BY SEB MOTTRAM
Community athletes have been left devastated by the far-reaching effects of COVID-19, with many left wondering if their dedication to exhaustive training and mental preparation for cancelled events was worth it.
Head of the Schoolgirls (HOSG), a Geelong-based rowing regatta that is the largest single-sex rowing regatta in the southern hemisphere, was one of the first events to succumb to changes brought in due to the virus in early March.
While the event was planned to stretch over three days, the federal government's decision to ban gatherings of more than 500 people instantly sidelined many sporting events, including HOSG.
Year 12 student Tahlee Aker was one of countless Australian athletes to have her season cut short.
“(The cancellation) was the definition of heartbreak,” Ms Aker said.
Many senior teams train upwards of seven times a week during their final year of schooling and now, with their largest event of the year cancelled, Ms Aker admitted she had a “lack of appreciation for the seconds gone by earlier”.
“(To) work so incredibly hard with your teammates and sisters just for the gratification of three days - it’s unfathomable," she said.
The abandonment of HOSG for the second time in three years had an emotional impact on many, including former rower-turned-coach Georgia Thomson.
The event was cancelled in 2018 due to high winds.
I know what it’s like to be in their shoes, having everything build up to this one event and to have it taken away from you - it’s utterly devastating,” Ms Thomson said.
Ms Thomson’s sentiment was shared by many, not least President of the HOSG committee Alison Henricus, who insisted it was “extremely difficult” to decide how to proceed.
“For the majority of our competitors Head of the Schoolgirls’ is the culmination of months and months of effort, commitment and hard work and it was very hard to make the decision to cancel the event,” Ms Henricus said.
Following government bans on gatherings, the Victorian Amateur Football League (VAFA) also suspended competition, leaving Old Brighton ruckman Mitch Hughes “pretty gutted”.
Mr Hughes co-captained the Under 19 Division 1 team last year and won the Best and Fairest Award for the league. Following his successful 2019 season, he put in “a good four or five months of pre-season training” in preparation for the 2020 season.
“Now being told we’ll have to wait two or three months, maybe more, it’s tough,” Mr Hughes said.
Unlike many sporting events that have been cancelled, the VAFA is hoping to play out a modified football season, which Mr Hughes said was news that had kept his morale up.
“We’ve got a few group chats going, you really need that engagement to keep positive about the footy season and keep on top of your training.”
No significant sporting events or fixtures - apart from horse and greyhound racing - have taken place in Australia since March 22, and none are believed to have occurred in front of a crowd since March 14. All forms of sport are now suspended for the foreseeable future.
Athletes who were able to complete their summer sporting fixtures before the COVID-19 outbreak appreciate the good fortune of the timing.
The grand final of Cricket Southern Bayside Championship Division was one of the last organised sporting events to be played in front of a crowd, before bans on gatherings were enacted.
Hampton Cricket Club player Michael Fitzgerald said while it was nice to take home the title, he was “just happy to get the game in”.
“We’d had a really good year and it would’ve been a shame for it to be called off, but it’s not a big deal in the grand scheme of things,” Mr Fitzgerald said.
Mr Fitzgerald received Man of the Match honours after top-scoring with 119 runs, something he said had become more memorable given the subsequent COVID-19 pandemic.
“It has made it a bit more special, given what's happened after, and the win is a nice memory to take into quarantine when there’s not much else to do”.