By Mike Deak
WARSAW – For much of their scholastic lives, athletes are propped up for their ability to succeed under pressure circumstances. And when they do, they receive a level of acclaim and adulation worthy of announcement.
Fast forward to May 2020. A generation of sports superstars are now onto the next phases of life. And for a few, their service titles took a sharp turn in March. And their stardom and accolade now has a different look, and sometimes, feel.
Facebook has run an ad campaign asking people to salute those on the frontlines. Whether they need people banging on pans at seven in the morning, that’s up for another debate. What isn’t to debate is the work these individuals, along with the thousands of others helping to keep our people safe and getting everyone back to health.
A pair of Wawasee graduates, Ashley Schwartz and Eric Brown, were both elite in their respective sports. Brown was a four-time state qualifier in track, finishing in the top 15 in five events, including a fourth-place finish his senior year at the 2008 IHSAA State Finals in the 400-meter dash. Schwartz, then a Truman, wrapped up her softball career in 2011 by finishing fourth all-time in home runs and is second in total hits, doubles and total bases. These two have become elite in another way, working in the operating rooms. Brown is an RN at IU Health Goshen Hospital, Schwartz is an RN at Parkview Hospital in Fort Wayne.
“I have always taken pride in my role as a nurse, especially at Goshen Hospital,” Brown said. “I do not feel that I should be thought of as a hero although there are certainly many individuals within the healthcare system including nurses, doctors and other clinical personnel who have been working tirelessly to provide safe and excellent care.”
Noted Schwartz, “No, I don’t feel like a hero. I truly believe that God has put me in this profession for a reason. Ever since I can remember, I have wanted to be a nurse and have wanted to be there for those that are in their most vulnerable position and give them a light that somehow they will get through the hardest time of their life with all of our support. I just feel like I’m doing my job and will continue to do whatever.”
Closer to home at Kosciusko Community Hospital, Amanda Healey is helping our neighbors. The 2008 Goshen College graduate and former women’s tennis player has seen what life on the frontlines has done to her coworkers and colleagues. It’s not as smooth as her forehand winners were.
“I don’t feel like a hero,” said Healey, who lives in Milford. “It’s my job to care for the sick. With that being said, I think it’s unacceptable to hear stories of doctors and nurses dying from COVID-19 due to lack of PPE. None of us signed up to martyr ourselves.”
Healey’s sister, Elizabeth Augustine, was also a tennis star at Fairfield High School and later became an All-Conference performer at Manchester University. While not in the hospitals daily, Augustine, who is normally a certified athletic trainer for area schools including Warsaw Community High School, has been on call in case a Fort Wayne location is in need of assistance.
Up in the corner of Kosciusko County, Joe Leach is serving the community that supported him for a long time. The 2007 Wawasee graduate helped his basketball teams to regional and semi-state appearances and was in a football program that won 36 games and made a state appearance in 2004. Leach is now Wawasee’s school resource officer and a Syracuse policeman, getting to protect his school and hometown.
The former Wawasee quarterback and University of Indianapolis wide receiver doesn’t see himself as a hero. He’s just doing his job.
“I see it as just another thing that I have to think about while doing my job,” Leach said. “As an officer we think about different viruses or diseases people have that we could possibly come into contact with just now there are more precautions due to the fact that is easily passed.”
While everyone tends to think about nurses and law enforcement as part of the frontline effort, no one is doing anything without groceries. Toilet paper, hand sanitizer and macaroni and cheese were just as much in demand as ventilators in March, and NorthWood graduate Madison Richner had a front seat for that side of the pandemic. As a service clerk for Martin’s Supermarkets, formerly in Nappanee as a high school student and now in South Bend as a student at IUSB, the proud NorthWood golf alum’s perspective is much different.
Academic All-State awards and helping the girls golf program at NorthWood to conference and sectional championships had nothing on dealing with terrified people searching for toilet paper.
“I would have never thought that a small-chain grocery store, like Martin’s Supermarkets, would be considered a scary place to visit,” Richner said, now working for the Erskine store on South Bend’s south side. “Almost everyone has a weekly trip to the grocery store, so to see our customers fear their routine trip to my place of employment is the reality I definitely did not see coming.”