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Saturday June 10th

As COVID-19 rages on, international UNC athletes wrestle with returning to campus

<p>UNC women's golf player Krista Junkkari pictured on the Finley Golf Course on Friday, Oct. 11, 2019. <br>
Photo Courtesy of UNC Athletic Communications.&nbsp;</p>
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UNC women's golf player Krista Junkkari pictured on the Finley Golf Course on Friday, Oct. 11, 2019.
Photo Courtesy of UNC Athletic Communications. 

With much of the athletic year up in the air, some North Carolina athletes have been placed in unique situations.

Like many students at UNC, some international athletes have decided to stay home during the fall semester, while balancing the responsibility of staying prepared for a potential playing season by continuing to train.

Krista Junkkari, a sophomore on UNC’s women’s golf team, is spending the fall semester in her home country, Finland. 

“I kind of made my decision before we knew that we wouldn’t be able to compete this fall,” Junkkari said. “Hearing that news that we are not gonna be able to compete as a team was just like a last statement for me to be very sure that I'm gonna stay at home.”

Despite being away from Chapel Hill, Junkkari has participated in tournaments during her time outside the US to get some additional competition.

“I wasn’t able to go into national league to play tournaments, but I did manage to play tournaments in Finland and I got to compete against professionals who play on European tour and European access tour so that’s some valuable experience that I really liked to have," Junkkari said.

Being back at home, Junkkari can see people she normally would not see as often, though she also recognizes her other responsibilities as an athlete to train and prepare for the spring.

She plans to return in January and participate in the women's golf season during the spring semester, but nothing is set in stone yet.

Luis Castro, a junior on the men’s golf team, also decided to stay in his home country, the Philippines, for the fall semester.

“I took into consideration the slim likelihood of the fall season pushing through, the evident travel restrictions and concerns, increasing COVID positive case rates, and most importantly, what my family felt was the safest decision given the situation," Castro wrote in an email. 

Since being in the Philippines, Castro has enjoyed being around his family. He typically only gets to spend winter and summer breaks at home, but quarantine guidelines have led to him spending more time around his loved ones.

The time zone difference has proven a challenge for Castro when it comes to taking classes.

“My one challenge with online courses is that I've been taking class from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. synchronously every night because it proved to be the simplest way to stay on track with my course requirements due at midnight,” Castro said.

When he’s not practicing or taking classes, Castro has taken up reading in his leisure. In the last five months, he's read 24 books, a mix of fiction and non-fiction, to redevelop his love for learning.

Castro will take some time to decide if he will return in January, though he would like to do so if possible.

“My decision to return for the spring semester is something I'll still have to think about in the near future, but I will likely take into consideration the same aspects that helped me decide for this fall,” Castro said.

Some athletes have opted to remain in Chapel Hill and train until the beginning of their respective seasons. Zach Young, a sophomore defenseman on the men’s lacrosse team from Canada, chose this option, citing the team's preseason bonding and hassles at the border as reasons for his decision.

Like Junkkari and Castro, Young would like to return to play whenever he can.

“I’m just looking forward to being on the field again with my brothers and being able to compete at the level that I know our team can compete at," he said.

Since arriving at Chapel Hill in August, Young has been living with some of his teammates. When the housemates aren't watching TV outside, they're working out together while following the team's protocols to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Young and his team arrives at every practice with masks, and their temperatures are checked before it begins.

“If we want to proceed and have a season, we’ve got to abide by the rules," Young said. "We’ve got to follow the state’s regulations, whether that means wearing masks in public or the size of groups you can be around. And I think we’ve done a great job as a whole.”


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