Interview with Lauren Karnitz, 05/24/2022

UW Oshkosh Campus Stories
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´╗┐GL: This is Grace Lim interviewing Lauren Karnitz on Tuesday, May 24 2022, for campus COVID stories, campus Cova stories is a collection of oral stories from students and staff at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh about their experiences in the time of COVID. Thank you for sharing your stories with us. Now, before we get started, could you please state your name and spell it for us?

LK: Lauren Karnitz L A U R E N, K A R N I T Z.

GL: Now for the purposes of getting a good audio recording, tell us again who you are and what your title is here at UW Oshkosh.

LK: I am the women's gymnastics coach at UW Oshkosh, and I coach the gymnastics team. But I also do other things within the athletic department.

GL: And before we dive into your campus COVID story, we just like to get to know you a little bit better. Just tell us about where you grew up.

00:01:00

LK: So I grew up in Des Plaines, Illinois, which is right in the backyard of O'Hare Airport, and I went to Oak Grove High School right by Woodfield Mall. Those are some of the things in the area. So you kind of get an idea of where it was. My family is from the Chicago area. I am a first generation students. My dad is a first generation American citizen, my grandparents were from Italy. So coming to college was kind of a big deal since I was the first one in my family to do it. So yeah, and then I came up to UW Oshkosh after college to do gymnastics, and I really didn't know what I wanted to do for my major.

GL: All right, before we go there, what was, what did your parents do? What were their highest education level?

00:02:00

LK: So my dad worked at Commonwealth Edison, the light company in Chicago, and he only took some classes at the junior colleges down there. My mom had had an associate's degree and we actually graduated with our bachelor's degree the same year.

GL: And you said that you came up here to UW Oshkosh to study here.

LK: I came here to do gymnastics. I wasn't as focused with my academics as I make my athletes be f, focus now. But I knew that they had a gymnastics team and I had known someone that did gymnastics here. So I knew I could get a college degree and do gymnastics at the same time.

GL: And what was your degree in?

LK: I had a history degree with an English minor. I was unsure of what I was going to do with that, but that was what I was very interested in. Because I knew I love to write and I also loved investigating my history as a 00:03:00granddaughter of an immigrant so I really got into that those aspects of college.

GL: You know, I don't think you told me what your mom did.

LK: For work? She was actually a stay at home mom. Yep.

GL: And then Okay, so what year did you graduate here?

LK: So I graduated from Oshkosh in 2006 with a Bachelors of Science degree.

GL: And then, okay, so how did you end up here at UW Oshkosh?

LK: My gymnastics coach in high school had a an athlete in as a family friend that did gymnastics at Oshkosh, and she was a national champion on floor exercise. And my specialty was floor exercise. So I kind of just felt like this 00:04:00could be a really good fit because I knew her talent level. And so that's kind of how it got on my radar. I was between Western Michigan and Oshkosh, and I just really knew that I wanted to be more of a big fish in a little pond type of person. I wanted to stand out a little more. So that's why I chose Oshkosh.

GL: And then how did you end up working here?

LK: So with a history degree and an English minor, I really didn't know what I wanted to do after college. So I worked for enterprise rent a car for a little bit. And then my best friend was still on the team when our coach left to take another job at a different school. And it was right before the school year started. And I was the closest person that knew how to coach gymnastics and knew about our team that could take over as interim and I really did not want the job but I ended up taking it because it was her last year. And then yeah, 15 years 00:05:00later, I stayed in the job. And they kept me in. And we've been successful lately.

GL: So how come you didn't want the job?

LK: One because it was part time. And I really needed to make more money right after college, you know, going, having to pay back my student loans. But to it was all my former teammates on the team, because I was only a year removed. So I wanted to I wanted to make sure that there wasn't the conflict of interest. And that it was it was the right thing for me to do. And I will say I had definitely had my challenges those first couple of years with, you know, trying to get the right set of athletes in and not having too much conflict of interest with being their same age.

GL: So you were only like, 2023 2223 20.

LK: I was 2324. Yep, it was 2007 2008 was my first season.

00:06:00

GL: And you said was part time like, what's the FTE on that?

LK: It was .5. Yeah, so I was running a gymnastics program for eight years at a .5 FTE.

GL: Okay, so tell me about your position, pre COVID. So we're talking the academic year, you know, fall 2019. to part of spring 2020. So what was your What was your job then?

LK: So we had just come off a year where we qualified to Nationals, hosted it here at UW Oshkosh and 2019 took fourth place. We're not satisfied with how we did but really, we were motivated, we knew that we could be the best team in the country. So that was our focus. We kept saying we wanted to be Team Five, because we are the gymnastics program had four national championships prior to 00:07:00that, and we just figured we wanted to be the fifth one. So we started the year pretty normal, like anything else is the team was working incredibly hard to get to where they wanted to be first season. And when season came and started. Everything was falling into place. The exact way it was supposed to my freshmen from the year before, were incredibly talented, and a lot of them ended up as All-Americans, which is really rare for a freshman. So they were energized and ready to go and really in in the seat the beginning of the season and 2020 It was pretty awesome. They everything was falling into place. They were competing how I thought that they should

GL: Tell me I mean, I don't know anything about gymnastics other than what I see 00:08:00on like the Olympics, right? But so when does the season start?

LK: So we start our competition season in January.

GL: Okay, so you, you practice all the way through from fall through (unclear). start rehearsing, competition competing in January.

LK: Yes, So we, when school starts, we have open gyms, and then we start official practice where I get to coach and run the practice in October. And in December before they leave for break, we do a mock meet to find out from the judges, what we need to improve upon and what what's not in our routines or what we need to make better. And so they did really well. The judges loved seeing what we were doing. And when the season started in January, it started a little slow but nothing, you know, terrible, but that's how every season starts. We had 00:09:00a meet in Texas, that we had one of our highest team scores at despite some falls here and there. We did some really great things down there. And then we ended up winning conference.

GL: Okay, so let me let me get the timeline straight on some things. So you said you came in fourth in the nation. And that was in season like, yes. The season of spring of 2019

LK: Correct. Okay. And we took second at conference for the first time, oh man, since the early 2000s.

GL: Okay, so, so pre COVID How many girls or how many how many people are on your team?

LK: So at that time, I think I had somewhere hovering around 20, 20 athletes

GL: Okay. And then. Okay, so let's move to the early days of COVID. Do you 00:10:00remember the first time you actually heard about this this virus?

LK: So I believe it is. Maybe towards the end of February, it was kind of starting to have conversations. But I think like anybody else I, I just kind of thought the media was making it a bigger deal than what it really was. Not that I didn't believe in it. But I just I mean, it just always seems like it's always this big, you know, drama when it comes to watching stuff on the news. And we had our first or we had conference, the first weekend in March, I believe. So at that point, we knew that things were getting a little a little crazy on the East Coast, and nationals was going to be on the east coast. So that was where we 00:11:00were starting to question, you know what was going to happen, but I think it wasn't New York City. So we just assumed that that's where everything was. It wasn't upstate New York, where we were supposed to be going. And so we really didn't think twice about it. And then we won conference for the first time in 26 years. So where was this conference? Conference was at UW Eau Claire.

GL: And when was that?

LK: That would have been probably around whatever it was. It's the first weekend of March in 2020. Usually,

GL: Okay, so you were hearing some rumblings about this virus, but you were just concentrating on the, on the upcoming nationals.

LK: I just kind of felt like, you know, whatever it was we could handle. You 00:12:00know. I mean, we've handled issues before what I mean, it couldn't be that bad. I will say that. When it was starting to come out, we were having conversations because my great-grandfather did pass away in the flu epidemic in 19 818. Yeah, yeah. And so he came from, from Italy to the United States, and never made it to Chicago, where the rest of my family is, and he had passed away in Youngstown, Ohio. And, and so, obviously, we were having those conversations as a family, because if it became something, you know, like we were taught already talking about it, because I mean, back way back then, we had an impact our family, obviously, it was before any of us were born, but still. So yeah, I mean, it's, it wasn't something that we thought, you know, I reserved a bus, you know, I 00:13:00thought okay, then we just won't fly, we'll drive. And I mean, especially because we'll it couldn't be that bad. We just won for the first time in 26 years. I mean, this is our time this is like it was all falling into place. I had been a coach here for at that point, 13 years. I mean, and I had had a lot of adversity from being part time for eight years, to just trying to figure out how I wanted to be as a coach to now having this team that was able to win. It couldn't possibly become, you know, something that was that serious, you know.

GL: So, when did you find out? I mean, you know, how did you get word that we are actually shutting down? And what do you remember where you were?

00:14:00

LK: Yeah, yeah. So Darryl Sims, our Director of Athletics, brought us into a room all of his coaches that we're dealing with postseason. And he said that Chancellor, well, actually, I'm gonna go back. Let's go back. I was actually at the rotunda with Chancellor Leavitt and with Provost Koker, because one of my student athletes was presenting her research at the rotunda. And I remember saying, to Provost Koker, please do not make the decision to keep us home. And he said that they would do everything in their power to make sure that we could make it to Nationals and I said, perfect, you know, gave him a hug, walked over to the chancellor said the same thing to him, said Chancellor please do not keep us home. But I could tell on his face he knew something that Provost Koker did 00:15:00not know. And it was I think that was on a Wednesday, maybe the next day was when we were told that that he was considering not allowing us to go anywhere. And it wasn't until probably that next week where teams were gone, and they were making like completely shutting down. Nationals for wrestling, nationals for track while the athletes were there, like wouldn't even let them finish doing what they were doing. And that's when I knew like it wasn't going to be good. And I remember getting into a fight, like yelling with an assistant football coach, because I was crying after Darryl had said, well, Oshkosh is staying home. And I said, Well, you can't keep us home, like the meets still happening. 00:16:00And at that point, we thought it was still happening. And I said, we're the best team in Division Three, and you're gonna keep us home. Like, there's no way that I can get behind that. And I said, Isn't there anything we can do to make sure that we can get there. We can drive. We can, whatever we need to do, we will do. And I remember our system football coach turning to me and being like, listen, there is a global pandemic happening. This is much bigger than you. And I just, I just it still didn't hit that it was bigger than me. It didn't hit yet.

GL: When was nationals?

LK: Nationals was supposed to be the end of March. So somewhere around the 25th, usually. So it was about it was mid week after we had qualified. So it's about Wednesday, when Darryl brought everybody on the team into the gym. And, and told 00:17:00them we weren't going to Nationals, and that they needed to pack up and go home. Because we were shutting down our school. And I remember, I was almost over crying at that point, because I had, I had sat in my office and hysterically cried for a little while. Because, I mean, I had 13 years in and we were finally the team to beat and it was going to be shut down. And my team hysterically cried. My seniors were a huge part of getting us to that point. And so they cried a little harder. And Darrell just sat with us in the gym as Everybody cried and asked questions and were mad and tried to figure out because at that point, it was like, well, you're going to be home for two weeks. That's what we 00:18:00thought two weeks, and then everything will be better. And I have a lot of athletes on my team that are not from Wisconsin, and I have a lot of athletes on my team that have to fly home. So they left all their stuff here. And then it wasn't two weeks.

GL: So once you found out that was not two weeks, what, you know, what happened? I mean, what how did you deal with your team? I mean, what was going on there? That was hard.

LK: So I think I'm such a planner. I'm such a type A person. So not being able to plan for anything because we didn't like it wasn't two weeks, it was gonna be four weeks. And then it wasn't four weeks. And I'm trying to help my athletes figure out how they're getting their stuff back. Because I mean, we weren't flying, how are they going to get back here, but they needed to get their stuff out of the dorms, because the dorms might need to be used as housing for sick. 00:19:00So it was just this really like unknown. Like, we left our stuff here because we the only thought it was going to be two weeks. How do we go get our stuff? You know, because we can't fly back. Can we even really drive they're telling us we shouldn't be on the roads, crossing state lines. So it was just a really weird time. You know, the fortunate part was for us is that everybody stayed pretty healthy. As far as our immediate family of my athletes and my athletes and myself. We were very, very lucky as a group to not have it severely impact our team. But at that time we did a lot of zoom meetings. I was checking in on them trying to figure out how to make sure that they stayed up with their, with their 00:20:00grades, trying to figure out how to keep them in shape. Gymnastics is one of those sports you can't really stop doing. And so trying to give them at home workouts to do, because we just, we didn't know how I mean, most of them have never taken a month off ever in their life. So trying to figure out how to keep them, at least just even in a little bit of shape was really a huge challenge.

GL: Do you remember how many seniors you had at that time? I had four. And did they graduate

LK: That year? They did. Yep. All four of them graduated, actually.

GL: So they really didn't miss their senior year?

LK: Yeah, you know? Yes, and no, I think you can look at it two different ways. You know, the cool part is, three out of the four of them are still in the area. 00:21:00So one of those four helped me this year. So got to be a part of this, which was helpful for her closure. But, I mean, ultimately, they only lost that last meet. Now, yes, that's supposed to be the culminating experience, but they got everything else. So really, who I thought really missed out were the younger, the younger athletes on the team, the freshmen and sophomores, because one, they didn't get a championship experience, again, until this year, so from 2019 to 2022. They didn't have any championship experiences. So I think more or less, they're the ones that kind of got gypped were the seniors, they got their whole experience, you know, from start to almost finish. And I think that they know 00:22:00deep down inside that they I mean, they were the only ones that got a championship. And they want it. Like, as far as when I say only ones that got a championship, the East region didn't get a championship because they were shut down before they had that opportunity. So when it comes down to it, we were the only ones that that got a championship that year. So I think you can say they missed out. But also I, I actually think that they got the most out of their experience where my seniors from this year, quite possibly could have gotten the least out of their college experience, because they missed about a year and a half of their time. And you know, with them, they're such high achieving students that they don't have that fifth year available. Because, I mean, they could do a fifth year, but they all are already graduated, like they have all their credits. They are have been accepted to PT, school, and OT school and law 00:23:00school. So they don't, they're not going to stay for an extra year.

GL: All right, so let's just move on for a little bit here. So we were all shut down and through the end of the semester, then then the administration had deemed some of the people's roles as essential to the upkeep. They had to come to work in person. Other people got to, you know, work remotely, that's fine. But there are some people that were deemed essential to the operations of the university, were you among those people?

LK: I'm trying to think we did not come in person that summer. We NCAA also did not allow us to do any kind of recruiting in person. So that obviously, we have to still have I mean, it's just like admissions, you need enrollment, you can't 00:24:00stop recruiting. So we needed the numbers. So doing that. from farther away. We did have weekly meetings. We were helping with a lot of things across campus. I know that some of the coaches were helping create virtual tours for admissions. Some of the coaches were helping, you know, pick weeds in in the parking lot because we didn't have grounds crews anymore. And so there were a lot of random things that that we were helping with and that part kind of got accentuated because once the students started coming back we all got the role of disease investigators.

GL: Okay, before that did what were you pulled into that random job thing?

LK: Um, you know, I can't even that's where things kind of start getting crazy 00:25:00because I had my kids at home. And I had to make sure my athletes were doing okay, emotionally, I have a master's degree in counseling. So that's kind of my thing. But then also, we had, we had the Black Lives Matter. Movement really like, at its height, and we have a diverse team compared to some here. And so there was I just remember, there were a lot of things centered around that and mental health that I was dealing with, as opposed to do it in like the virtual tours type stuff.

GL: And then, when you were so during the summer, you were you kept in touch with your students, your athletes, okay? What were they? How are they doing?

LK: Um, you know, college athletics in general, gymnastics is an interesting 00:26:00thing. Because you, you want to know how they're doing. You want them to tell you honestly, but they're so used to like toughing it out. That I think a lot of times I was like, Well, I'm fine. I'm okay. Okay. I mean, I know because you're gonna have to be right. But, but they were struggling, just to find stuff to do, and to like, have a normal life. But I do think I think that they were okay. In some sense. But the other part that was really hard, is not knowing if we were going to come to back to school, not knowing if we were going to be allowed to have athletics, and just kind of giving them like them holding their breath. Like, I think we all myself included, held our breath, not knowing if we were going to be allowed to have athletics that was going to be seen as even a 00:27:00priority. You know, and so that's kind of it was just like weekly conversations of where we were at as a university updates from the EOC. I just really felt like my athletes deserve to know. So I feel like they knew a lot more than anybody else. And we're much more bought in to bought into how, because I you know how it COVID has been very divisive. And my athletes were very bought into whatever they needed to do to be able to get back to school and to be able to see their friends and to be able to live a normal life and do gymnastics. So they would do whatever was necessary. So as those updates started coming, I would tell them, You know what, what was going to be happening

GL: When you were meeting with them virtually, as a team or individually.

00:28:00

LK: A lot of times it was as a group, but it was just weird. You know, it were very personable group. Were very connected. So it just, it just felt wrong. Like it didn't feel like I felt like we needed to be together. But couldn't be.

GL: So when you were coming back. Oh, were you ever furloughed? During that summer? Yes.

LK: But a was that like once a week type of things

GL: So, the intermittent?

LK: Yes. All the assistant coaches were on full fur furlough for the five months. But the head coaches were intermittent and whatever Chancellor needed us to do we would do.

GL: Okay, and then um your 12 month employee, right?

00:29:00

LK: Yes

GL: Okay. And then, you know, during that during the pre COVID, during the summer months, are you What do you do?

LK: So I, we have to fundraise for our programs because we don't get a huge operating budget. So in order to make our programs work with buses and judges and food and everything we need, assistant coaches, I don't have an assistant coach yet. That's paid by the university. So all that we usually have to fundraise for. So we do camps and clinics. And I do a lot of recruiting during the summer. That's when I'm looking into all the different athletes and then trying to go see them. I go to recruiting events in in Dallas in Florida, in New York and Illinois. So, so I'm kind of all over the place in the summer and That's usually what we do this time of year and then start planning for the 00:30:00following year. So that was a huge hit to our budget is not being able to have that summer camp that brought in a lot of our revenue.

GL: What percentage of your I know, do you get a certain amount of money for your operating budget? But how much more does that those camps?

LK: So are, we usually spend about $45,000 a year, and my operating budget is around 20. So I have to bring in the other 25. And usually the camp does about that or more. So to not have it? Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, it was. It was it? Again, I'm a type A person. So I always like to have my plan set know what's going to be happening. And at that point, my first thought was okay, how are we going to 00:31:00even get through another season? We're not, we're not going to have any money for it. So that was trying to figure out just a different way of operating what was going to be the new normal, how are we going to get by for the next year, you know, with this new way of doing things?

GL: So we're back in fall of 2020? And what was your, you know, what happened then?

LK: So you know, the crazy thing is other than that summer, we, I've been working here in my office, we were not one of the groups that wasn't around like I've been on campus. Since we were allowed back. I think it was August, August 8, or 9th Chancellor, let us all back. And we were all back. And Darryl wanted us back in our offices doing our work. So we could have, start getting that interaction with our student athletes again. So at that point, the student 00:32:00athletes came back. But we couldn't really be around each other. And then when we could, we had to be masked. So that was hard, because I'm so used to having my athletes stop by my office if they're having an issue. So I really had to figure out how to meet with them, but like, not be in my office. So make it where, you know, we could see each other but, and they could come see me if they had any issues with school or their personal lives. But then also, we had to do a distance type of thing. So that was hard. I think it was mostly hard for the incoming freshmen because they had no friends to begin with. And so they weren't really allowed to make friends. And so it was a very interesting, first year, I was really worried I was going to lose my freshman because I mean, having no 00:33:00social connection on campus because they weren't allowed to. That was difficult. And then on top of that, we were testing every week. Practices weren't with the full group. We had multiple practices a day. So not only did I have to do disease investigating, I had to run multiple, two to three hour practices a day, we normally practice for three hours a day, but I couldn't have all 20 in there. So we were doing three to start with, we were doing three practices. So I reduced the time to two hours. So I was doing six hours, myself alone. And I would have an assistant coach there for about two hours. But I was running their practices that way so they could all get what they needed. And then I was also doing the disease investigating.

GL: Tell me Tell me about the disease investigating.

00:34:00

LK: So basically, we sat by our computers while we had meetings weekly. And like what was going on for the week and what the campus climate was like, but then we would take certain--

GL: Go all the way back to how did you get pulled into that?

LK: It was a requirement from Chancellor that people in athletics. Were part of this COVID task force and between disease investigating, working at the testing center, or being the like on call questions for COVID. We had to take one of those areas. I didn't want to be at the testing center because I had kids at home so I opted to not do that. Some of my colleagues who have family might members in the health services were fine with it because they were already at 00:35:00risk with them. So they, they worked in the testing center. So we all got assigned areas before school started to this COVID Task Force, and my area was disease investigating. So basically, every day, we would log in multiple times a day and see who was positive. So all the positives would start coming in on the computer. And our job was to call them contact trace, figure out who they've been around, and then get them in isolation.

GL: So how long would you be doing this? And what, what time do you start doing that?

LK: Well, I would start it in the morning, because that was our what we were told it was our priority, I still had to do all the things I had needed to do for gymnastics. But that was our priority. So I would start in the morning with 00:36:00that and go to law practice time. And then if I couldn't get a hold of people that I was assigned to, then I would have to call them at night, when I was at home. Or if they had questions. They called me at night when I was at home.

GL: And what was that like doing this very strange task? I mean, and also, yeah, what was it like?

LK: Well, it's hard, because it's not my rules, right? It's I'm not the one that saying that you have to go to quarantine, I'm not the one that's, that is someone else's rules. I'm not a nurse, I'm not in the medical field. So I am trying to enforce these rules from the universities level. And I had a parent call me once and was yelling at me. And I had to tell her, I said, unfortunately, your child's an adult. And I, I'm just doing what I'm told to do. 00:37:00And that was a really hard day, because it's just it's super, it's super heated, because some people didn't believe in it, and some people did. And so and that the tests weren't always right. So some people's tests were false positives, and then we call them back and be like, I'm so sorry, you weren't positive, but they were just staying in a dorm with all these positives. So there, there was a lot of flaws to it. And not anything that was our fault. It was just how it was done. At that time. We didn't know anything else. So yeah, it was it was weird.

GL: Did you at all, you know, as you're actually looking at these numbers go up and you're making these calls daily thinking, I mean, this is black with that's like whacked, right

LK: Right? Well, and it wasn't, you know, there were definitely times when we're like, oh, okay, there's only 20 positives today. Great. And then 40, positives, 00:38:00and then 60. And, you know, and so like, there were weeks that it was, I mean, at first we're like, oh, this is good, we're good. And then it just started spiking. I remember that being the case, it was like October to November of 2020. And the nice part was, I was in the know, I knew all the rules, I knew what the protocol was going to be. So when it when my athletes started testing positive, I could get them separated really quick compared in and eliminate a lot of the spread. Because we were able to get them separated so quickly. And because I had such a strong knowledge. And I think at that point, there's a lot of unknown like people just didn't know. And I think that I truly believe my friends, my family and my team benefited from me being a disease investigator 00:39:00because I had a knowledge that most people just didn't have on how to eliminate risk and, and what the protocols were. And so I think me personally, I didn't get COVID until just recently in February. So I think it for an I was having family members call me, Hey, I just tested positive, what do I need to do? What you know, What's your suggestion? And I mean, because that's what it started becoming is where I actually like just knew what the protocol was.

GL: How long did you were you in that role?

LK: Oh, man. I think I was in that role until my seas, my competition season started, which when Tommy Thompson announced that he would be giving us funding for testing that was the main concern is that there was no testing. So therefore we couldn't compete, if we didn't have testing, because NCAA rules were that you 00:40:00needed to be tested. So when we, when he announced that they would allow that, which was December of 2020, then we knew we were going to have a season. And so but we, I mean, my team had been shut down. Man, we were shut down for probably like four or five weeks, because we just had case by case were coming. And so and then you have to sit out for two weeks because you were in close contact. So I had those pods goings. So that helped, because some people could continue on going. So we were we started practice. Probably the third week in October, so we were a little behind. And then we had some test positive coming back from home after break. So we got to fully practice like normal, starting in January. And 00:41:00then we started our competition season at the end of February, which is very rare. That's like almost the end of our season, typically. And we got an opportunity to compete at four meets. And that was it. That was all that was allowed.

GL: When the kids, the athletes were fully back to the inside practice in in

LK: January of 2021. Okay,

GL: What was their condition, like, I mean, like, did, you could just see that they were a little bit, were they as sharp as before, before COVID.

LK: Um, we did a really good job at managing them, I believe, but I will say they were much more hesitant. And in gymnastics, when you're hesitant, that's when injuries happen. And so we had a lot of what we call crunched ankles, where 00:42:00when they land short, and their feet are flexed. And it's just it's kind of like a rolled ankle, but it's basically they fall forward out of something and they're their ankles, took a usually what happens is when someone gets worried in a skill, they don't go fully into that skill, like they don't put all their energy into it. So that is what we were seeing happen. And we had a lot of ankle injuries because people were what we call going short on things,

GL: When they were home by themselves, they can't really do those kinds of those skills, as you

LK: No, and, but they were doing a really good job of keeping conditions. So we, right, and we kept getting shut down and starting back up and shut down. So yeah, they were a little behind. But they did bounce back really well. It's just their hesitation. So it's definitely much more of an emotional issue because 00:43:00they were questioning themselves then a physical I think they were fully capable that doing the stuff but it was just they were they weren't 100% confident in what they were doing.

GL: You said for meets? Yeah, how many is a regular

LK: Ten.

GL: All right, so to four How did the team do in that shortened season?

LK: Um, we won two and lost two. I mean, I think what was really hard is, you know, all year we were fighting just to get a season, right? All they wanted to do was have a season. But once they got into it, they're like, What is this season? Like? What are we even competing for? We're just competing to compete. And that's really not the type of team I have. If they're going to compete, they want it to be for something, and it just wasn't for anything. So they had a I think the focus and the goal, like they just didn't know what their why was like, 00:44:00What was the purpose? And through that, you know, we were still having to wear face masks during practice. So they're doing all these flips and twists and all that stuff with face masks on. And because we were doing that in practice, I told them it was my philosophy that I thought that they should have to do meats like that. So they actually competed three events not floor because of the endurance aspect of it, but they competed three events with face masks on.

GL: And you know, what?

LK: double backflips and all

GL: so what does that even feel like? I mean, you know, having a face covering when you're doing something so robotic, right? I mean, yeah,

LK: yeah. Well, the floor routine they didn't have to, but at practice they did. We practice we were required to practice with our face masks on. And we did we listened we abide by the rules and maybe some people didn't but we did. Um, And because of that, I believe, if you're going to practice one way, you're going to 00:45:00have to compete that way because we're not changing it. And they just got used to it. They got used to wearing their face mask tight, and they got used to. We made it as part of their uniform. Everybody wore the same face masks. We got Titan facemasks, and we just made it happen. My whole thing was just appreciate that we can be here. Let's not complain about the, the little things.

GL: And you're not you weren't allowed to have, you know, people in the stands. Right? Correct. So what was that like competing with no one in a stance?

LK: You know, my team is very energetic. They're very supportive of one another. And although that was really hard, I think because more or less, some of them have never not had their parents there. But ultimately, I mean, they did a great job for each other. I mean, it was the best it could have been.

00:46:00

GL: Okay, so now we're going to fall 2021 I mean, were you thinking at this time that yes, we're gonna have a real regular season where was your mind at the time?

LK: Um, yeah, I mean, we knew we knew what was going on. I was hoping we didn't have to wear face masks much longer in the gym. But was fine with it. The NCAA had changed its rules a little bit. So I think that for us, we were like, Okay, this, this will be fine. All my athletes came back. And. And nine of them got COVID. So, so that is not how I thought this school year was going to happen. Actually, I'm gonna go back. I talked to my athletes and through this whole thing, they really understood. Everything about COVID. There, the political part 00:47:00of it didn't come in the personal opinions didn't come in, they knew what was necessary to compete. And they were willing to do that. So at the end of the 2021, gymnastic season 90% of my athletes got vaccinated. So actually, I think it might have been a little higher than that, I think there was only one that did not get vaccinated. It was a little bit harder to get the incoming freshmen to do that, because they weren't part of the, like, the knowledge that we all had. But they all did it as well. So to date, we only had one athlete that didn't get vaccinated on our entire team. So they were willing, you know, coming in. So that's how I knew it was gonna be a good year, because I was like, Okay, everybody is willing to do what's necessary to get this done. And that's when 00:48:00we, like, found out that the vaccine doesn't necessarily cover you. When, I mean, at that time, everybody came back, and we had a bonfire at my house and my two kids, and a good portion of my team ended up getting COVID. So that was how we started 2021. And we thought for sure we were good to go and out of the clear, but that kind of just reminded us we needed to be careful.

GL: What were the symptoms, like I mean, for these for the ones like your so your kids got COVID and on the team members, what were their symptoms, like?

LK: Nothing too serious? Really, it was more sinus infection feeling. Some felt a little bit of the flu, but not really. My children, one had 103 Fever, which 00:49:00worried me. But then the other one had no symptoms.

GL: How old were they?

LK: Seven was the one that had the fever, and four is the one without symptoms.

GL: And anyone else that you know, in your family or close friends who got really, really sick?

LK: Yeah, we had some college teammates that one was on a ventilator in the hospital. He ended up making it through. But so that was a little scary. My parents and my brother and his wife, the previous year before the vaccinations, they got it pretty bad and they were really sick. And she was sick and had to have her baby a week later. So they were Yeah, so they weren't having to be in the hospital having a baby mast and yeah, it was it was um It was hard for them. 00:50:00We're very fortunate that we, they live in Chicago. We don't you know, Oshkosh, Wisconsin is not as densely populated. So I think that that really helped with our experience with the student athletes experience, that we weren't in an area that was as densely populated and that the outbreaks were a little more severe.

GL: When you say that student athletes, it's not your team, it's somebody else's athlete.

LK: No student athletes, like our team, our student, I just, when I say student athletes on like, our campus, like we didn't have to deal with some of the things that other student athletes at other schools might have had to deal with, like, our, our national championship was at Ithaca, and in the town of Ithaca, I mean, just this last, what January, it was maybe December. They had 900 students within a week, get COVID. Like it went from 200 to 400, to 900. So that was a, 00:51:00we were really worried that like that was going to shut us down again.

GL: So um, so fall of 2021 is beginning. Were you told that you were going to have a regular season? I mean, do you remember when that was happened?

LK: Yes, there was. You know, and I don't know, when we were told that. But I think it had, it was some point during the summer, that football found out that they were going to be having a regular season. So then we kind of assumed that we would be as well.

GL:

And then did the practices feel more normal? During the fall of 2021?

LK: Yes. So, so much better. We were masked for a while. And then, because we kind of had our own little bubble, we were always together, they live together, we were able to go away from it while we were practicing.

00:52:00

GL: And then also, when we got to the competition, I mean, this that's, we're talking about this past spring, right? This is this is yeah, right. Now, tell me a little bit about what happened.

LK: Um, so we come back from winter break. And, you know, it's kind of starting to get a little more lenient with face masks. And so we go to the herd game, or not the herd game, but we go to the arena to watch our men's basketball team play. As a team. We're all there. And the next day, one of my athletes tests positive. And so it's fine. Not a big deal. And then the next day after that, someone else test positive. So on New Year's Eve, the Testing Center is closed except for the UW Oshkosh gymnastics team. We're all sitting in there. And basically, we have the table with all their tests and just calling out who's positive. And we ended up having 11 positives out of 26 athletes. Yeah. And to 00:53:00two or three were positive in September part of that group in September that were positive. Yeah, so but it's okay. Because at that point, we were like, Okay, we still have time we can get to this meat. Well, I mean, we weren't the only ones that I mean, that was a time where literally everybody was getting COVID. So we ended up not being able to go to our California meat because things weren't great out there. And we had a layover in. I mean, flights were getting delayed or canceled. And so we just felt like it wasn't a good idea. So we didn't go there. Then the next week. So now we're in the second week of January. We're supposed to host two teams here. And both of them had the same type of outbreak, or they said they did as we did two weeks prior. So we were good to go 00:54:00after that. So we ended up last minute getting a meet in Minneapolis. And that's after that we didn't have any problems.

GL: So walk me through the championship, you know that that meet.

LK: That was it was kind of crazy. For the reason because it was the first time that the fans didn't have to be masked. The athletes didn't have to be masked we were in a championship. Actually, probably the week prior no one needed the conference championship. No one needed to have maths but So those two championships

GL: How did how did we do on the conference?

LK: We won. Yep. So we won conference. It We struggled a little bit on vault. So 00:55:00I really didn't think that that was going to happen. But this team, like I said, they kind of can just go with the flow. And that's been the name of the game, since all of COVID started is that they've just been very flexible. So a group lead by someone who is very type A, became much more had a greater ability to, to just kind of roll with it, whatever happens, we're going to make it work we just have, you just got to give me a little bit of time, and I will let you know what's going to happen. So we did end up winning at conference. And that was, it was, it was hard, because for the first time since the pandemic started, I actually ended up getting COVID From my four year old because she got it for a second time in five months. I ended up getting COVID From my four year old during Senior Night. So that was really hard. I got yelled at by my athletes 00:56:00because it was their last home meet and I didn't get to be there. And I'm very close with my team. But they they put me on a TV and so I got to watch it. And they put pants on the TV. So I had my face and I had pants. And I remember, they said I looked great. And I said good because I had heated blankets wrapped around me the whole time because I was shivering through the whole meat. But I mean, I had three of my vaccines at that point. So I think I had just a different symptom every day. So one day I had the shivers. One day I had some backaches, one day I was stuffy, you know, and it was just kind of one of those things that just I didn't feel great. But I am so glad that that I had it the way I had it because it was not. It wasn't what other people had experienced. So 00:57:00I was very fortunate. So

GL: this was a march of 2021.

LK: No, this was this is this, the second to last week of February of 2022. So like, four months ago

GL: now. Okay, and this was during the conference.

LK: So this is our last home meet. And we had two weeks before conference. So my athletes were losing their minds, because they didn't know when I was going to get cleared. So I had two weeks to the date. And with some of the protocols. It was cutting it close, and I couldn't be in the gym.

GL: So who was your assistant coach coaching.

LK: So I have a stipend assistant coach that we pay through our fundraisers, and he was in the gym, but I was on Zoom. So I was on Zoom, and our athletic trainer was in there. And we kind of just all had a group effort. But yeah, I coached 00:58:00from zoom, and then I was able to test negative and be at the next meet. It was about eight days later. And then but I still stay masks. So that was the first time in a while that I had to wear a mask at a meet. So that was weird. And then the week after that was conference.

GL: Okay, so at the championship and that was okay, and then we were seated. See in the first place was first. Let's see, where are you going?

LK: Um, so technically, we were in. I think we were a second seed going into nationals even though we won conference, they do it based off your average score of this season. So I think we had like a 191. One. And look, whitewater had a 00:59:00191.3, you know, it was something like just a couple of tenths.

GL: Okay, so at what point during the meet? Did you guys, I mean, did it go to the very end? or,

LK: um, so they weren't posting scores. So we knew what we had. And I asked my athletes not to check their phones. Because I if we were going to do this, I wanted, I wanted the reaction to be genuine. So we start on bars, and my first person up is a freshman, and she falls. And we just had conference where I had three people fall involved, I thought we were gonna lose and we won. So I'm like, Okay, this will be fine. And so they all had already been through that right. They already had been through that and knew how to over come it and then 01:00:00also knew how to do well after. So she falls next person up goes, nails her routine next person up goes messes up, but other than us, no one could tell. We knew she messed up but she stuck her dismount. And then the rest of them nailed their stuff. Emily Buffington, one of my sophomores ended up taking first place on bars. And then there was a four way tie. So the next place was fifth. But one of my other athletes took the second best score. So we had the two of the top athletes that we went to beam and beam is definitely one of those events where it's like, that's the event that you'll know if you're gonna win the me or if you're not because it's either really wobbly, or it's not. And out of the six people we had go, I believe four or five stuck there dismounts, they didn't look nervous, they didn't wobble. It was probably the best beam set I've ever seen 01:01:00seen. So we go to a buy. And we have to wait for a whole rotation. And then we get two more events. When we come out for our next two events. We, we do beam, or we do floor, and we had a couple of people step out of bounds, but floor was great. So stepping out of balance is only like a 10th. So it's not that big of a deal. But no one fell, everybody looks good. And Chancellor love it and Darryl Sims were sitting in the corner and I look at them, I'm like it's happening. 48 is going to be ours by the end of the day. And it was just I knew that other teams had falls. And I knew we didn't. So and we went to vault and we had one fall on vault, but when you put up six scores, you have six people in a lineup, only five of the scores count. So you can have a fall you are allowed to have a fall. So the two falls we had we didn't have to count. And so I think everybody kind of knew we did well, but we didn't know how well we did. And they announced 01:02:00the second place at a 192 something a couple times six maybe. And then when they said 194 my team, everybody kind of everybody's jaws dropped because that was that's a Division III, record. So we we set a record with our team score and got to win nationals. Yeah.

GL: What did that feel like for you? I mean, having come so close in the 2019 2020 season, to actually have that. This, this, this prize? Well, what was that like for you?

LK: Yeah, you know, we were undefeated in Division III meets this year. And conference felt really good, right, like, so I was super excited about conference. And then when we won nationals, it was just like, like, 2020 was 01:03:00meant to happen, but it didn't for us. So it's like, it's like all the hard work and everything we had to do. You know, we abide by the rules, we face masks, we did whatever Chancellor love it wanted us to do. We were onboard, we promoted his vision, we didn't push back. We, my athletes, at a certain point, were like, we will we promise you we will not go out to the bars, we will not have a social life to be able to do this. Just so we can not get COVID I mean, they did everything that they were supposed to do everything right. And, and it just makes me feel like if that it the hard work pays off. If you do right if you live life, right? Like it's gonna pay off. And it did. And I mean, it did they 01:04:00are, they were all healthy at the end of the year. No one got seriously sick from COVID. They've worked their butts off their grades. During COVID. The team GPA was a 3.748. And that was last year, this school year, we had a 3.53. So I mean, they've done everything right. And I think that this was the reward at the end, like they are, are the epitome of a championship team. They've since we got shut down in 2020. They've done everything they were asked to do their part as a member of our campus community and then also to make everybody proud of them.

GL: So let me ask you this. I mean, how, how has your job changed? Because of this pandemic? I mean, what do you think COVID has done to change Your, your job 01:05:00maybe even permanently.

LK: Um, you know, I think one of the main things we focus on right now, and I always tried to do it before, but didn't always work out, is we focus on keeping everybody healthy. Like, that's the focus. But then also, I don't plan things out like I used to, I kind of do things based off of what I think we need in the moment. And that is never been what I do. So, so I've kind of, I've had to be more flexible, just like everybody has, but I've had to be more flexible. It's can't always be the way I want it to be. And in return, my athletes have become more flexible in. And I think that I think that that is what contributed to them winning this year at Nationals is that no matter what happened, it didn't matter. They were ready for it. And I think that that's what has made us a 01:06:00successful team and will continue to make us a successful team is that whenever we had adversity in the last two years, yeah, it was upsetting. And there were a lot of tears, but it was like, Okay, let's pivot. Now what now? What are we going to do, and I don't let them I'd never allowed them or myself, to get down about it. And to do the woe is me type of thing. It was like, Okay, now what? You know, your social lives are different. Now, what are you going to do? Let's figure out something else for us to do. I mean, my friends and I, we created like, a date night where my athletes because they were being tested every week, they came over to one of our houses, and babysat the kids. And we went to the other house, because we couldn't go out to dinner. So you just make up your own way of doing things. And I think that that's what allowed us to have so much success in school in, in gymnastics, and allowed them to like, kind of get on a 01:07:00different level with their friendships too, is that, all right, we gotta be creative, we got to try to do something different. If it doesn't work out, it's not that big of a deal. Let's try something else. And I think that that the one main word that we use this entire year, was grateful. We just wanted to be grateful for the opportunities we were given and for what we were able to do. And if that meant that we were going to win. Awesome. If it meant that it wasn't for us, great. But we weren't going to be grateful that we have this opportunity, because we did get it taken away.

GL: So we're two and a half years into this now, I mean, knowing what you know, now, was there anything you would have done differently in the way you responded to this virus?

LK: I mean, we, I responded, however, I was told to respond, to be honest with 01:08:00you. If we had to stay home, we had to stay home, if we got to go to work, we went to work, you know, if we had to wear masks, I wore masks, you know, I just I kind of I didn't really do anything to protest or combat it. So I think that's what made my experience more positive. I mean, it wasn't great. It wasn't great at all. But I will say if anybody had a good experience and all this, I would say we had a better one. You know, like it was, I think it made a lot of things a lot easier, because I don't I don't know that I would change anything. I mean, obviously, there's so many things we know now that we didn't know before that are probably not necessary. But at the time, that's all we had. So I think I 01:09:00wouldn't change anything. Because I think what I did and what we did as a team and what I did as a family allowed us to stay healthy and safe for as long as possible. So I actually am grateful that I had the experience I didn't love disease investigating but because of that I had a stronger knowledge of everything and I think knowledge is power, right? Like you know more than you can understand the situation a little better. And I think that that helped my experience a lot.

GL: And how do you how much do you feel like things are getting back to normal or now in May of 2022 So do you feel like things are back to normal when what things need to happen for Do you feel like it? It's normal?

01:10:00

LK: Honestly, I feel really good about this right now. I feel like we know what we're doing. If there's an outbreak, we know how to backtrack, you know, get the mask back on, take a couple of weeks, like we can make it calm down. Like what happened in in January, where we were, I mean, it was pretty significant outbreak. And but we were able to get back out of it quicker. I think. I think it feels normal, I think, I think nothing. I'm sure things could be that bad. But I think once now that we've gone through it, I feel like we know how to deal with it. So it's it, we know what the steps are to take to make sure that everybody stays healthy if we do backtrack.

GL: And I think you touched this on a little bit in the previous questions. But 01:11:00I just want to ask you again, I mean, what has living and working during this time of COVID taught you about yourself

LK: That I can't always control the outcome on things. That if it's going to be it's going to be and I can't, I can't get all hot and bothered about certain things. Because if it's meant to work that way it is and all I can do is work with what I'm given and then go from there. I can't control everything. And I think that that's the main thing. I also know I cannot be an elementary school teacher. I definitely know that.

GL: What was that like teaching, I mean, let's move a little bit to into the or your personal life. That's okay. But so during this time, who were you living with?

01:12:00

LK: So it was my husband, and then are my seven year old and my four year old daughters.

GL: And they were also sent home from school.

LK: My four year old in 20. In 2020, to 2021, she was in daycare. So we actually kept her going to daycare that during that year once we were allowed back in after that summer of 2020. So we allowed her to keep going because we kind of knew at that point that for I mean, she was three at that point so that it didn't really affect the younger ones quite as bad as adults. And then my seven year old was in first grade at that time. And so she was trying to learn school without being at school. Because they were at home until January or February of 01:13:00that year, and then got to go back to school at that point. And that was really hard. It was really hard to do my job. And then disease investigate and be at home making sure that my one my first grader is learning how to read. That was really hard. So it actually once our season started getting going in January, I hired one of the track athletes who wanted to be a teacher, I hired her to teach my daughter during the day. And then at three o'clock when she had practice she would my husband would come home and be with her and I would start my practices.

GL: What would what does your husband do?

LK: He owns his own company, which really helped us during the pandemic, we I think we're much more fortunate than other people because of the fact that he owned his own company. It was a property management company. And although they had a moratorium on rents and stuff like that the government was still paying 01:14:00for that stuff. So he there was plenty of assistance to where his company was fine. And then also the flexibility that the university gives us. Along with him running his own business, we were able to do shifts and like he would take one shift with Quinn when she was with school and then I would take the another shift. And then once January came where I really could not do that because I had to be at the university all the time. We hired Morgan who was on the track team.

GL: You know, you described yourself as a type A person this whole time and everything. But during this time COVID A lot of people went through a lot of trauma on different levels. How were you doing emotionally during this time? And you had you're juggling a lot of balls?

LK: Yeah, I mean, there were days it yeah, I'd be like crying cause I just wanted it to be normal again, I just wanted to feel normal, I didn't want to go 01:15:00to work with a mask on. I knew the mask was fine. Like, I had no problem with it. But it's just like, I don't get to see people's faces, I don't get to see them smile, when they do something good. You know, I will say that summers always felt a little more normal, like we were because there was so much outdoor time that even right away, like, we still hung out with our friends, because we could be outside with them. So we all knew that the risk was a lot less if we were outside. So summers felt really normal. It was like when we couldn't be outside, that's when it started getting to be like, I just want things to be normal. So there would be like a month where it'd be great. And then the month or a week of breaking down of being like, I just wanted to be normal. I don't want to teach my kid anymore. I want to go to work. And I want to work like a normal person all day and just go home and, you know, not have to worry about if 01:16:00my cough or my sneeze is COVID or not, you know, and that it was just like, almost felt like a paranoia and then like just the exhaustion. Um, but yeah, I mean, so that was hard. But also, when we started when we were finally told in December of 2020, that we would be allowed to have a season, that unknown went away. And we had testing centers on campus so we could get tested whenever we wanted. So if I was worried about anybody, my family having COVID, then we would just go get them tested. And so just having the resources and having the unknown be known. That helped a lot. It was not a normal season it we were still wearing masks, we didn't have fans. Things weren't normal, but it was known. And I think 01:17:00that really helped. I am really not great with the unknown.

GL: All right, we've touched on a ton of stuff today, sir, anything else you would like to add?

LK: I think I mean, I think that this has been a pretty full and complete, full, complete thing. I mean, I think that there's definitely things that I might have forgotten. And there's definitely like holidays that changed and things that were just so different. But I think that I just feel like we're we were very fortunate to have the experience we had during this because it could have been a lot different for us.

GL: Thank you for sharing your stories with us. We appreciate your contribution to campus go for stories that UW Oshkosh. Thank you