Lowe's ordeal

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

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Reggae Boy defender Damion Lowe, who is trapped in coronavirus-ravaged Europe, painted a grim picture of the realities from his point of view.

The 26-year-old, who plays professionally for Norwegian top-flight club IK Start, told of scary moments during a preseason camp and the uncertainties of escaping hard-hit Spain before that country had shut its ports down.

Lowe also expressed concern that if the league remains shuttered for a protracted period, there could be a genuine case for job security worries.

At the time of writing, Spain was the second-hardest hit European nation behind Italy with 33,089 cases and 2,206 deaths, which puts the country fourth on the global list.

Italy, meantime, is second overall with 63,927 cases and 6,077 deaths. China, where the outbreak started, remain the number one affected country with 81,093 cases, but fewer fatalities than Italy with 3,270.

The USA has shot to third on the grid with over 42,000 cases, and over 500 deaths.

Norway, where Lowe is presently located in home isolation, has 2,547 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 10 deaths.

The former Tampa Bay Rowdies regular said the virus nightmare started when his club decided to travel to the Spanish city of Malaga for a two-week preseason camp as IK Start was at the back -end of final preparation for the start of the Norwegian top division.

“In the preseason, European clubs go to either Turkey or Spain because they are able to stay in Europe and its warm weather, so they would go to Antalya in Turkey and Marbella or Malaga in Spain.

“We were there [Malaga], I think for 2 1/2 weeks to play some games as part of the preseason, and while we were in Norway we were aware of the coronavirus [in Spain], but the club decided that we were still going to go because they thought the risks of getting it in Norway and Spain were just about the same.

“Before that, we were in Norway for a month-and-half training in the cold weather, so we wanted to go into warmer climates so we could push a little more as we prepare for the season,” Lowe told the Jamaica Observer from his isolation at home in the city of Kristiansand.

But before long, the rapid spread of the coronavirus in Spain, and particularly in Malaga, forced the team indoors, as the club moved to protect players and staff in very fluid and unpredictable scenarios.

“While in Spain, we trained at the hotel for a week, and then the hotel started to get crowded with a lot of people in and out, so the club decided that we changed hotels, so we went to a hotel where it was more quite.

“While there, the decision was made that we couldn't be in Spain any more as it was getting too dangerous. Firstly, we had to train without coaches, media couldn't come to our training, and after that we had to just stay in and train at the hotel individually, or two teammates at a time because we weren't allowed to be around anyone — we ate alone and we were in total shutdown,” Lowe recalled as the horror unfolded to frightening degrees.

He said club officials monitored developments through the media and social media platforms, but were left with little choice but to resort to an evacuation plan for the group to leave Spain.

“We were monitoring the news to see if things were getting better or would calm down, but it didn't, it actually got worse. Then Spain decided to lock their ports on Monday [March 16], so the club was scrambling to get flights, and they couldn't find any and we got nervous as we weren't sure we were going to make it out of the country in time.

“We finally got flights and we travelled out in two halves — one group in the morning and the other in the afternoon and we eventually got to Oslo, but we missed our connection to Kristiansand, where our club is located.

“There were long delays in Malaga because a lot of airport workers can't come to work, so we missed our connection to Kristiansand and had to opt for a six-hour bus ride,” Lowe shared.

While relieved that he and his teammates were able to escape Spain in time before the doors closed on the borders, the Jamaican international's virus-induced fears were far from a fleeting thing.

“When we arrived in Norway, we were instructed by the federation, Government, and health officials that since we were in a high-risk area with coronavirus, we had to self-isolate or go into quarantine for 14 days to monitor ourselves in case one of us had it, so as to prevent further infection,” said the former Harbour View FC youth player.

Lowe, who joined IK Start in 2017, said while he respects and appreciates the gravity of the crisis, it's hard not to feel a sense of disappointment that all the hard work that has gone into training and preparation might be derailed in one form or another.

“It's a world crisis and a pandemic, and I feel it is getting worse, but while we were in Spain it was very annoying knowing that we had been training so hard for weeks and with the league scheduled to start in two weeks and before that you were getting sharp, match fit, and then this happens.

“Of course you are disappointed, but we have to think of humanity and just know that being isolated is for the best, it's for your own safety, it's for the safety of others.

“I understand that the situation of being in the same place for hours each day, unable to do much, you can't go to the gym at the hotel, and its not like you are home where you can walk around in your comfort zone, or your backyard, you are trapped in a hotel room. Yes, there was a courtyard at the hotel, but you try to stay away from there because there are other people, plus you try to stay away from the elevators and not to touch anything, so basically you are locked away in your room and it can be mentally draining, plus you feel physically tired, even more tired than if you just had a workout,” Lowe said, flashing back to his experience in Spain.

He said that while he is isolated in his home in Kristiansand in the Scandinavian country, the realities of the virus are just outside the proverbial door.

“In Norway, the figures [for coronavirus] are high, especially in Kristiansand where I think we are in double figures, so it's pretty serious here. As you know on a global level all sporting events and stadiums are on lockdown, so we have been instructed to stay away from the public, maintaining social distancing, and so far most of my workout has been in my living room,” Lowe noted.

The towering central defender says while Norway is an “economically stable” country, the shutdown of the sporting industry, and that of football, leaves professional athletes in a state of dread of possibilities down the road should conditions worsen.

“Pertaining to the job we have been notified that we have been placed on sick leave, and once you are placed on that, the Government will pay 60 per cent of your monthly earnings. But if this thing continues to get worse, and I think it will, there is a possibility that we may get laid off without pay, but we hope it doesn't get to that point.

“I know that Norway is an economically stable country and they will find the ways and means to help out the general public, but it is something to think about, it's something the world has to think about. Already the Government is providing for the self-employed, the unemployed, and small business owners, where they will pay them somewhere between 60 and 80 per cent of the earnings they usually make per month because they are not earning an income right now,” Lowe stated, in shedding light on the State's response to the health crisis.

“The Norwegian Government and the people, I believe, have responded well in dealing with this crisis,” he added.

Lowe, who also had a stint with English outfit Reading United, could not hide his nostalgia at this time for his home country, Jamaica, too, fighting to contain the pandemic.

“As a Jamaican, I would rather to be home with my people, but right now this is my job and this is my obligation; I am just here waiting to see what's next…but the good thing is that we are healthy and we are athletes and our immune system is built differently, so this coronavirus may affect us differently than others.

“For me it's the younger ones and the elderly that I am worried about in these types of situations. So yes, everybody would like to be home, especially in situations like these, but I have to stay put as the ports are closed as nobody is coming in and nobody is going out. It is what it is,” he said.

Lowe said this is not the time to think of self, but for the best outcome for all — home and abroad. He also had a special message for his Reggae Boyz teammates.

“First and foremost, we have to think about humanity and ourselves and take the necessary precautions and stay on the healthy side, so if it is going to lead to a point where we can't train and in order to stay healthy and not being affected by this virus, I would recommend that everybody stays home, stays healthy, does the right and proper hygiene and you should befine.

“When it comes to sports you would want to think that the governing bodies would give a fair time for everybody to be prepared for the upcoming tournaments, and in our case the World Cup qualifiers. So if anybody has a backyard, a big living room they should use them to workout. In the players' group we talk, we run jokes, as we try to keep everybody in high spirits, giving each other tips, checking on each other's families,” he concluded.

Among senior Jamaican professionals trapped in coronavirus-stricken countries are Kemar Lawrence, Tyreek Magee and Shamar Nicholson (Belgium); Dwayne Miller (Sweden), Dever Orgill (Turkey), Corey Burke (Austria), Leon Bailey (Germany), Maalique Foster (Israel), and Brian Brown (Albania).