Cross country freshman Nathaniel Lerch poses before an afternoon run on the Stotsenberg Track on Oct. 27. Lerch said he felt isolated, as he is one of approximately 200 student-athletes that live on an almost empty campus. Photo by Jaylene Ramli
Like many first-year students, freshman cross country runner Nathaniel Lerch said he was excited to move away from his home in Clarion, Pa., and live a life of independence in California.
Lerch said when he moved to Malibu on Aug. 11, he felt isolated more than independent. From weekly COVID-19 tests to socially distanced living conditions, he said his college experience thus far has been anything but normal.
“Initially, we were really taken away by the lack of people here,” Lerch said. “Even in our own dorm building, we didn’t see anybody walking out or walking in. At first it was extremely deserted.”
Since Pepperdine announced classes for fall 2020 would be online, approximately 200 student-athletes have lived in an almost empty campus. While the semester has looked differently than anticipated, Lerch said he is grateful to be in Malibu for his first semester of college.
“I remind myself I’m lucky to be here and glad to be here,” Lerch said. “I have a team that I can count on, and they’re good friends.”
Following Los Angeles County quarantine protocol requiring residents to social distance and wear face coverings, Lerch said he has had to make more of an effort than he normally would to foster a sense of community on campus.
“If you walk down to the cafeteria, you will not see a single soul until you get to the staff,” Lerch said. “It’s tough to meet new people. But you have to be really outgoing when you see somebody, because if you don’t, then that’s it — you missed your chance.”
Sophomore volleyball player Aubrey Roberts, who was one of the first wave of athletes to move onto campus Aug. 12, echoed Lerch’s sentiments. Roberts said that though this is her second year living on campus, she must be proactive in seeing her friends on campus.
“Since no one’s allowed in each other’s room, it kind of forces everyone to make that mutual effort to still hang out with people outside and following the rules,” Roberts said. “I’ve had to put in a lot of effort because if I’m not with my team, then I’m by myself. Everyone needs social interaction, especially now, so I’ve definitely had to think about it a lot more.”
With access limited to only certain parts of campus, Roberts said her routine is pretty similar from day to day: practice, class, homework, rest and repeat.
“Every day, the structure is the same,” Roberts said. “I like routine and I like the structure, but there aren’t many outlying experiences or events. I’m just kind of going through it right now.”
Since her initial move into Lovernich Apartments, Roberts said she has felt the atmosphere change as more and more athletes moved onto campus.
“When everyone started joining I was like, ‘This what you do, this is how you deal with this,'” Roberts said. “[…] I just like being able to walk out of my dorm and have some sense of normalcy with somebody from another team or another person just walking by. I’m reminded that there are people here and I’m not just isolated by myself on this campus.”
Like Roberts, Lerch said he has lived in solitude in his Lovernich suite since he moved in a little over two months ago. Lerch said he combats feelings of loneliness by leaning on his faith.
“During the day when you’re just sitting in your room and you don’t have a roommate — and you’ve been alone for 10 hours — it gets tough,” Lerch said. “You have to remind yourself that God is in control and if He wants you to be social, He will show you, or if you need to study, He’s going to want you to be in your room studying.”
Despite a postponed fall sports season, Lerch said he looks forward to not only meeting other students and professors in person but also racing as a college athlete for the first time.
“I’ve always wanted to run college cross country and college track because I hear it’s such a different vibe,” Lerch said. “There’s a huge difference in level of competition. The level of the people you’re competing against are just insane compared to high school. I come from a pretty small town, so I was so excited for all this crazy competition — and hopefully the spring will allow that to happen.”
While many athletes like Lerch are continuing to train for hopeful upcoming seasons, Women’s Tennis and Men’s Golf have continued to compete in the fall thus far. Both Men’s and Women’s Basketball are slated to begin before New Year’s while other fall and winter sports will begin competition in December or January.
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Contact Taylor Gather via Twitter: @taylorgather or by email: email@example.com