Canadian athletes scramble to return home
National women's team member was playing in Poland when league was shut down
A whirlwind week for Kayla Alexander landed her safely home in Milton, Ont., on Saturday night.
It was about a month ago the Canadian forward joined Polish pro basketball team Arka Gdynia as a mid-season addition hopeful to provide a boost ahead of the playoffs.
But like nearly every other sports league in the world, Basket Liga Kobiet — the league which houses Arka Gdynia — shut down its season amid the global coronavirus outbreak.
Alexander, 29, says she is currently self-isolating at home out of precaution. She feels no symptoms, but she's only leaving the house to go grocery shopping. She's also making an effort to stay away from her parents, who are older and more at risk from the virus.
"For selfish reasons, I was looking forward to playing again because I had just come back from injury and I just got back with the national team so I was looking forward to playing and then when this happened I was like real upset, disappointed," Alexander said.
"But in the grand scheme of life, the sport of basketball has taught me how to deal with adversity and adapt when things don't go your way."
Similar beats as North American leagues
The Polish league went through similar motions as its North American counterparts before ultimately deciding on cancellation.
First, they planned on just postponing a few games. Then one game was to be cancelled.
"And then they cancelled all of the season — like the playoffs, everything. So it was a really quick turnaround," Alexander said.
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The decision came one day after the Polish president's ban on mass events last Tuesday. The league named Alexander's Arka Gdynia the champions after mathematically clinching the regular season title.
As of Tuesday night, Poland has reported 238 cases of COVID-19.
Alexander originally planned on staying to spend a few days with with her new teammates after the season shut down. Then news arrived Poland would be closing its borders to foreigners as of Sunday.
Under normal circumstances, the team would arrange a flight for the players to return home. But with heavy demand to leave, the players were told to book their own flights and offered reimbursement.
Alexander was home by Saturday night.
Stuck in Siberia
Not every Canadian national team member has been as lucky as Alexander, however.
While the Russian women's basketball league has shut down amid the sweeping COVID-19 pandemic, Ruth Hamblin's team was still scheduling mandatory practices as of Tuesday. Leaving meant breaking her contract and losing any pay she was owed.
Hamblin returned to North America on Wednesday only to learn she'd been fined for leaving early.
"The hardest part going through this is just the way my club is treating me right now," she told The Canadian Press in a shaky voice on Tuesday. "There's no empathy. There's no understanding about what's going on. And I'm not even asking to be paid out. I just want to leave, and get the money for the days that I have worked and have a flight home and they're absolutely treating me like [expletive].
"That's really hard. Especially being away from family and having this global epidemic and it's unprecedented. And then to be in an environment that doesn't respect how you feel and what you need emotionally is really tough."
Hamblin and Canadian teammates Jamie Scott and Miah-Marie Langlois are all starters for Dynamo Novosibirsk, and members of Canada's national women's team. Langlois returned home from Russia on Wednesday as well, while Scott planned to stick it out in Siberia.
'Control the controllable'
Alexander said she's been in touch with Hamblin.
"I know her situation's been a little crazy over there and she's just trying to figure out what to do. I don't want to get too much into it, but I have been in contact with her and I'm just hoping she gets out of Russia in one piece and back home."
Alexander also said she's received numerous emails from both Canada Basketball and the WNBA, with each checking in on where she is in the world and to confirm that she is healthy.
The WNBA also offered help to bring her home. But safe and sound at home already, Alexander is focused on "controlling the controllable" and upholding her responsibilities as a Canadian in time of crisis.
"So crazy we're living in surreal times, but I feel like if we're doing what we're supposed to do to take care of one another, self-quarantine and practice good hygiene and social distancing, this will be a distant memory hopefully."
With files from The Canadian Press