‘2020 just won’t let up:’ Winnipegger Emily Potter, battling COVID-19 after Czech pro hoops season shut down again

Winnipeg’s Emily Potter (middle), here playing for KP Brno in the Czech Republic, has tested positive for COVID-19 along with many of her teammates and coaches. Supplied photo

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Earlier this week, Winnipegger Emily Potter summed up the recent happenings in her life with a few simple words on Twitter.

“2020 just won’t let up,” the 25-year-old pro basketball player wrote.

Like many people around the sports world, the last seven months have been a wild ride for Potter, a former Glenlawn High School and University of Utah star who is also a part of the Team Canada program.

In March, she was playing basketball with KP Brno in the Czech Republic, when the women’s pro league season was abruptly called off due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

She rushed home to Winnipeg before major travel restrictions were implemented, so as to not be stuck overseas for an extended period of time.

After spending her summer in Winnipeg, unable to train at first but eventually working back into game shape, she returned to the Czech Republic at the end of August to start her second season with KP Brno.

Four games after the season began, the entire league season was postponed again after a nationwide lockdown was ordered due to a huge spike in COVID-19 cases.

And to top it all off, this week she tested positive for COVID-19 — along with many of her coaches and teammates — and is self-isolating in a foreign country while experiencing symptoms.

“I’m managing,” she said Thursday over FaceTime from Brno.

“I think (my family in Winnipeg) is more stressed and worried about it than I am, to be honest. They’re parents, they’re my family, that’s what they do. They’re gonna worry. They’ve been trying to message me and I’ve had lots and lots of other people contacting me. Everyone’s been very concerned and very helpful.”

Potter has lost her sense of taste and smell and is battling some cold-like symptoms, but said she generally feels OK.

“It’s not ideal and being away from home is not ideal,” she said. “But you have to stay isolated by yourself anyway so it wouldn’t really matter where I am. You’ve got to stay by yourself and wait it out.”

When Potter arrived back in the Czech Republic at the end of August, she was surprised to see that there were very few restrictions in place. There was little social distancing, people were not wearing masks as a matter of course. Slowly, as her team went through training camp, cases started to rise in the country and eventually there was a big spike that led to a nationwide shutdown.

On Sept. 1, there were 499 cases in the country. Today there are 14,968.

“It felt normal,” Potter said of her first couple weeks in the country.

“You don’t think about what can go wrong or what might happen. You just have to enjoy the chances that you get to be on the court.”

Last Friday, Potter’s head coach at KP Brno tested positive for COVID-19.

The 11 team members and the rest of the coaching staff and management were tested that same day.

Potter found out that she was positive on Monday and by that time she was already experiencing symptoms. Two of her teammates and a manager also tested positive and four more were awaiting results as of Thursday.

They’ve all been in self-isolation ever since.

“It’s a little more supportive when everyone else is going through it on the team,” Potter said. “I would never wish anyone else to get sick but we’re all in it together.”

The Czech women’s basketball league season was postponed on Oct. 10 after KP Brno played its fourth game of the year (2-2 record).

Potter doesn’t believe anyone caught COVID-19 while the team was playing, but they were still doing things together as a group, outside, after the games were called off on Oct. 10.

It’s not known how long it might be before they return to the court.

“At this point, with the rest of the team also testing positive, we all need to focus on getting ourselves better first and then we can discuss getting back to basketball,” Potter said.

Potter’s not going to lie — this time has been very difficult on her. The 6-foot-5 centre/forward has devoted much of her life to basketball and has only been able to play four games since March.

“It’s a little frustrating because our season got cut short in March and I had to go home and stay there for an extended period of time and then work back to being able to get back into the gym, work back to playing basketball and then come back overseas,” she said. “You hope things will be back to normal like they were before.

“It’s a little frustrating to have things seem like they’re starting over again, but we all have a little bit of experience with it. You just have to focus on what you can control because I’m not the one ordering lockdowns or making the big decisions.”

Having been through all this and still dealing with the symptoms of COVID-19 and self-isolation, Potter has a message for people back home in Manitoba, another place where there is a big spike of coronavirus cases.

“Obviously you need to take the right precautions and it’s proven,” she said. “Those things do work. Everyone was masked up here and social distancing and when they took those measures away that’s when the cases began to rise. It’s very true that it’s very contagious and spreads very easily.

“Everyone has to do their part.”

 Potter creates ‘Colour Me Calm’ book to help people deal with mental health challenges

The year started with such promise for Emily Potter.

She was in the midst of her first pro season in Europe when 2020 began. Early in the year she began working on a project to create her own colouring book, specifically designed to help people who are working through struggles with mental illnesses.

Potter has been open about her own struggles with depression and anxiety and she has always found colouring to be a way of easing her mind.

She created the “Colour Me Calm” book during her time in Europe last winter and had it printed in Winnipeg during the off-season.

“Colouring was something that I did in my spare time just to sort of relax, decompress, take my mind of things,” she said. “I was going through lots of colouring books so I decided to create my own.

“I’ve been selling it and using the funds for different mental health initiatives for a fundraiser that I run.”

It’s called the Sarah Strong Fundraiser, in honour of her friend Sarah Ibrahim, a rising Manitoba basketball star who took her own life in 2017 at the age of 21.

It was created to promote mental health, eliminate the stigma around mental health and encourage people to talk about it. Potter and others involved in Manitoba basketball have held fundraisers, awarded scholarships and are working on trying to put mental health in the open.

“We want to make it something that we talk about just as openly and as often as we talk about our physical health,” Potter said.

“I have my own struggles with depression and anxiety and it’s something that takes work to manage. Every day I have to manage my body and my health and wellness. You just need to put in the time and effort in both areas, they’re just as important. Being able to talk about it, knowing who can reach out to for help, has been great for me. I feel like I’ve made lots of strides just being able to better care for myself and my mental health.”

It has been a brutal year for those with mental health issues and even those who never thought they were affected by such things. The COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed the lives of more than a million people worldwide and has played havoc with people’s every day lives in every corner of the planet, is making things so much worse.

In March, few people ever thought we’d still be dealing with all this now in October.

The length of the pandemic, the lack of social contact with people, the anxiety of an unknown illness, can all be crippling.

“It’s a pandemic in itself right now,” Potter said.

“It’s a disease that can potentially be deadly for some people and not have a lot of effects on others. It’s a lot of anxiety and stress going around. If you don’t have certain systems in place or you’re not aware of certain mental health issues, it can be really hard to manage.

“I’ve tried to recreate social gatherings over FaceTime or over Zoom and I’m just trying to find ways and simple little things you can do to brighten up your day when it feels like this is never ending.”

Twyman@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/Ted_Wyman

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