When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, all Michigan students were advised to leave campus.       

For international students — including sophomore midfielder Nina Apoola of the Michigan field hockey team —  being sent home entailed more than a few hours in the car. 

“I had to pack everything in my dorm room and book a flight back to England within two days,” Apoola said.

With the virus spreading, the world reacting and borders closing, Apoola and junior goalkeeper Anna Spieker had to act fast to return to their home countries of England and Germany, respectively. Spieker enjoyed the opportunity to bond with family in Germany — but after a while at home, the stir-craziness sets in for everyone.

“It was probably the longest I’ve ever gone without field hockey,” Apoola said.

Although they were luckily able to get home — with borders fully closing mere days after arrival and happy to slow down and spend time with loved ones, little by little things started to open up. After the University announced its fall reopening plans, and with a possible season looming, both Spieker and Apoola knew it was time to get back.

But returning to the United States wasn’t without its complications.

For Spieker, a dual-citizen, it was more about attention to detail. After double- and triple-checking the German Embassy’s web page, she was able to return to Ann Arbor in a relatively smooth — but still stressful — fashion. Apoola, on the other hand, does not have a U.S. passport, and with England still deep in lockdown, she had a few more hoops to jump through.

With the requirement of a two-week quarantine, Apoola and her German teammate — sophomore midfielder and forward Sarah Pyrtek — hatched a plan to get back to the U.S. Because travelers from England were barred from entering the U.S., they travelled to Aruba and fulfilled their two-week quarantine there. 

About halfway into the Aruban quarantine, the rules changed, and it turned out Pyrtek and Apoola did not have to go to Aruba at all. However, they were glad to have played it safe as they had a deep desire to return to the team, and nothing was going to stop them.

After arriving in early July, the situation continued to evolve. With no Big Ten foes to take on this fall, the team is taking part in highly competitive practices as they look to improve in preparation for the upcoming season, whenever it may be. 

“It’s a difficult task,” Spieker said. “We’re taking it day by day.” 

Added Apoola: “We have to make every one of these days count.” 

After traversing halfway around the globe and back during this pandemic, and seeing so much along the way, Spieker and Apoola are finding even more enjoyment in being with their teammates on campus, and they’re taking nothing for granted.  They’ve had to clear added hurdles to arrive from abroad, yet they continue to bring a clear-eyed approach to it all. 

“There’s so many people in far worse situations,”  Apoola said. “We’re grateful to even be able to play.”

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