Should I Stay or Should I Go?

New Zealand native Shinae Carrington sits between her two worlds during the pandemic.

Between the constant threat of COVID-19 on college campuses and extended pauses from play, it’s difficult for student-athletes to keep their heads above water. Yet, it’s even more difficult knowing that other parts of the world are operating normally, especially those that athletes at Marist call home.

Shinae Carrington is a sophomore utility player on the Marist Water Polo team from Mount Maunganui, New Zealand. In the fall semester, the team was not able to touch the water, and it had only two weeks in the pool because of pauses before their first game. 

This is unfamiliar territory to Carrington, as her home country has remained practically COVID-free. New Zealand has reported 2,245 confirmed cases and only 26 deaths and has long since returned to life at an almost normal level. 

If Carrington were at home, she would be playing water polo and training regularly, which is a drastic difference from where she was a week ago — hanging on in the hopes of competing again in the United States. Her younger brother is in the middle of his season at home, competing for his club and high school teams.

“I’ve had moments where I’m like, I could go. If we didn’t have the season, I would have gone home,” said Carrington. “But as of right now we still have a season, so I’m here, and I’m happy that I’m here. It’s just that there are moments that it gets really hard.”

“It feels like nothing has changed in New Zealand, where it’s like everything around me [here in the United States] is constantly changing [and] I’m trying to keep up,” said Carrington.

When asked about Carrington’s situation at Marist, her mother Kellie Carrington, sporting a Marist sweatshirt, sighed, took a deep breath or two, and then voiced frustration about her daughter’s circumstances. In New Zealand, sports are utilizing the bubble system, in which they’re allowed to train and travel together as a unit. Kelli Carrington mentioned that as a campus solution.

“It’s frustrating. It’s mostly frustrating for her. She’s the one who has to cope with it on a daily basis. Water polo has really got her to America. It’s a massive part of her life,” said Kellie Carrington. “We understand Marist has got a very tight position on COVID….We think ‘Aw why [hasn’t the] college kind of looked at that,’ but that’s us sitting on the other side of the world.”

After the cancelation of the 2020 season and Marist going remote, Carrington returned home with every intention of going back at the first chance to do so. This decision did not come without some worry, not only from her family but also from her community, questioning whether they should allow her to return. 

“We’re just getting flooded with media, you know, stories from America, and none of it was good,” said Kellie Carrington. “We just wanted to make sure from her that she was going to be as safe as she could be and take precautions.“

Kellie Carrington left the house at 18 years old, making her own decision to leave her home, and she believes it’s her daughter’s time to do so as well. The pandemic, at the time, didn’t seem to be going away any time soon. Thus, Carrington’s parents acknowledged that they all would have to learn to live with it, whether their daughter was in America or New Zealand. 

Carrington chose to come back because of her pure spirit, as playing water polo is what she wants to do. Living a more restricted life than at home was worth it to her since she would have water polo, teammates, and friends. While her home is operating in a preferable way, Carrington has simply grown up more.

“New Zealand is such a small country, and not saying I don’t love it, but I had already been there for like 19 years of my life….” said Carrington. “I know that if I went home, everything would be exactly the same, exactly what I’ve grown up with. It’s just more the fact that I do miss my family and being around them.”

Homesickness ebbs and flows, as the last time she saw her family was August 9, 2020. Carrington stayed through the winter break for safety reasons and has had great support from teammates, of whom her family is incredibly thankful. 

Carrington was recruited by Marist through a connection with head coach Chris Vidale, as her club and high school water polo coach coincidentally played with Vidale’s wife. Although she could not stop by for a quick visit, Vidale provided great detail about the school environment and water polo program that sold Carrington over her other possible choice, Wagner, who is Marist Water Polo’s biggest rival. 

She has been playing competitively since she was 12 years old. Carrington only felt unsure about the sport once, having quit when she was young because she could not tread water. However, her parents forced her back in, and a good thing too. Having only played 17 out of a typical 35 or more games in the 2020 season, Carrington tallied 16 goals with a team-high eight assists.

While water polo has not been in play as much as Carrington would like, she realizes that she is where she is supposed to be. The lack of consistency has been the most challenging thing to deal with, especially while she is aware there is nothing but stability at home with her family. However, she doesn’t want to be anywhere else.

“I was like, I have to live my life. This is what I want to do…” she said. “I don’t regret my decision coming. I would do it again.”

“I’m hopeful that next season will be different with vaccinations been happening…so fingers crossed. I don’t know what will happen if next season’s not different,” said Kellie Carrington.

On Wednesday, April 21, Marist finally had their season opener against Siena, winning 15-14. While this season took time to get started, the team is off to a 6-0 start. Carrington’s college life is beginning to become more normal as she is back in the pool. Her mother always reminds her that, “nothing lasts forever, it will change,” and that is what is keeping Carrington afloat.

Edited by Ricardo Martinez-Paz and Jonathan Kinane

Photo Credit: Marist Athletics

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