Gabby Sartori: The Impenetrable Sideline


Sartori, a sophomore, played in three games in 2020 before the season was canceled.

Gabby Sartori is a sophomore attacker on the Brown women's lacrosse team.

There is no surprise that any athlete’s Achilles’ heal is standing behind the sideline, watching and waiting for an opportunity to get on the other side of it. It is the very thing that ignites a competition between peers and motivates the depths and limits of one’s talents.

However, for my teammates and I, there was no such thing as stepping over the sideline this season. Instead, we were told — since February 18 — that the sideline was impenetrable. We had a front row seat to sit back and watch the rest of the leagues that make up Division I play and re-acquaint themselves with the collegiate lacrosse experience that we so feverishly yearned for. As a sophomore on the Brown women’s lacrosse team, my Ivy League season was canceled not once, but twice — in both 2020’s shortened campaign and 2021 in its entirety.

As frustrating as it was to be presented with this nightmare yet again, a troubling concept I have come to grips with is the inevitable truth of knowing that my athletic identity was again put into question. The last few months, I walked around campus with a lacrosse stick and often questioned why I even bothered to play “wall ball” outside my dorm. We don’t even have games, so what’s the point?

Devoid of a lacrosse season, can I even be a student “athlete?” At times, some of my closest friends have empathy (or is it pity?) for having the motivation to keep working on a craft that they perceive as meaningless — since there’s no glory to obtain from the formal athletic contests that are nonexistent.

That is where those people are wrong. Whether or not a season is occurring, the passion behind what a player loves never dies. If anything, my love for lacrosse and passion to re-engage in competition has grown exponentially. My team has obtained the opportunity to practice and even implement full contact. I know you’re probably chuckling when I even mention that it is a “privilege” to practice while our peers participate in a full-fledged season. But for us, we have made the best of the opportunity while working hard and pushing each other in drills and competitions.

These last few months, it has been thoroughly enjoyable to strengthen a camaraderie with both players and coaches — all of whom are eager to continue to learn, teach and exhibit their love for the game of lacrosse. Irrespective of the lack of formal contests, we practice hard, continue to integrate freshmen into our system and analyze practice films in our attempt to absorb as much knowledge as possible. It is still the same Brown lacrosse program that COVID-19 attempted to derail, but failed. The pandemic has actually galvanized the participants in this program to create an even stronger culture.

You often hear people say, “You don’t know how much you love something until it’s gone.” The painful lesson I have learned — and will never make the mistake of again — is taking lacrosse and athletic competition for granted. Although I hate the words, “You don’t need sticks for this drill, everyone get on the line for conditioning!” I know instead of dreading the pain and body ache that will soon ensue, I am going to look at it as an opportunity I would not have even dreamed of a year ago at this time. Who’s to say what the future holds and how other worldly challenges could take this away once again?

Truthfully, I could look at my situation with complete resentment, questioning “why us?” over and over again. However, with my peers in Division I participating, I have been able to follow the season and the successes of my past teammates, both travel and high school. I know it’s not me out there, but just knowing that their seasons look somewhat “normalized” during the pandemic’s existence continues to give hope toward one I hope to experience next year. Additionally, witnessing a fellow Ivy League opponent (Penn) have the opportunity to compete has added to a greater sense of optimism as well. Although we are foes on the field, we are all striving for a common goal — we just want to play.

Am I a bit envious of other programs and other student-athletes having the opportunity to compete within their leagues  this spring? Without question. I absolutely miss the thrill of games, celebratory bus rides, seeing my parents in the stands and of course the glory behind winning. The worst part is how the pandemic has caused time to pass by so quickly.

As next year approaches, I will be considered an “upperclassmen” with having just half of a freshman year’s worth of games under my belt. If you told me of this situation a year ago at this time, I would have laughed at the concept of having a team demographic full of inexperienced leading the inexperienced. However, the 2020-21 season has been the most rewarding experience of my athletic career. It has taught me how to be grateful, passionate and resilient through all the adversity that has come with it.

Thank you, COVID-19. You may have taken my season, but you certainly did not take my heart from the sport that I will love and cherish forever.

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