GAINESVILLE, Florida – Daytime Emanuely de Oliveira bid farewell to her University of Florida women’s basketball teammates and coaches in March 2020, no one was sure when they would see each other again.
The onset of the global coronavirus pandemic in the United States had interrupted the Gators’ season, closed classrooms, created political chaos and sent Oliveira home to her native Brazil to wait for the storm to end. Oliveira realized she wouldn’t be going home for a week or two, but at the time, youthful optimism reigned over the day.
âI took clothes to stay two months, three months maximum,â she said this week. âIt happened in December and I was like, ‘I’m still here. “I’m not patient at all and I had to be. Sometimes at first I would get pissed off and angry and frustrated. I would talk to my mom. She’s really patient. I’ve definitely learned to be patient and to wait, because there was nothing I could do about it. “
In the months that followed, as the United States adjusted to life during the pandemic and safety protocols were developed to allow the resumption of college sports and other normal activities, Oliveira attempted to return to the United States. United States to prepare for the start of his junior season. However, the COVID-19 crisis had swept through Brazil and forced closures and shut down government offices. In a country that has its share of political and cultural turmoil, the pandemic has created more instability than usual. According to Reuters, Brazil COVID-19 death toll expected to exceed 500,000 Saturday, the highest official death toll recorded outside the United States, which has a population about 119 million more than Brazil.
Oliveira’s regained patience turned out to be a blessing. She wouldn’t be coming back to Florida anytime soon.
Despite repeated efforts to get a visa to return to the United States – Oliveira said she made 18 online appointments that were canceled because government offices were closed – she found herself stranded in her hometown of CriciÃºma, a town of about 220,000 inhabitants of the state. of Santa Catarina in the south-east of the country.
She continued to take her UF classes online, but as her teammates and coaches gathered in late summer to start preparing for the modified 2020-21 season, Oliveira resigned herself to shooting. the best of a difficult situation. A guard / forward who started breaking through the regular rotation in second year, Oliveira found solace in the fact that she was with her parents and in-laws for the first time in over three years.
And his older brother, NatÃ¡n, his growing playing partner.
NatÃ¡n, 23, is two years older than Emanuely. They mainly played soccer together before Emanuely turned to basketball and earned a spot in Brazil’s Under-15 and Under-17 national teams. Soon NatÃ¡n started playing the game and left home to play point guard for a club team in another part of Brazil.
These days NatÃ¡n is back in his hometown to study and work to become a physiotherapist. Time spent at Emanuely’s home gave the two the opportunity to reunite after several years of separation.
âIt was a special moment,â NatÃ¡n said this week on a Zoom call from Brazil. “We were away from each other for so long, being able to help him train, for me that was a really good time. We have a great relationship as a brother and sister.”
To stay in shape and work on his skills, Emanuely often relied on NatÃ¡n’s help during the 6am filming sessions before heading to work. He would bounce back and defend himself on days when government lockdowns allowed local parks and courts to open.
âAt first we couldn’t leave, just for specific things if we really had to,â Emanuely said. “In December, we could go out and park and everything, wearing a mask. We could be away for a while.”
After coming to the United States to finish high school and play basketball at a prep academy in Utah, Oliveira paid a recruiting visit to Florida. She figured she wouldn’t be attending any school on an official visit, but the UF campus and the Gators hooked her up. When she finished her final year at Wasatch Academy in Mt. Pleasant, Utah, Oliveira came straight to Florida to start college, the start of the longest period of her life without returning home.
As the Gators reunited last year and started the season, Oliveira has kept in touch with coaches and teammates through Zoom. The team’s video coordinator would upload the team’s matches to a streaming service so that they could watch replays of the matches.
During one match, Oliveira noticed a cardboard cutout of her on the bench, a symbol that she still belonged to the team.
âIt was weird, but I really liked it,â she said. It was hard not to be here. I was sad. I was really sad. There are things we can’t really think about. We just have to go through it. I think what made the year a great year was just being able to be with my family.
“But the whole year has been tough. Everything would be fine for a week or two, then go back to containment. It’s always like that.”
Besides the COVID-19 pandemic, CriciÃºma and other small towns in Brazil have experienced a wave of gang robberies and more frequent violence in major cities across the country. The chaos in his normally sleepy hometown made headlines around the world.
“It was a surreal scene,” said ClÃ©sio Salvaro, mayor of CriciÃºma. in a TV interview in December according to New York Times. “The city was left in a state of panic.”
Yet Oliveira said in addition to being forced to stay indoors for long periods of time due to government restrictions during the pandemic, her family has fared well over the past 16 months. She said three members of her immediate family contracted COVID-19 but have recovered.
Just two months ago, Oliveira still had no idea when she might return to the United States. Finally, the government offices reopened at the beginning of May and an appointment to obtain his visa was effectively held. At the meeting, she was told that she was allowed to return whenever she wanted.
âShe was happy,â NatÃ¡n said. “She was also a little worried, leaving her family here. I understood that she had to leave for something bigger. She was happy and eager to come back and play.”
For her long-awaited return, Oliveira had to make a four-hour drive with her family from her hometown to a larger city to catch a flight to SÃ£o Paulo, where after landing there, she took a flight to New York. Once in New York, she connected with Orlando and eventually returned to Gainesville on June 10.
When Oliveira arrived at the team’s training center – 453 days after returning to Brazil – the head coach Cam Newbauer and assistant coach Kelly rae finley greeted him at the door with big hugs.
Oh Manu, how we missed you! ð§¡ð
Welcome to the house! ðð pic.twitter.com/DncJubCkK0
– Gators Women’s Basketball (@GatorsWBK) June 11, 2021
Newbauer wanted to see his face behind the mask Oliveira wore.
âIt’s good to see you again,â he said.
Oliveira continues the transition to life in the United States and on the UF campus. She said it’s weird that you’ve regained your freedom and not having to wear a mask everywhere you go. Another type of adjustment is workouts and weight lifting.
Yet after what she’s been through, there is nowhere else that Oliveira would rather be.
âI feel like I’m in freshman again,â she said. “It made me see that I really wanted to be here and play. I’m just trying to come back and help the team as much as I can, because last year I couldn’t.”