COVID-19: Two Years Later

March 10, 2020, was an unseasonably warm day in Kent, OH, about 52 degrees. I was up and about early in the morning, about 8:50, using my power wheelchair to ride to my class. It took me about 10 minutes to get from where I was located on Kent State’s campus (Leebrick Hall) to where my class was scheduled to take place (Franklin Hall). During my drive, I enjoyed the sun’s rays beating down on my face as my light blue spring jacket helped protect my chest from the wind.

From 9:15–10:30, I sat in my Media Diversity class, room 321 in Franklin, but the class was no ordinary class. Instead of talking about the impact of diversity in the media, we discussed the rise in price of sanitizer, and how the hand washing product was over $20 a bottle at Walmart..

The reason? The coronavirus.

The virus had made its way to Ohio over the weekend. Nobody really knew what was going to happen.

As soon as Media Diversity let out, I drove back to Leebrick and ordered lunch at the Rosies’ dining hall located within the residents. The grilled cheese I had melted in your mouth like every good grilled cheese should. Then, I returned to my dorm room and watched the ending of the sports talk debate show Skip and Shannon: Undisputed while preparing my backpack for my afternoon class.

When Undisputed concluded at noon, I kept my TV on the Fox Sports 1 channel and listened to the beginning of the sports talk radio show The Herd with Colin Cowherd while I finished packing my bag and slipping back on my spring jacket. At 12:10, I turned off my TV, hopped back in my chair and rode back to Franklin Hall for my Media Enterprise class that was scheduled for 12:30.

During my Media Enterprise class, we worked a little bit on our group projects where we were coming up with a new media startup, but we spent the majority of the class talking about the virus as word got around that the virus was spreading like wildfire. The whole class — including our professor — were wondering if the Kent campus was indeed going to be shut down, but we didn’t think too much about that possibility, considering no cases had been reported yet in Portage County. At 1:45, we were dismissed from class, and I rode back to my dorm room with the intent on getting some homework done between 2:00 and 4:00.

My plan was immediately thrown out the window the minute I unlocked the room to my dorm, backed my power chair into its designated spot, put it on the charger, set my backpack down and sat down in my black office chair. I grabbed my laptop out of my backpack and put it on my wooden desk. I opened up the same laptop I’m using currently and decided to log onto Twitter to see if any more coronavirus news had broken.

Sure enough, this is the first tweet I see on my timeline.

https://twitter.com/kentwired/status/1237442341343879168

At that moment, 2:10 p.m., March 10, 2020, I knew my life would change forever. I called my mom and told her campus was being shut down until after spring break in the middle of April. We arranged for her to come get me in the morning.

At the time, I was the current Web Director for Black Squirrel Radio, KSU’s student-ran radio station. We typically met as a staff on Tuesday nights. With our staff meeting canceled, I spent all night packing up my belongings.

The car ride home wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. Sure, we talked about how crazy the virus situation had become, but we were happy to be together in the same space again, enjoying each other’s company. Over the course of the day, after I got home and spent some time with my dad and brothers, I had a chance to sit back and reflect. I couldn’t believe I was back in my childhood home with no school work or BSR meetings to worry about rather than at school. Instead of prepping for class in the morning, I was texting my friends back home, making sure they were ok and wondering about their situation. The whole situation seemed surreal.

Little did I know the night would only get more surreal. Around 8 p.m., just before the tip off of the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder NBA game, a Jazz team doctor informed the officials center Rudy Gobert had tested positive for the virus. As a result, the game was canceled, and the NBA suspended its season until further notice.

Less than 24 hours later, the World Health Organization officially declared the coronavirus disease as the COVID-19 pandemic. Soon after, Kent State announced all in-person activity on campus would be suspended until the end of the semester, the NCAA canceled the 2020 March Madness Tournament, and WWE ran their flagship show — Friday Night SmackDown — from the Performance Center in Orlando, FL without any fans in attendance.

It was official: The COVID-19 pandemic was here, and it was here to stay, and sports (outside of wrestling) were not coming back anytime soon.

Since my youth, I was always interested in sports, and I knew I wanted to work one day in the sports industry. Binge-watching sports games every night was the only thing I knew because I thought it was normal since sports were on every day and every night of the calendar year, including holidays. No exceptions.

With the sports world shutting down due to the pandemic, I didn’t pout and cry the blues. Instead, my creative mind shifted to new avenues. I began to watch more sitcoms. It’s not that I never watched any sitcoms before, but my focus was now primarily on them since there were no ball games to view, and with no sports to write about, I decided to write about them and realized I did not miss sports, and that there was more to life than being obsessed about the final score of a random NBA game on a Wednesday night in January.

COVID not only helped me overcome my mental health battle and my obsessive fixture with the sports world, but it also re-lit my passion for writing.

I’ve always had a passion for writing since I was in grade school. Whether it was receiving written prompts in school or simply making up stories in my imagination outside of the classroom, I have written narratives ever since I could start typing, but the pandemic reinvigorated my passion for writing and storytelling that goes beyond journalistic writing. Throughout my four years as a Golden Flash, I worked on countless stories.

A lot of the stories I did were sports related but not all of them were. Whether they were news stories, feature stories or opinion columns, I loved using the power of the keyboard and the alphabet to shape my voice and to connect to my readers through the words I typed on pages of word documents. I learned the ‘I’ character in a story can be the most powerful character ever created if the character is presented strongly by the author.

I’ve used that approach more and more since I graduated last spring. Whether it is through my own podcasting network, Brandon’s World, BelieveLand Media’s All Things Cavs podcast, or my written content for BelieveLand or Medium, in every piece I have written (including this one), I have made sure the ‘I’ character has a voice that my readers connect with. I have always believed in authenticity, and I believe I have given you — the reader of these narratives — an authentic look at who I am as a person through my journey as a young 23-year-old kid from a suburb of Cleveland, OH.

When the world essentially stopped in March 2020, something else happened: I went back to my childhood.

Don’t ask me why, but I had an early-mid 2000’s renaissance. I dragged out my old gaming systems and played all my old games (I FINALLY defeated Sonic Heroes), and I watched a lot of the shows I used to watch when I was growing up. One of those shows was You-Gi-Oh.

I was never a Pokémon fan, but I was the BIGGEST fan of YuGi Moto and the Yu-Gi-Oh trading card game and so was the rest of my extended family. I would wake up at 8:00 in the morning every Saturday to watch YuGi and his friends navigate their way out of trouble with the “Power of the Heart of the Cards”. My cousins and I would bring our duel disks and decks over to each other’s houses on holidays and duel while we were waiting for dinner. Watching the Seal of Orichalcos take souls away I always thought was the greatest invention ever created! I’m currently playing You-Gi-Oh: Master Duel, and I’m enjoying dueling other opponents online and learning I’m not the only self-proclaimed nerd in the world who loves Duel Monsters!

Before March 2020, if you would have told me I would spend a whole weekend in 2022 watching an Arthur marathon, I would have told you there was no shot. I loved the aardvark as a kid, as did almost every American child, and there’s a reason why I know aardvark is spelled A-A-R-D-V-A-R-K, but like every human, I grew out of the show as I reached my teen years. However, when I heard the show was ending after 25 years, I immediately got emotional. Like SpongeBob, I never thought Arthur was going to end. Heck, I never imagined Arthur, Buster and the rest of the animal characters from Elwood City leaving third grade!

Through research, I discovered I wasn’t the only one who was invested in the Arthur series finale. The power of the internet allowed me to discover a whole fan base of Arthur fans through a start-up called The Frensky Star, named after the newspaper Francine started in 2001 in the episode, “Citizen Frensky”.

President’s Day weekend of 2022 brought me back to my childhood one more time, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching the final four episodes of the series and seeing characters from my childhood All Grown Up. I’m not sure I would have been as excited or nervous as I was for the ending of Arthur the TV show if it wasn’t for the pandemic helping me explore different aspects of life.

The last two years have been difficult for everybody worldwide. Jobs were lost, loved ones passed on, relationships ended. Simply put: Lives were changed forever because of the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic.

If there’s one good that came out of the horrible disease, it’s that new ways of doing everyday activities were found. Pre COVID, nobody thought working from home was sustainable 365 days a year. Now, working from home and doing schoolwork on Zoom is a part of our everyday culture.

I would argue the virus came at a perfect time in my life. At the time of March 10, 2020, I was still mostly a sports-minded person. My mind would think about sports 24/7, 365 days a year. I would think about what ballgame was being played each night, and how I could watch said ballgame.

I’m still vastly into sports. That will never go away. I love working in sports. I love writing about sports. I love talking about sports. There’s nothing better than a rational sports debate with friends!

COVID simply helped expand and broaden my horizons. Now, I can have an in-depth conversation about music, design, tv shows, movies, radio, producing podcasts, ect. I couldn’t have those types of conversations prior to the pandemic.

COVID might have saved some relationships I had. It for sure started some friendships I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

For that, two years later, I can admit: COVID changed my life in a positive way.

Click here to listen to the podcast that coincides with this story.

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