The global coronavirus pandemic has unleashed a torrent of financial, economic and health woes the world over. It has touched everyone’s life in one way or another.
For America’s youth, however, it presents itself most tangibly as a unique mental challenge, forcing them to find ways to cope with their present and future being thrown into a whirling cloud of uncertainty.
Cottage Grove High School (CGHS) senior Mitchell Krokus - the reigning 4A state triple jump champion - has spent the last couple of months doing just that: coping.
“It’s been a mix of emotions. It’s been a lot of different things,” Krokus said, echoing the emotional toll of rapid societal fluctuations being felt all over the country.
It started on March 12 when Krokus and all of his fellow CGHS seniors, unbeknownst to them, attended their final day of high school. At that point, public schools in Oregon had not been ordered to close through the remainder of the year, but that change came soon enough.
“No one knew it was going to be our last day of school,” Krokus said. “Just that by itself is a pretty big thing.”
Years of preparation through elementary, middle and high school. Piles of homework. Test upon test. Suddenly and quite unceremoniously, it was all over through no fault of their own. But, there were still opportunities to retrain focus onto other things and, for Krokus, that outlet was track and field which, at that point along with all other spring sports, was only postponed through early April.
“First thing I did was go to my head coach, talk to him about it and get his perspective,” Krokus added. “At first I was kind of bummed out, but when I realized I’d just be getting more practice and work in it gave me a little bit more to look forward to.”
Krokus, after all, had found his niche in the track world during his sophomore season when he tried triple jump for the first time and qualified for state. After winning the state championship in 2019, Krokus threw himself into his training, discovering a new passion for not just the competition, but the preparation as well.
“Since a couple months after last season, I started working out a ton,” Krokus said. “I really wanted to be the best version of myself coming into the season. I wanted to be there as soon as I started the season … I’d think, ‘If there’s another guy I’m gonna be competing against working out right now, I’m gonna work harder than him’. That was my mindset every day of working out.”
So, to say Krokus was focused and prepared going into his final season as a Lion would be an understatement. This was a student-athlete ready to defend their title.
Alas, he would never get the chance.
The postponed starting date for spring sports came and went and, on April 8, Krokus had a dizzying day: he officially graduated from high school sans robes, family, peers and ceremony; spring sports were cancelled through the remainder of the 2019-20 season; and he celebrated his eighteenth birthday.
“It’s been really different because when you turn 18, you know, you already get a kind of new perspective on life,” Krokus said. “Second, I graduated without any sort of ceremony as of yet, so I wasn’t able to really finish off how I wanted to. To a lot of people that might not mean much, but to me it meant a lot and it kind of sucked that it had to end like that.”
The material changes to Krokus’ and his peers’ lives have been immense. They are homebound day after day in mid-May when they would normally be in school. It is likely that many of their households have experienced some level of economic effect from the COVID-19 chaos. Graduation and sports were deprioritized in the name of public health. But, for people with the vast majority of their lives ahead of them, it’s chiefly been a mental struggle thinking about today as well as tomorrow.
“At that point [after sports were cancelled] I lost a lot of motivation,” Krokus said. “It was hard because I’ve always had the mindset that if things don’t go my way, just find something else to work for, but it was something I’d been working on for so long that I just couldn’t think of something else to move on to. It changed my whole mood, realizing that something you’ve put hundreds of hours towards might not happen. It’s easy to say, ‘Don’t think about it too much, work on something else,’ but it was really hard at first.”
People rarely, however, reach the championship-level heights Krokus has reached without having a deep reserve of resiliency. And, as it turns out, Krokus has it in spades.
“It was only a couple of days ago where I really just kind of realized life doesn’t always go the way you want it to,” Krokus said. “But being able to forget about something that you wanted to happen and look at the future and how to improve yourself starting now was something that I really decided to be firm with.”
For many students around the country who had yet to formulate a post-high school plan, the future remains murkier than ever. But for Krokus, who already had his plans for next year set before things started coming unglued, there are still things to look forward to and work towards amidst all the difficulties.
“Luckily, I have the opportunity where I already have the plan to go to Lane Community College,” Krokus said of his 2020-21 plans where he will compete in track for the Titans.
“I have that reassurance that I’m going to be competing in the future. I’m just going to put it behind me and work harder. Everyone’s going through it. It’s not just me, so it’s easy to make tons of excuses, but to really just stop making excuses and work towards something I love doing - it’s hard, it’s not easy to do - but I’m committed to that now.”
As for the now? It’s still cloudy. It’s still filled with some level of uncertainty and it remains a novel mental challenge for those whose lives have seemed to have stopped before they ever truly got started. As rapid changes continue to roll through the national newsfeed, Krokus provides an example of having the flexibility of mind to take it as it comes.
“It’s been ok for the most part,” Krokus said. “I’m being safe, I’m working, which is good because a lot of people don’t get a chance to right now … Other than that, I’ve just kind of been taking it day by day. I’m doing a lot of fishing.”
When life throws never-ending sticks in the spokes of society, maybe that’s advice for everyone: take it day by day. Do a lot of fishing.