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CONFINED 01: Nerea Pena & Eduarda Amorim

For the past two months, the coronavirus pandemic has taken over over the media, it modified our daily lives and brought us challenges we were not yet ready to face. Handball was not excluded from this global situation and that's why, on these series of articles we've named "Confined", we'll share the different ways in which this pandemic has affected both the leagues and competitions as well as the lives of the athletes.

Hungary is the first of the destinations of this series, the country that sits at the top of the EHF (European Handball Federation) club ranking. Brazilian star Eduarda Amorim, from Győri Audi ETO KC and Spaniard Nerea Pena, who plays for Siófok KC, have shared their thoughts with Playmaker - Women’s Handball regarding their state of mind, new routines, the end of the Hungarian league and plans for the future.

"I think Hungary was one of the countries in closing its boarders, so I guess we can say the situation here is more or less controlled here. Citizens were told to only go out for groceries or to go to the pharmacies; schedules have been established for the elderly, outdoor activities are still allowed, taking in consideration the corresponding social distancing", said Amorim, who's spending her quarantine at her apartment in Győr along with her husband Dean and his bulldog Thor; she added: "The situation is controlled, but now that some activities are being reactivated people will start going out more often and I guess the number of infected could increase. I think the idea is that hospitals are ready if that's the case".

Pena, on the other hand, is spending her quarantine in Pamplona, her hometown. She stopped by there a few days before the date in which she was supposed to join the Spanish nationa team, that was getting ready to play the Olympic Qualification tournament for Tokyo 2020 in Spain at the end of March. "I was lucky enough to spend a few days at home and what were supposed to be four days, ended up being 40 days so far. But I have to say I'm doing well here, I'm with my family, with my parents, so I can't complain".

Despite being indoors, the demands of their job forces them to maintain a certain routine that includes trainings, but it is also important for them to be able to rest and keep their minds clear, as the level of uncertainty and what comes along with it has been very high for the past few weeks. "I think the most difficult part of this is dealing with the feeling of insecurity", said the Győri Audi ETO KC left back. "For example, my parents are in Brazil and I'm concerned about their health, the hard thing is to deal with this fear that grows inside you at times; will this ever be back to normal? Will I lose the people that are most dear to my heart? It's a state of agony, it's the harderst thing to deal with, so it comes a moment in which you try to keep your head busy so that the 'saudade' (longing) doesn't grow any bigger", she explains.

Eduarda Amorim, en una acción de partido | Foto: Gyori Audi ETO KC
Eduarda Amorim | Foto: Gyori Audi ETO KC

The Brazilian player assures that fighting those feelings is harder than thinking about what will happen with handball in the near future, although it's that's something that also worries every player worldwide; this pandemic and the uncertainty surrounding it is messing with the planning of many athletes: "Of course, I am also thinking about how I will plan my career from now on, as my original plan was to retire from the national team after the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. These all has changed".

It is undeniable that every single person on Earth had to adapt to this new situation. Routines and schedules have become hard to follow, it's getting harder to keep motivation up as laziness has started to creepingly crawl into our every day lives; we were not made to stay indoors for this long. The confinement is messing with us and people are being emotionally affected by it, it's hard to remain focused or driven; ups and downs are becoming part of our daily lives, so Pena and Amorim have their own methods to keep up their spirits. The Brazilian player admits she might be sleeping a litlle bit more than she used to when she had to attend trainings at the club's facilities, "but I don't usually stay in bed later than 9:00", she states, and she adds that she doesn't normally go to bed later than 23:00, "I'm not one of those who stays up watching series until very late, I try to keep the same schedules for trainings in order to be organized".

But when it comes to binge-watching, Pena claims herself guilty. In fact, she shared some recommendations for all of those who are looking for something to watch and keep their minds busy to avoid the crazyness surrounding us. She laughs while confessing that she's "having a hard time" staying at home being as she has "itchy feet": "Every person is different and has its own interests, its way of living. As for me, I love being outdoors when I come to Pamplona, that's why this situation is so difficult for me; and as far as trainings...the thing is that I'm so lazy", she explains as she laughs: "I'm a team person, I need the collective support to train; I live being on the pitch, I love to play with the ball...I feel better if I can run with some friends, but doing things on my own takes a lot of effort. Of course, I'm doing my workouts, because I don't want to end up looking like a ball", she jokes.

Nerea Pena en una acción de partido | Foto: Siofok KC
Nerea Pena en una acción de partido | Foto: Siofok KC

Being at home for these many days can lead up to a downward spiral of reluctance and negativity, one that's hard to escape. Experts ensure that it is convenient to keep our minds busy and find a balance between productive activities and leisure: "I sometimes skip the schedules and do things spontaneously, but I like to keep my week organized, especially with the trainings that the club sends us", explains Amorim. "I've been doing some online courses oriented to sports psychology, I took part in some Instagram live sessions, I gave some interviews; I try to keep busy in order to avoid being idle for so long. I think this period kind of shows me what my life after handball will be like, it's a very different experience".

The Spaniard celebrates having some other projects that keep her motivated, outside of the practice of handball: "I've finished my handball coach course, for instance. I'm also doing writing my memoirs and doing a Pilates course. I try to rest when I'm at home and to take care of my body, I'm not an irresponsible person, of course; but these things help me get through the days and take me out of my routine for a change, although it's a hard time".

Amorim agrees with the fact that keeping motivation high is complicated despite the efforts. "I think this situation is difficult for everyone. For me, motivation regarding handball itself is kind of like in a "pause", she confesses, but she explains that trainings are going well so far: "I'm training with my husband so that helps a lot, as we motivate each other, but what's really helping me right now is to keep a weekly planning. There's no way to think about a long term plan at the moment, so I'm trying to stay motivated by setting up weekly goals and I achieving them", she concludes.

The five-time Champions League champion reflects on how things will be once handball is resumed after this halt, a period she compares to that of a long-term injury: "I think it will be hard to come back to the courts, we've spent too much time without touching the ball, without physical contact, without being together with the team, or for example, without having exercises that involve a decision making process. We'll have to be patient as I think it will take a while until we're back in shape and sharpened. There's a feeling of insecurity, but I know is something I can't control; I just hope that we're all healthy once we're able to get back to trainings", she explains.

The announcement of the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games was definitely the most significant news for the entire sports community during this quarantine; despite being an expected decision by the Internacional Olympic Committee, it didn't go unnoticed. "Just picture this, I was at home abiding by this quarantine while some of my teammates were running freely and carrying a rather normal life and I was here thinking that I might have to play an Olympic Games in three months, isn't that crazy? It was impossible", claims Pena. The Pamplona-born was not only concerned about her personal situation, but also looking at the bigger picture from the perspective of some other athletes, like swimmers: "It's already hard for us to train, as handball players, as we're struggling with the lack of space and all, but can you imagine what it's like for swimmers who might be far from having something similar to their normal training environment?, she reflects. For her, it was "a matter of time" for the Olympic Games to be postponed, so she received the news "with happiness" and appreciates that the ones involved in the decision making had thoroughly thought about the situation and that "all risks were avoided".

The news might have been upsetting for spectators, knowing that they'll have to wait one more year to enjoy the greatest sports event in the World, and for those who had already booked flights and accommodation, the loss of money might still be hard to digest; but for the athletes, this decision affects in more than just one way: "My idea was to stop playing with the national team after Tokyo 2020, and to finish my career playing one last season with my club", confesses Amorim, and adds that "now we don't know what the schedule's going to look like with everything that's going on; we'll probably have to train in December, and we might have a week to get together with the national team in March. All in all, I think my calendar wouldn't really change that much, the season with the club would finish in May and the Olympic Games would be in August; but what upsets me a little bit is that I'll have to postpone my plans of becoming a mother".

"It was a pity knowing that we'd have wait one more year, especially when we were only a week away from playing the Olympic Qualification tournament; because the truth is that you never know what could happen in one year, you don't know if you'll be in shape or not, if you'll be injured or what", expresses the Spanish international. "I'm not going to lie, it was hard to accept we'll have to wait one more year, also because we know next year will be very challenging physically, considering that all what's piling up. I'm happy with the decision because I think it was the right one to make, but I also have this sort of fear because it gets harder as years go by", and she insures: "My dream is to be there, so I'll try my best to prepare in the best possible way, to outdo myself physically and to take care of my body so that if we qualify, I can make it there in the best shape".

If there's a positive aspect we can highlight from this quarantine, it would be the fact that we can now enjoy some more free time, since our pace of life has drastically decreased. Both Pena and Amorim confirmed that this free time has given them the chance to focus in some other activities. "I've always organized my schedule pretty well, and during the season, when we don't train that much, I normally have time to read if I want to, or to study, I haven't changed so much in that aspect, but I did find new things to do; I'm taking some online courses, I've started yoga classes and I'm thinking about taking some cardio sessions with a friend of mine", confessed the Blumenau-born, who also commented that given that she's not being able to go eat at restaurants or a cafeteria, she's dedicating more time to her cooking.

While it's not one of the most satisfying activities for her, the Spanish centerback is also dedicating some to cooking: "All of those who know me knows that I hate cooking. I mean, I never liked it, I don't ever cook anything. I don't know how to cook, I don't like it and I'm not interested in it. In Hungary, people are used to eating outside, so I'm also used to doing that. So I think cooking thing is one of the good things about the confinement for me", she admitted while laughing and expressing her frustration towards the culinary arts: "The thing is that I'm trying my best with this, but I just can't get it right! I'm a mess! But I'm getting there...I used to whip cream, now I'm doing croquettes, some 'arroz caldoso' (brothy rice), muffins for my mother, I'm starting to make some more interesting things".


End of the season and plans for the future

On March 9th, the Hungarian Handball Federation (MKSZ, in Hungarian) issued a statement in which they informed the termination of every national competition corresponding to the 2019/20 season, no results would not be registered and no champions would be declared. The federation also confirmed that the results valid for the application for European competitions of the upcoming season would be those of the 2018/19 season.

According with that statement, the decision was made by the board of the MKSZ, which, in accordance with the laws of the Hungarian federation, is the only one with the authority to do so. The Professional Handball League, an association formed by all 28 teams from the men's and women's first division clubs, was involved in all previous discussions with the federation, in representation of all of the clubs from the different divisions; most of whom wanted to end the season as soon as possible. Some of them wanted to see final results being validated, some didn't.

"The board’s intention was to decide uniformly, with a decision which is valid for all competitions without any exception. The Board was aware that no decision would be fair for every team, but looked for a decision that caused less harm", explained the Hungarian institution.

"It was sad to end the tournament without a champion, because this could have been one more title in my career and it is important to me to be able to put that on my resume, especially now that I'm close to the end of my career. We've played almost 80% of the competition, so I think it's sad, but given the situation we're facing, in which everything is so new, I think we can't judge the decision of ending the season without a champion", commented Amorim, whose team was first in the ranking, 7 points ahead of their its closest challenger, Siófok KC, but with two more matches played at the time the competition was halted.

On the other hand, Pena distinguished two aspects regarding the federation's resolution: "I'm happy with the fact that they've decided to end the season, because I really think it's not feasible to finish it, in the short term. Knowing the situation in which me and many players are in, I think we'd need at least a month or a month and a half to be back in shape, like a preseason. So starting a new league in June, with all of the changes in the rosters, I think it's even less feasible", she strongly asserts, while she also categorically expresses her disagreement with the way the league was ceased: "As I've already expressed in my social media, to me the decision made in Hungary is completely unfair".

The fact that the Hungarian Federation has decided to take the results from season 2018/19 as valid in order to grant the rights to take part in European competitions means that Siófok KC, which was in the second place when the competition was halted, would now be out of the race for a spot in the DELO Women's EHF Champions League as they finished in third place last season. That is why the perspective of the situation, for the player who was completing her first season at her new club, has a much more complex nuance.

"I think that, from their point of view, it was an easy way to avoid dealing with many problems. I think this decision throws away eight months of hard work, not only ours, but from every team. Eight months in the life of an athlete are a lot, considering that we have a certain amount of years in which we can be active players, we risk our physique, we have injuries and physical wear", manifested Pena, who is still in awe: "I can't believe that a federation can throw away eight months of work, which not only affect this season, but also the next. I mean, it's not that because of this virus the end of the season was forced and you lost three months of your life, it's the fact that they're getting rid of eight months that directly affects the work of the next season. I've said it before, to me, this is deeply unfair".

The decisions made recently by the EHF regarding its competitions could mean that Siófok KC's chances to apply for a 'wild card' for the DELO Women's EHF Champions League are endangered. Meanwhile, Győri Audi ETO KC's participation would be secure as they were champions in the last season. As for now, both Pena and Amorim will be working towards the same goal for the near future: remaining patient and face this quarantine in the best way possible.


Quarantine recommendations

'Duda' recommends a Spotify list to play during your daily exercise routine during this quarantine: Roses Remix - SAINt JHN, Imanbek.

And these are the series Nerea thinks you shouldn't miss (if you haven't watched them yet):

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