They never played together. Shana Hudson finished her soccer career at the University of Florida in 2007. Lindsay Thompson started hers the following year.
They've never worked together, either, though both graduated to become healthcare professionals, Hudson as a certified registered nurse anesthetist in Florida, Thompson as a physician's assistant in Texas.
Their paths have been similar but not the same, and now they find themselves as teammates of a different kind in a larger battle against a global pandemic. COVID-19 closed one door for each of them and opened another. It presented personal challenges neither could've envisioned but both have stepped up to meet.
Like so many former SEC student-athletes during the story of our time, Hudson and Thompson have used their experience to make a difference.
The coronavirus crisis cost Hudson a job. After studying criminology at Florida, she found herself "drawn to" healthcare. It was only natural since her father is a nurse anesthetist himself. She graduated from nursing school, worked in a cardiovascular intensive care unit for 2 ½ years, then went back to school at the University of South Florida to earn her master's and become a CRNA.
She found a job in her native Tampa, but because the pandemic led to the cancellation of elective surgeries, her start date was pushed back. How did she respond? She went to work with COVID-19 patients in a New York City hospital ICU in midtown Manhattan.
"New York City was where I needed to be to help with the crisis," she said.
Though she's staying within walking distance of the hospital, the day-to-dayexistence during this four-week commitment has been anything but easy.
"As soon as I got here, we had a fast-track, one-day orientation kind of all thrown at your face," she said. "You process whatever you can, and the next day you hit the ground running on the floor."
That's meant 12-hour shifts working with patients who "are extremely, extremely sick," some of whom don't survive, FaceTiming with family members who aren't allowed to be by a loved one's bedside to help them say goodbye.
"When I first got here, I was shocked," Hudson said. "I was numb to everything. Seeing these families break has been very hard for me mentally."
Wearing the N95 protective mask for 12 hours presents a physical challenge. It's hot and hard to breathe, and at the end of each shift, a sore throat and body aches make her wonder if she's getting sick.
Support from her family and friends back home and other medical staffers helps keep her going to relieve the burden on patients and families and her fellow nurses. They're not as overburdened as before thanks to travelers like Hudson and a flattening of the curve of cases. The situation has improved since she arrived.
At the end of her month in New York, she'll have to decide whether to extend her tour of duty "if they need me." If not and her native Florida is in need, "that's where I could go next."
"When I became a nurse, this is what I signed up for," she said. "It's kind of my job."
Thompson has experienced the crisis as both provider and patient. Her professional background includes work at a regional wound care center as a medical assistant in Gainesville, Fla.; graduation from physician's assistant school in Savannah, Ga.; and urgent care experience in Austin, Texas.
She was working in local nursing homes in Austin in mid-March when she got sick. Her fever never recorded higher than 100.7, but she experienced unprecedented severe body aches that felt "like a dull knife twisting into your joints and muscles."
As a healthcare professional, she was able to get tested for the coronavirus. Five days later, as her symptoms had all but disappeared, her test results came back positive for the virus.
"I wasn't afraid" at the time, she said, because so few young people seemed to be getting seriously sick from COVID-19. The more she's learned since, "I feel extremely lucky. It was surreal that I survived a pretty deadly virus."
Getting sick altered her career path. Nursing homes were locked down, which eliminated the rehab work she had been doing. Having spent the majority of her time as a professional in urgent care, she found a need and a position with a former employer in Austin. Her training for that position, when complete, will allow her to practice telemedicine and in-person medicine as well as work in a drive-by COVID-19 testing facility.
Having survived her own bout with the disease, Thompson already has signed up to donate much-needed plasma. Her advice for anyone questioning the seriousness of the pandemic: "Be careful. Listen to the CDC. Follow the guidelines where you are. This is a real thing that's happening."
Both Thompson and Hudson credit their experience playing soccer at Florida in helping prepare them to do the vital work they're involved in now.
"As an athlete, I was in a lot of high-pressure situations," Thompson said. As a healthcare provider, "I've been there when someone walked through the door with a life-threatening situation. You have to have a laser focus."
To Hudson, "Florida soccer definitely has contributed to a lot of qualities I have today. It's made me a very strong, perseverant individual. It taught mehow to work in a team environment. It taught me how to be a leader at a young age. I've grown since then, and I think I owe a lot of it to being a Division I athlete."