Inside HOKIE SPORTS | Vol. 12 No. 5 | May 2020

18 Inside Hokie Sports For much of this spring, her days were filled with taking courses online, hanging out with her roommates, and grabbing the occasional walk or run in a green space next to their Blacksburg residence. That sounds idyllic, but for sure, the COVID-19 pandemic presented a ton of worry and uncertainty, and it wrecked the majority of Ester Talamazzi’s spring plans. Talamazzi, a Virginia Tech volleyball player who completed her playing career in November, had planned on walking across the stage at Virginia Tech’s commencement ceremony in May, receive her degree, and then return home to her native Italy, where, for the first time, she would get to see a newborn niece born in February. Instead, she participated in a virtual graduation ceremony, and now, she plays the waiting game, hoping that her family remains healthy and safe in a nation devastated by the coronavirus—more than 30,000 have died in Italy, the third-most behind the United States and Great Britain. “I was definitely going home because this would have been my last summer that I had three or four months off,” Talamazzi said. “My sister just had her baby, and I definitely wanted to go visit, but I’ll guess I’ll just stay here. I don’t want to get myself stuck in an internship [this summer] because, if the situation would clear up, I would want to go home, so I can’t quite decide what the best thing to do is. “But as of right now, I’m holding on to that and waiting to see if anything will happen. If I have a chance, like in late August, I would definitely want to go home, but I don’t know if it will be possible. I hope so, but we’ll see.” Talamazzi’s tale was a familiar one, as many of Tech’s international student-athletes remain in Blacksburg–and in limbo. Nearly all of them want to go home and visit their families, but they also know they risk contracting the coronavirus, and they risk potentially not being able to return to the United States for the fall semester. That risk is probably higher for Tech’s student-athletes who live in European countries–and in particular, Great Britain and Italy. Currently, there are three Virginia Tech student-athletes from Italy. Talamazzi’s eligibility expired after this past season, but she plans to return in the fall to work on a master’s degree in business analytics and work in the athletics department as a graduate assistant to pay for it. Filippo Dal Maso, a men’s swimmer from Livorno, Italy, has two more years of eligibility at Tech, alongwithCarloDonato, a men’s tennis standout from Pisa, Italy. Donato preserved a year thanks to the NCAA ruling allowing for spring sport student-athletes to retain the year of eligibility lost following the NCAA’s decision to cancel all spring sports championships. Talamazzi and Donato both said that their families are quarantined in their homes, but doing well considering the circumstances. Neither knew of anyone who had lost his/ her life. “I live in Tuscany, and it’s not really in the north [where the coronavirus was more prevalent],” Donato said. “It’s [Pisa] more in the middle of Italy. Yeah, they’re fine. They’re just home right now. They can’t do much. They can go out to get food and go to the hospital. That’s about it. If you leave the house without reason, you can get fined $3,000. So you can’t absolutely leave the house. It’s a tough time.” “They’re all healthy, luckily,” Talamazzi echoed. “They’re just all stuck in their houses. They literally can’t leave. It’s a little bit stressful for them, for sure, but it’s for the best. They’re all healthy, and that’s the important thing.” Both Talamazzi and Donato talk to members of their families at least once a day, mostly by texting, but also with the occasional phone call. Italy eased some of its lockdown measures recently in an effort to jumpstart its economy, yet according to reports, many in that country fear a future “second wave.” The Italian government mandated that shops be sanitized twice a day, and customers must wear protective masks and gloves. Still, that only brings a small measure of comfort to Talamazzi and Donato. “Of course, I am,” Donato said when asked if he was worried. “It sucks. And I can’t really go back home right now because I might not be able to come back for next year. It all depends on how long the virus is going to last. I’m kind of stuck. I have to stay here. It’s not an ideal situation.” Talamazzi, Donato and many other international student-athletes try to distract themselves from the news of the day by focusing on what they can control. That meant focusing first and foremost on academics. Tech went completely to online learning starting March 23, so all students found themselves either at home or in their Blacksburg residences with their laptops open daily and receiving instruction via Zoom. Certainly, classwork offered a nice distraction, but online learning also presented challenges, particularly for those in tough majors. Donato is pursuing a degree in accounting, while Talamazzi graduated with a degree in marketing. “I don’t really like online classes,” Donato said. “I think it’s tough to learn that way, and definitely in class with the professor in the room explaining the material, it’s easier. You can learn better.” “I would say I agree with him.” Talamazzi said. “It is harder to force yourself to do the work. We have so much time on our hands. I wouldn’t say I’m a procrastinator. I had fun, but my day was so filled out and Virginia Tech’s international student-athletes find themselves worrying about their families and wondering when things will return to normal for them by Jimmy Robertson DEALING WITH A DIFFICULT SITUATION Ester Talamazzi