Resilient Athletes

USA rugby player on the front lines of a pandemic


This ongoing photo series examines the ways the coronavirus pandemic has upended and reshaped athletes' lives.

Tess Feury is no stranger to stress or death or personal risk at work. Nursing comes with a unique set of challenges. But the rise of the coronavirus pandemic changed everything for the pediatric intensive care nurse on the front lines at Morristown (New Jersey) Medical Center. It not only altered her role as an essential worker in health care, but also as a member of the USA women's national rugby team. The 24-year-old fullback is now faced with balancing difficult, 12-hour shifts three days a week with in-home training for USA Rugby.

After graduating with a B.S. in nursing from Penn State in 2018, Feury returned home to New Jersey and got a job in the pediatric intensive care unit at Morristown Medical Center. "I think every little challenge I've ever had in both rugby and health care have been slowly preparing me for a situation like this," Feury says. "Before this all happened, you have a bad night at work where it's really busy, a lot of things happening, and you may feel uncomfortable, but you make it through. And those nights throughout my years in nursing have slowly prepared me for this." Courtesy of Tess Feury
"Taking time to myself has been more important than ever," Feury says. "My favorite way to de-stress is to take a walk down to the lake with my dogs [Jersey and Jack]."
In March, USA Rugby suspended all sanctioned competitions and rugby activities, which means a lot of missed time on the field and road for Feury. The Women's Eagles' full back was named to the USA Rugby Club Sevens National Championship All-Tournament Team from 2016 to 2018. KLC FOTOS
Feury's father, Tom, is a U18 girls coach for Morris women's rugby. Since all Morris games were suspended in April until further notice, Tom has been getting his rugby fix by helping his daughter train at home. "I get my training done with help and get to spend quality time with my family," Feury says. "... He has been so helpful in setting up creative drills in the yard to make my training as game-like as possible." Courtesy of Tess Feury
Feury receives full workouts from USA Rugby, which have been adjusted to make at-home training easier for the players. "I'm really trying to focus on the little things I can do," Feury says. "More focus on skill work and things that in the past, I might not have had time to do because I had full-team practices. Now I can hone in on my individual skills."
Even on the most hectic days, Feury still finds peace where she can. "I love how, no matter what kind of day I have at work or during my workouts, the lake always stays the same," Feury says. "It's a calming sense of normal that I've known my whole life."
Feury's mother, KJ, is also a nurse at the Morristown Medical Center working an opposite shift. "Having that person that you can kind of open up to and say, 'I'm going through this too,' has really been helpful," Feury says. "We only see each other in passing, but we try to have dinner every night before I leave for work which is a really special time for us to just talk about our days and let go of any stress that we have because we know we're both kind of going through it." Courtesy of Tess Feury
As hectic as the work shift can be, Feury's spirits are always lifted by the little gestures of love and support from her community. "The posters people leave outside of the hospital and all the text messages I get, those little things make a big difference just to keep me motivated to go to work every day," Feury says.
Feury's passion for nursing began in high school. She was inspired by her mother, who began her nursing career 40 years ago during the AIDS epidemic and has worked through narcotic crises, the H1N1 outbreak and now COVID-19. "I wanted to use my passion of helping others to help change the world, too," Feury says. "Nursing was the perfect profession for that. I have the opportunity to make a tangible impact on someone's life every day. To me, that's not even work, but what I owe to the world after it's been so good to me."
"Going into work now, I feel like I'm a little more anxious, like most people, than usual so I feel like I have to mentally prepare a little more," Feury says. "I'm always focused at work, but I feel like because it's kind of a different environment than what we're used to, I just really have to make sure I'm on my toes and I'm ready for it."
"I feel like one day I was having a normal life and hanging out with my friends, and the next day it was all zapped," Feury said. "I just feel like that first week or two of uncertainty was pretty stressful for me, but now that we know a little more about what to expect, it's getting better." Courtesy of Tess Feury
“I have the opportunity to make a tangible impact on someone's life every day. To me, that's not even work, but what I owe to the world after it's been so good to me.”
Immediately upon entering the hospital before a shift, Feury is given a surgical mask and an official checks her temperature. Courtesy of Tess Feury
After being screened, Feury heads to her unit to change into hospital-issued surgical scrubs and rubber shoes. Only then can she begin her shift. Courtesy of Tess Feury
"The little wins that we're seeing at the hospital are so huge," Feury says. "When a patient gets discharged, you have a better feeling than you usually do. They're so happy that they're going home and I just feel like the outpouring of love from the community that we've seen has been so inspiring and the little well wishes really are keeping health care workers going." Courtesy of Tess Feury
The gym in Feurys' basement, known as the Feury House of Pain, was established 10 years ago for Feury to train together with her brothers, Blaze and Jake, also rugby players. The gym started with a wrestling mat and a set of weights purchased by their father. "My brother Jake added the creative name and the sign," Feury says. "We slowly added equipment to the Feury House of Pain, making it the awesome home weight room it is today." Courtesy of Tess Feury
"We're not sure how the rest of our year looks season-wise," Feury says, "so obviously it's difficult to train when you don't have an end point. I'm really trying to focus on the little things I can do."
“The little wins that we're seeing at the hospital are so huge. When a patient gets discharged, you have a better feeling than you usually do.”
"It's kind of just doing my best to keep to that schedule I had before this even happened, but I think the main challenge is being confined to the house," she says. "It's really just getting a mental focus down to be able to stay on your own and push yourself without those external factors helping you."
Feury has been attending video stretching sessions led by Jake, who plays center for Rugby United New York and owns Stretch, an assisted stretching and athletic recovery facility in New Jersey. "Both my brothers have always looked out for me and have done so much to help me achieve my goals," she says. "The virtual recovery sessions at Stretch Recovery Lounge with Jake have helped me tremendously is optimizing my recovery between long nursing shifts on my feet and my USA workouts." Courtesy of Tess Feury
"Whenever I'm having a little panic attack or stressed about something, [my mom] has always been the person to calm me down," Feury says. "She always knows the right things to say. 'Day by day' is really the main thing she tells me. Day by day. The sun will come up tomorrow."
Written by Maya Jones

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