All posts by sallyehrmann2020

Senior student-athletes react to NCAA cancellations

By Sally Ehrmann
Medill Reports

Jason Kerst sat alone in the University of Iowa men’s tennis locker room winding down from an intense workout. Amidst the black and yellow equipment and Hawkeye tennis displays, Kerst received a screenshot of the NCAA’s announcement on March 12 that winter and spring sports were canceled the rest of the academic year because of COVID-19 concerns.

Kerst had an overwhelming reaction, bombarded with emotions. He couldn’t make sense of any of it. Calls and texts flooded into his inbox.

“Honestly, I wasn’t in a place where I wanted to deal with it at the time,” Kerst said. “I left my phone behind and sat on our courts. There was no one there at the time. So, I sat there, stared into space and thought and prayed about all of it.”

Kerst is one student-athlete among more than 460,000 who saw their futures changed that March day. The decision affected 32 teams at more than 350 Division I schools. And for senior student-athletes like Kerst, the following weeks led to emotional turmoil as they said goodbye to their college careers while making plans for the next few years amidst a pandemic.

Student-athletes share widespread feelings of shock, confusion and disbelief over the decision to completely cancel competition. Wisconsin women’s golfer Eloise Healey said she expected some sort of cancellation but not the measures taken.

Healey scrambled to understand what it all meant. As an international student from Liverpool, England, she had to consider if she should stay in Madison with teammates, go home and what it would all mean for her golf career. Soon after, she heard the U.S. planned a European travel ban. She spent the next four days packing up four years of her life to go home to England. Her sheets and comforter remain on the bed in her apartment in Madison.

“I was very emotional,” Healey said. “I didn’t know if school was going to restart. Is graduation even happening at this point? Am I ever going to come back? In the space of four days, I had to say goodbye to everyone and everything.”

Soon after the cancellation, student-athletes at schools across the country joined forces to petition the NCAA to grant another year of eligibility. The Division I Council did allow a special waiver for spring student-athletes. However, students competing in winter sports faced the realization their college careers were suddenly over.

Evan Cheek, a redshirt senior wrestler at Cleveland State University, had visions of an NCAA championship in his head. But he said he feels grateful to have been a part of his team for the last five years even if it wasn’t the ending he expected.

“If it wasn’t for wrestling, I honestly wouldn’t have thought about coming to college,” Cheek said. “I wasn’t super big into school in high school. Now I get to see everything I’ve done since then. College sports to some people might not even be about the sport. It might really be the reason they go to school.”

While winter sports ended, spring student-athletes considered what to do with the option of another year of eligibility.

Elizabeth Elder, a redshirt senior on Northwestern’s women’s lacrosse team, had long conversations with her parents about the possibility of her returning for another year. However, past injuries led her to decline the extra eligibility.

“It’s just been such a dream,” Elder said. “Since I was nine, I started telling my family and friends that I was going to play lacrosse at Northwestern. From that point on, I did everything in my power to make that happen. It was me living out a childhood dream.”

Not all student-athletes had the chance to utilize the NCAA’s waiver. The Ivy League announced in early April it would not allow senior student-athletes back. The University of Wisconsin’s athletic director, Barry Alvarez, made a similar decision to refuse the waiver for fourth-year student-athletes.

For Amy Davis, a Wisconsin women’s cross country and track and field runner, Alvarez’s decision is filled with pain.

“Camp Randall can be a very secure place for some people,” Davis said. “When you take a secure place away, where it’s really like one of the only for sure things in our lives, that’s really difficult.”

Uncertainty is an uncomfortable reality for many student-athletes right now. Sports psychologist Michelle Cleere sees the fear of the unknown being a significant cause of mental stress for student-athletes during this pandemic.

“Athletes are losing a piece of their identity,” Cleere said. “So, it’s ‘Ok, what do I do now? What do I do in the meantime?’ while moving through this. … Many times people don’t understand what it feels like to be in this place of ‘Well, I was just training and competing and now I’m not.’ Which is a very difficult, sudden transition.”

Finding new goals and ways to stay motivated is the key to getting over the hump of the fear of the unknown, Cleere said. For the 22 and 23-year old student-athletes, they can look to their future careers to stay inspired beyond the pandemic.

Davis said she would like to begin a professional running career with guidance from former coaches but is also considering graduate school to be a part of collegiate recruiting in the future. Healey said she plans on transferring to another American university to finish two years of collegiate eligibility before earning her LPGA card.

Elder is finishing a master’s degree in Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern through December. Kerst declined an internship to return to Iowa and finish his final year of tennis. Cheek will coach high school wrestling in Cleveland once sports are back.

Amidst the confusion, pain, frustration, anger and loss, many student-athletes remain hopeful. They realize that life, eventually, will return to a semblance of normal.

“It would be easier to be super upset and depressed about it,” Elder said. “And, at first I was. But, I have my house. My family is healthy. There’s a lot bigger stuff going on.”

Photo at top: Tennis courts on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus sit empty with no nets, a symbol of the NCAA canceling winter and spring sports for the remainder of the school year. (Sally Ehrmann/MEDILL)

Women executives lead six Chicagoland breweries

By Sally Ehrmann
Medill Reports

Chicago might be known for harsh winters, hot dogs, sports teams and deep dish pizza. But the city is becoming a hot spot for craft breweries as well.

A 2018 study from the Brewers Association found that the Chicago area led the nation in the number of breweries with 167 and counting, an honor owing to the proliferation of craft breweries across the metro area.

As Chicago builds that beer city status, those working in the industry see the town’s booming new industry as becoming more “diverse” while  “exploding,” said Emily Kwansy at Temperance Beer Co. in Evanston. Continue reading

Tokyo can still reap benefits of hosting Olympics by modeling successes of London Games

By Sally Ehrmann
Medill Reports

With COVID-19 continuing to spread across the world, the legacy of the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics could be the first canceled games due to a pandemic rather than war. If that happens, many wonder whether the estimated $29 billion price tag will have been worth it.

But looking at past successful games shows that economics may not be the only way to measure the success of hosting the Olympics. Eight years after London’s 2012 Summer Olympic Games, for example, the city still reaps benefits from a complete transformation of a formerly blighted neighborhood.

“You can look to a qualitative or quantitative legacy. Quantitative, you can capture all that. Job creation, money generated,” said Charles Runcie, a former sports journalist with the BBC. “Then, you must count the qualitative stuff, the feel-good factor. Are more events coming here? Has the city benefited overall?”

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Eris brings Chicago a new brewery dimension with first female-owned cider taproom

By Sally Ehrmann
Medill Reports

Eris Brewery and Cider House, Chicago’s first female-owned cider taproom, celebrates two years in business this winter. The cider house serves Chicago’s craft beer scene with specialty brews, bites and a rotating draft of about eight flavored hard ciders such as cherry, pear or coffee.

After years of planning, Eris opened its doors on the Northwest Side in 2018. Throughout its history, the Chicago beer community has always been “supportive” of this first female-owned cider taproom, according to Katy Pizza, a managing partner in the business.

“You definitely feel older, smarter, and really proud,” Pizza said. “We’ve had some people who’ve been with us this whole time. Our employees — we’re super proud of our team. Certain areas and processes are a lot more sophisticated and evolved than where we started out.” Continue reading

Life on the road for a Riverdance pro is hectic but ‘happy’

By Sally Ehrmann and Michaela Schirra
Medill Reports

Riverdance has dazzled fans onstage with sparkling costumes, rhythmic beats and lightning-fast footwork for 25 years. The dancers behind the showcase blend artistry and athleticism that is nothing short of spectacular.

Patrick O’Mahony, 33, began Irish dancing at the age of two in his hometown of Rusheen, Ballylongford, Co Kerry. Following passion and talent, O’Mahony won titles and danced all over the world. Today, he is a Male Lead Dancer with Riverdance, where he will go on tour for six months at a time showcasing the Celtic choreography to the world. He performs in Chicago through Sunday at the Cadillac Palace Theater in downtown Chicago as part of the Riverdance 25th anniversary season.

O’Mahony has some roots — and plans — laid down in Chicago. You’ll get that scoop on that at the close of this Q&A. Continue reading

Chicagoans make a splash in Lake Michigan, raising over $35,000 for families in need

By Sally Ehrmann
Medill Reports

More than 300 brave souls took a dip in freezing-cold Lake Michigan on Jan. 25 to raise money for three Chicago families in need, part of the shivering tradition of the annual Chicago Polar Bear Plunge.

The event raised over $35,000 for families, to be split evenly. Jumpers paid a $30 registration fee and then chose to set up funding pages to raise more money for the cause from their donors. Other donations came from sponsors like Tito’s Vodka, FT Cares Foundation and Blake’s Seed Based foods. Continue reading

WOMANISH panel focuses on female self-care to preview upcoming exhibit

By Sally EhrmannMedill Reports

Women of many backgrounds reflected on how to be more selfish in the new year as part of a panel discussing what happens when women deliberately focus on their well-being through self-care.

WOMANISH, a women’s empowerment group, created SELFISH as part of a series of events in Chicago introducing their upcoming experiential exhibit discussing elements of being female.

The interactive, experiential exhibit WOMANISH opens March 1 and runs through the month at a leased gallery space at 114 S. State St.

“SELFISH came out of the idea of a different ish, or idea. Each one is different. There was famish, stylish, and today we’re talking about what it means to be selfish,” said panel moderator Alexandria Ott,  CEO of public relations firm Chrome City Creative, at the Jan. 22 event.

“I think anyone can have an amazing New Year’s resolution type talk, but I think we’re beyond that. I love self-care, but tonight’s talk is about what happens when you shift and change things inside of you and what happens around you, ” she said.

Four women with different backgrounds in food, mental health, spirituality and movement therapy headed the panel and discussed their journeys to self-love, reflection and what it means to be selfish. Panelists included Britni deLeon from Food by FARE, Camesha L. Jones of Sista Afya Community Mental Wellness, clairvoyant reader and energy healer Carolyn O’Neill and psychotherapist Christina Fontenelle.

Laughs and cheers erupted during the panel as audience members related and reflected on the experiences.

One woman came out as bisexual at the event and another woman talked about juggling the roles of mother and business owner.

Event attendees joined for many reasons. Chare’A Smith came to the event through her own work owning a health and wellness nonprofit for women of color. Her work has taken her across the world creating spaces for health and wellness, and she wanted to be a part of the “uplifting community” at SELFISH.

“You have to take care of yourself holistically in order to achieve any type of success,” Smith said. “Success isn’t just about monetary value or upward level in your work. It’s also about taking care of yourself and learning and maintaining that homeostasis of ‘I’m rested. I can give, but I’m also giving to myself.’ So, finding that balance. More women need to do that.”

Two sisters developed the WOMANISH movement with the goal of bringing together different perspectives of what it means to be female to Chicago. A five-story experiential exhibit will open in March, covering different “ish’s” of being female, such as SELFISH, STYLISH, PAIDISH, FAMISH (as in family) and others. In the lead up to the exhibit, WOMANISH has been hosting monthly panels since October to discuss topics women face today in a “fun and interactive” way.

“We really wanted to add on to the women empowerment movement that’s already existing,” said Dionna Gray, co-founder of WOMANISH. “All of these events have been totally concepted, created and produced by women. It’s where women are celebrated, but all are welcome. I think it’s important to give women a voice.”

Photo at top: Sisters Danyelle Gray and Dionna Gray co-founded WOMANISH to bring different perspectives of the female identity to discussions around women empowerment. Their experiential exhibit opens in March, with the SELFISH panel acting as a preview for what’s to come. (Sally Ehrmann/MEDILL)

Cancer mortality rate records largest single-year drop ever

By Sally Ehrmann
Medill Reports

Cancer survival rates are climbing with early diagnosis and new therapies, according to the latest annual report from the American Cancer Society released earlier this month. The report documented the largest single-year drop ever in U.S. cancer deaths.

The 2.2% decline in cancer deaths from 2016 to 2017 falls in line with a greater overall trend, which has seen the death rate from cancer fall a total of 29% in 26 years.

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