Nelson calls COVID lockdowns ‘damaging’ to mental, physical health
Bulldog star laments lack of face-to-face social interactions
“I was never able to see my friends and teammates during the lockdowns,” he explained. “I’m not a social media person, so I need face-to-face interactions with them. My social interactions were taken away.
“The pandemic has been very damaging on my mental and physical health,” added Nelson.
Relegated to online classes and denied a chance to compete in sports from March 2020 to January 2021, Nelson struggled to adapt to the regulated nature of the pandemic. Willamina’s Boy of the Year and one of eight valedictorians, Nelson admitted he needed in-person learning to truly grasp the material of his teachers.
Once the Bulldogs were cleared to return to the school, Nelson felt overjoyed.
“I was very excited to go back to in-person,” he said.
Stepping into a leadership role, Nelson also served as liaison between the Willamina student body and the school board.
While his time in the classroom was a welcome experience, Nelson’s athletic career shifted into overdrive starting early last year. In the span of nine months, he competed in six sports seasons, including three wrestling campaigns.
“It felt good,” he noted. “I love sports, but when Oregon shut everything down, all we could do was travel to Idaho, Utah and Nevada to wrestle in tournaments.
“It gave athletes like me a chance to actually compete,” added Nelson.
The shortened 2020/21 athletic seasons were a mediocre fix, Nelson noted, and he lamented the lack of contests available to Oregon prep athletes.
“In the limited time they had, I think OSAA did well with regulations for a crappy situation,” said Nelson. “But, during my junior year, there was so much uncertainty. I’d give OSAA a low to average score for the lack of the events happening.”
The condensed schedules – each season lasted only five weeks plus a culminating event – didn’t allow the Bulldogs to bond, Nelson added.
OSAA’s guidelines for practices were also a detriment to his well-being, Nelson said. Social distancing during football workouts didn’t allow players to gain chemistry or truly understand how to complement one another’s abilities.
The Willamina district’s policy toward positive cases also led to multiple absences in football and wrestling, Nelson observed. With only six weeks of competitions available per season, this resulted in several athletes avoiding testing.
“If you were only exposed, you just had to skip two weeks. But if you were officially positive, then you missed an entire month, so no one would get tested,” he explained.
Nelson and Willamina’s athletes were also required to wear masks, but that proved a problem, too.
“Wearing a mask on the football field was one of the most insane things I’ve ever had to do,” he said. “In the wrestling room, it was hard. It’s already hot in there, and then we had to wear a mask.
“During wrestling tournaments, we realized how difficult it is to actually compete in a mask. It was so weird in so many ways,” added Nelson.
This year, with many regulations lifted as positive cases declined, Nelson wrapped up a successful senior season. He was a standout offensive lineman and linebacker on the football team, then earned third place at 170 pounds during the state wrestling tournament.
In the past couple months, Nelson has worked as a cook for Spirit Mountain Casino. He’s also training for his football and wrestling debut at Pacific University in the fall.
Looking back on the beginning of the pandemic, Nelson is still surprised how quickly his world changed.
“We had just heard about COVID coming back from state wrestling, and then boom!
“No more sports,” he recalled.