Especially given the recent developments and mutations in the COVID virus, it seems clear that this pandemic will be a part of our lives for the future ahead of us and is de facto a new reality. We’ll have to get used to it, just as we are used to the flu or chickenpox. COVID is fundamentally different from any other kind of endemic that we are used to, so the future will have to look different than anything we’ve seen before. That goes for the future of school, the future of work, and the future of youth sports like fencing.
The bottom line here: this is not a temporary way of life. This is an evolution in how we live, day in and day out. There is no going back.
One thing to note is that omicron spreads so much faster and easier than previous variants. It’s suddenly just everywhere. The explosion of this new strain has made us have to rethink and redouble our efforts to stay safe.
That sounds pretty dire, but does it have to be? It does not. It very distinctly does not have to be dire.
Think differently to move forward
The way that we approach life has to change.
Think back to when you’ve moved from one house to another. Before the move, you were used to where everything was. When you got up in the middle of the night to go to the kitchen for a glass of water, your body knew just where to go, even as your mind was sleepy. Moving to a new house, you’ll inevitably wake up and have to think hard for a few seconds about where you are. You have to retrain your brain and your body.
Anyone who has switched fencing weapons will know what this is like. It’s a major adjustment to go from the restricted target area of foil and the Right of Way rules to the expansive area of epee. Switching from sabre, where the blade can make contact to make a point, to foil, where only the tip gives you a touch, that’s hard stuff!
With these things, there’s this point where you can almost feel your brain making new connections. Like the little tendrils of your neurons are reaching out to each other to change. Eventually they do, and at that point you can’t remember what it was like to wake up in your old house or to hold the other kind of weapon.
It’s the same with the pandemic. We have to think differently. We have to accept that this is a change like moving into a new house or changing fencing weapons. The rules are different, the timing is different, and the shape of our lives is different.
We cannot put life on hold
We’re fast closing in on two years since the start of the pandemic, and here we find that life is still masks, still social distancing, and still infection rates. The winter of 2022 feels all too familiar for most of us, and it can be exhausting. Part of the reason it feels so exhausting is that we’re still holding onto the notion that we’ll get back to the way things were before. When we accept that we won’t ever get back there, at least not entirely, the whole thing becomes so much easier.
We cannot put life on hold any longer. Even with the vaccine available, we are still here more than a year out with plenty of vaccine available and still we are plagued with low inoculation rates and a preponderance of variants thanks to the lack of vaccinations.
The reality is that this is not going anywhere. We can feel demoralized by that fact, or we can see that there is a path forward! There is no more taking things for granted, there is only the positive appreciation of what we have.
There is an urgency within us to engage with one another. We have all missed it so much, and we are increasingly finding ways to make that happen. We need to continue to adjust, adding additional precautions where needed and adjusting our behaviors where it’s demanded. This is what will allow us to continue with life. Life cannot continue to be put on hold.
Togetherness matters for everyone
Lockdown taught us the hard way that the isolation from being apart from people is detrimental to everyone. This is most notably true in our kids. When schools went remote, we saw staggering rates of mental health decline in young people. They need sports, activities, school, and peer relationships in order to thrive.
The lack of connection hurt everyone. During a time when we needed other people to lean on, we were far from them. Canceling training classes and fencing competitions was hugely detrimental to so many young people. These are extracurricular activities, but they are what life is built from. There is the physical side of it, of course, but the mental side is equally important, if not more important.
Social activities are about belonging. Young people gain independence from their family by finding new groups to be a part of. They learn that there is life beyond their house and that they can succeed in those places. We see this so much in our club. Kids blossom when they feel that sense of community. It fosters maturity and self esteem.
The pandemic put a hold on so much of that. We were virtual, zooming classes and eventually fencing outside. The strain was real during those long months. The pandemic restrictions were incredibly hard on our youngest fencers, especially during the time that they were out of school doing remote learning.
All of that online time fostered both inner and outer bad habits in kids because of the lack of social interaction. They came out not necessarily even knowing how to interact anymore. It was not just a pause, because kids kept on growing and maturing either way, they just did it without a necessary component.
New measures are essential
If you are eligible, unless you have some religious or health reasons not to, it’s incredibly important that you get the vaccine and the booster.
Every piece of scientific evidence shows us that mass vaccination is safe and healthy. Getting vaxxed and getting boosted will at best prevent you from getting COVID at all and at worst ensure that you have a significantly milder course of the illness. It’s good for you, and it’s good for everyone else.
We see now that USA Fencing is requiring either vaccination or an exemption and a negative test to enter national fencing competitions. This is such a positive step. This means that we can continue to fence safely. Though there is a burden here, there is also freedom in knowing that we can have some control over the virus that kept us so isolated for so long.
Masking is also not going anywhere. We are seeing more N95 masks around, which help to curb the spread of the more virulent variants like omicron. These are worn under fencing masks and they will continue to be worn under fencing masks.
These measures, like vaccination and masking, are here to stay. Rather than seeing them as temporary stopgaps that will get us back to normal, we must accept that this is the new normal for some foreseeable future. The vaccine requirement from USA fencing is new, but it’s going to be around for the foreseeable future too. That’s a good thing. It’s a part of the fabric of fencing from here on out.
The silver lining in careful reopening
There is a silver lining. Coming back to in person learning and in person youth sports has shown us a big payoff.
Rebuilding the social circle in these mid-pandemic times is making our kids happier and healthier. It’s an adjustment, but it’s one that is so promising! Things are not as they were before, but we are seeing just how resilient we all can be. Coming back to fencing competitions this season, with fewer cancellations and much more regular activity. Everyone is feeling more positive and engaged! It’s exciting and it’s revitalizing.
It is very important for kids to be kids. It’s very important for kids to live with real connections and real experiences. Fencing is a marvelous outlet that allows them to create social connections and to develop physically at the same time. That we can continue to do that and still stay safe from the pandemic virus is a testament to how positive the future really is.
Do all of the precautions and follow all safety protocols, but live your life. This is not going to pass any time soon, and that’s ok! This new reality is still one where we can come together to celebrate and grow through fencing and fellowship.