40,000 Steps

Sprung from quarantine, we stretched our legs — and our limits — about as far as they could go.

Author: José Sánchez Córdova

It was on one of those long, boring quarantine nights that a seed was sown. I was on the phone with a friend in the same situation. And after a few hours on the phone, she said: “I just feel like I have to make up for this. Like I’ve been in here for the last week when I should’ve been out there walking around campus.” And that was it. At that moment we resolved to make up for the walking we had lost out on while in quarantine.

I had arrived on campus as a freshman in August 2020 feeling overwhelmingly blessed. So many of my high school friends had stayed behind, taking classes on Zoom or taking a gap year and going to work every day. I was glad that, of all the things COVID took — from my senior baseball and track seasons to graduation and prom — at least it didn’t take the start of my college life away from home.

Of course, there were caveats. We wore masks everywhere and couldn’t congregate in big groups, we had to get tested often and we couldn’t eat in the dining hall normally. It was all designed to slow the spread and keep us safe on campus as we pursued our education. As Father Jenkins said in his New York Times opinion piece: “We believe the good of educating students and continuing vital research is very much worth the remaining risk.” And I believed it.

But it wasn’t even about that, I had simply reached the point where I was so ready to leave the house and begin my journey through college that I was willing to just go for it and take the risk. I, quite selfishly, thought to myself at the time “I’m 18 years old. Even if I get it, I’ll be fine.” And I’m sure that I wasn’t alone in this sentiment. In fact, I believe it was this feeling of youthful invulnerability that led many other Notre Dame students to go through with their syllabus week party plans, many that flagrantly disregarded the restrictions put in place by the university and the local government.

It was at lunch in the north dining hall tent that I heard from one of my new friends of barely a week that he had gone one of these off-campus parties. And then someone else there tested positive for COVID. And then my friend did. That landed me in quarantine for seven days as a close contact barely two weeks after my first class. I was isolated at the Ivy Court Inn, looking out at Twyckenham Drive through the window of my hotel room.

I never tested positive, and I never felt sick. So, for a week I did little besides going to Zoom classes and pacing around my room trying to figure out different ways to keep myself occupied. I watched all seven seasons of Brooklyn Nine-Nine during that week. Sprawled out on the admittedly nice queen bed, I watched TV shows, movies and sports to pass the time.

I even started to play some sports myself. Maybe inspired by seeing Luka Dončić hit a ridiculous game-winner against the Clippers in the playoffs, I pulled the trash can out of my bathroom and began shooting the spare toilet paper roll like a basketball. Regardless, it was obvious that I was crazy to get out of there and move around, to stretch my legs.

Cordova Covid Essay
The author, right, and a friend take a load off their feet on the Library Lawn.

So, on that phone call with my friend, we set a goal of walking 40,000 steps — a little under 20 miles — in one day after we got out. Then the first Saturday after we were released, I walked to Badin Hall where I picked her up at 10 a.m. so we could set off and honor our agreement.

We began walking across south quad toward Eddy Street Commons, taking a stroll through the Sculpture Park behind the architecture building. We walked the edge of campus along Angela Boulevard and then turned north onto Twyckenham behind all the athletic facilities. We went by hockey rink, the track and field venue, softball, baseball, lacrosse and all the others. We also walked unnervingly close to the site of my quarantine; a place I had wished I’d never see again.1

1 A small aside here, to say that unfortunately I wasn’t so lucky. In a cruel twist of fate, when my aunt and uncle drove up from St. Louis to help me move out of my dorm at the end of freshman year, they got a hotel room for the night. At the Ivy Court Inn. Not just that, IT WAS THE EXACT SAME ROOM. I am not kidding. It felt like something out of a movie when I rode that elevator up to the third floor again. This time around I had to sleep on the pull out sofa instead of the queen bed though.

I don’t remember what we were talking about as we walked, and I know my friend doesn’t either. All I know is it must’ve been a good conversation because we walked together for about four hours. At some point we cut across campus, walking by Touchdown Jesus and the Golden Dome on our way to the lakes. We must’ve circled St. Joseph’s and St Mary’s lakes about five times before we decided to take a break for lunch.

We could feel the hunger creeping up on us, so we walked to LaFun where we had some Subway. At a little over 16,000 steps, we were not even halfway there when we took that break. As we sat on the Fieldhouse Mall eating our sandwiches, it was becoming clear to both of us that walking 40,000 steps was a more ambitious goal than we realized. Regardless, we kept going.

We did plenty more laps around the lakes, then walked down toward the golf course and McGlinn Fields. We even walked through the cemetery near the entrance to campus. We were at almost 34,000 steps when she decided she had enough. Our legs were aching, and the sun was setting and as we trudged to south dining hall for dinner, she told me that she was done. I felt a little betrayed, but I understood why. My legs were feeling like jelly at this point, and the excitement of being out of quarantine had long worn off.  But at 34,000 steps, I was too close to quit then.

It was barely 8 p.m. when we finished dinner, meaning I had plenty of time before midnight to walk my way to 40,000. Then I got a call from another friend, “Hey Joche, we’re going out to Library Lawn in a half hour to watch a movie, wanna come?” I said yes. Mostly because I missed my friends I hadn’t seen in a week, but also, I was just tired and wanted an excuse to take a break from walking.

So, I headed back to my dorm, took a cold shower, and put some fresh clothes on before walking to Library Lawn. My friends were already there, lying on a big blanket they had put out on the grass. It was a beautiful, crisp night and we all laid there together watching Aladdin on a small computer screen. But while Jafar was scheming, my mind wandered to the 5,000 or so steps that I had left. And I resolved to finish them.

My legs were killing me, my ankles and shins shooting constant pain all the way up to my lower back which seemed to pulsate with every step. But I just had to do it. So I did laps around library lawn for the last few hours of the day. From the reflecting pool to the stadium and back. Over and over and over again. Those final 5,000 steps were the hardest, but that final step made it all worth it. When I saw that step tracker update from 39,996 to 40,002, I collapsed on the grass and the pain became joy.

José Sánchez Córdova is a rising junior from Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, majoring in political science and minoring in journalism. He lives in Knott Hall, works for Fighting Irish Media and covers sports for The Observer.