckily, Valencia has not been destroyed by COVID-19 like other regions of Spain. According to Statista, the region of Valencia had 3,532 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of March 27. 

Like Pascuet, Carbonell has not been personally affected by the virus. However, her daily life has changed. 

“My dad doesn’t go to work anymore, and my mom still works, but that’s because her business is related to catering,” Carbonell said. “They have reduced the employees but there are some key employees and the owners, such as my aunt and my mom, that are still working.”

Carbonell’s three siblings are now doing online schooling and they only leave the house for necessities, such as groceries or medicine.

Carbonell shared some of her daily routine.

“I wake up in the morning and I go to the balcony while I have breakfast. I watch the news for an hour and turn them off for the rest of the day, get dressed because that helps me psychologically to start my day,” Carbonell said. “I do some artistic activities, cook lunch, take a nap, do some exercise, prepare dinner, watch a movie and go to sleep.”

Carbonell and Pascuet have been living different realities than what they are used to, but nobody has seen the damage of COVID-19 quite like men’s soccer forward Pablo Decastro.

The redshirt junior is from Madrid, which can be described as the epicenter of the virus in Spain.

Madrid had 19,243 cases as of March 27, according to Statista. DeCastro says the city has more than 22,000 confirmed cases and more than 3,000 deaths as of March 29.

Unfortunately, DeCastro knows people who have been affected by COVID-19 and have passed away as a result. Despite this, DeCastro is not worried about himself. 

“Personally I am more scared for my family than myself,” DeCastro said. 

These are sentiments both Pascuet and Carbonell echoed. 

“I’m not necessarily scared of getting infected, but more concerned about the wellbeing of my grandparents because they are in that age range that the virus can be lethal,” Pascuet said. 

“I’m not scared of the virus itself, of getting ill because I think I will be able to overcome the illness, I’m more scared of infecting my parents that take care of my grandparents so often, and that will actually cause an impact,” Carbonell said.

Despite all that is going on around him, DeCastro tries to keep himself in a routine but admits even that is hard. 

“It is difficult because although I try to think about my things and do my routine, as usual, it is inevitable to listen to the news on television and think about all the affected people and wishing that no member of my family is affected,” DeCastro said.

While facing unprecedented circumstances, DeCastro has found comfort in his teammates.

“We talk almost every day to know how the situation is going on in each of our areas and to give messages of encouragement,” DeCastro said of his team’s communication. “Whenever we speak, we give each other strength to face the situation and we know that there are people who are interested in us.” 

Carbonell feels similarly about her teammates and coach. 

“It’s very important since they understand my situation, I have been talking with them and they are sending me home workouts and stuff to do during this quarantine,” Carbonell said of her team’s support. 

Pascuet, DeCastro and Carbonell have played a combined 176 games in a Rider uniform and it is safe to say that COVID-19 is an opponent unlike any that they have faced before.

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