Stuck in Spain as pandemic began, tennis player ‘felt uncertain, alone’

Outsports is asking LGBTQ people in sports how they are impacted by the coronavirus crisis and its effects on all aspects of daily life. Today: Tennis player Nick Lee. He identifies as gay.

Among many things, this pandemic has shown me how my priorities can change in a heartbeat and that it is important to find time to reflect on the things in your life that are really most important to you.

I was working as an English language assistant in a primary school in Madrid when the coronavirus outbreak occurred in Wuhan, China. At first, it was something distant. Even as the number of cases began to escalate in Italy at the end of February, my life continued as normal. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later when things began to rapidly change in Spain.

On Monday, March 9, the country announced that all schools in Madrid would close beginning March 11 for two weeks due to the spike in the number of COVID-19 cases. Then on March 14, Spain imposed a nationwide lockdown.

Just the Saturday prior I was playing an outdoor tennis match in Madrid’s GLTA tennis league and grabbing pizza with friends. The weather that weekend was incredible. I was thrilled about the arrival of spring.

Suddenly, I could only leave the apartment for basic necessities. For two more weeks I stayed in Madrid hoping that the situation would improve. I only left the building a couple of times to get groceries and go to the pharmacy across the street from me to put my name down on a long wait list for gloves.

Being outside was unsettling. The loud and vibrant city that I had fallen in love with was now eerily quiet. The most contact I would have with the outside world was the nightly 8 p.m. applause to pay tribute to the sanitation workers.

As someone who is very routine based, having my daily schedule completely jolted was extremely anxiety provoking for me. I knew that many people were in a similar situation. I tried to adapt as much as possible to this new lifestyle for the sake of my physical and emotional health.

Many of the friends I had made in Madrid who were from other parts of the world had left when the state of alarm was announced. Worried about losing my job and hoping that I would be able to return to work soon, I had decided that I wanted to stay in the city.

However, I continued to question whether I had made the right choice as numerous others that I knew were now back with family. I felt uncertain and alone. On March 22, Spain extended the state of alarm until April 11. It seemed to me that the odds of school opening back up again this academic year were slim to none.

On March 24, my host mom from when I had studied in Madrid in college reached out to check in on me. She told me that my host brother, who is only 11, had gone to the hospital after contracting the virus and fainting. Thankfully, she said that he was doing better now. I could tell from her voice that she was completely shaken from what had happened. She warned me that the situation in Spain would continue to worsen and encouraged me to go to New York to be with my family while I still had the chance.

My host mom had convinced me that the best decision for me was to return back to the states. I immediately booked a direct flight from Madrid to JFK for March 28. The flight was then moved to a day earlier and the time of departure was changed multiple times. I was worried that the flight would be canceled and that I wouldn’t be able to get back to New York.

Luckily, the flight was not canceled. I received a message from the pharmacy on the day prior to my flight that there were gloves available for me to purchase.

The following day, with all my belongings, a box of gloves, a few masks a friend had given to me and hand sanitizer, I headed to Madrid Barajas International Airport to return to the U.S. The airport was almost completely empty. Including myself, there were 21 passengers on a plane that seated around 350. The journey felt like something out of an apocalyptic novel.

When I arrived home, I was extremely excited to see my parents, sisters, dog and cat. Since I traveled internationally, I immediately quarantined myself from my family for two weeks, in order to not spread the virus to them if I had caught it during my journey back. It was difficult to come home and not be able to hug any of my family members and have to separate myself from them.

Things as simple as giving my friends and family a hug or going for a walk in a park I had always taken for granted. As well as being able to play tennis or go to the gym to get in some exercise.

Now, I am most concerned about the health of my friends and family, as well as my own. I want to be able to see all of them, give them a hug, and tell them how much I love them and how much they mean to me.

While I am generally an extrovert, I am beginning to appreciate more the time I have to myself. I have realized that the silence of being alone can actually be quite a meditative experience. The opportunity to disconnect from the outside world and from technology and connect with yourself in the present can be something quite extraordinary.

This is a moment in time that I believe we will all remember for the rest of our lives. Each of us will have a story worth telling.

To those on the front lines who continue to work and risk their own lives to take care of those of us who are sick, thank you.

Nick Lee is a recent graduate from Vassar College (Class of 2019) where he majored in Psychology and Hispanic Studies and was a four-year member of the Vassar men’s tennis team. He was born and raised in New York. After teaching abroad in Madrid, he aspires to remain in sports as a sports psychologist and continue playing tennis competitively. He can be reached by email at [email protected], on Instagram @nicklee.aka.licknee, and on Facebook as Nicholas Lee.

Read Nick’s coming out story.

If you are an out LGBTQ person in sports and want to tell us how the coronavirus crisis has affected your life, email Jim Buzinski ([email protected]).


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