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A summer gone sideways: Coronavirus upended the big plans Colorado teens had for their break

They were supposed to travel, work and attend sports camps, but as the pandemic remains a threat, teens have had to reimagine summer.

The view of Spanish Peaks, looking south, on June 11, 2019. (Mike Sweeney, Special to The Colorado Sun)
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For many teenagers, the start of summer offers all kinds of promises and a new taste of freedom.

Beyond a much-needed study break and time to exhale, it opens students up to travel opportunities, jobs to rake in extra money or the chance to brush up on skills in sports, science and arts camps.

As students have eased into the first month of summer this year, many of those promises and part of that freedom have evaporated with the coronavirus still crawling through Colorado. Even as the number of cases has dropped significantly, the pandemic still poses a threat.

For teens in particular, that means summer days are often unfolding at a slower pace. Some are finding themselves spending a lot more time at home than anticipated, which also has them in close quarters with their families (for better or worse). Some are getting creative and not letting the coronavirus stop them from the sports and projects that feed their passions. And some are bound and determined to still have a good summer, even if their plans have crumbled.

The Colorado Sun interviewed a handful of teens throughout the state to capture a snapshot of how their lives have changed and what summer looks like in the midst of a pandemic.


A slow summer marked by “semi-secret” football practices

Garett Lopez, 18, meets up with teammates from his high school football team for “semi-secret” football practices usually six days a week. (Garett Lopez, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Last summer was a whirlwind of international travel followed by an internship for Garett Lopez.

The 18-year-old wanted to dial this summer down to be more “average,” but it’s been even slower than he bargained for, thanks to the coronavirus. 

While the rising Cañon City High School senior imagined his early summer days would be consumed by work shifts and football practice, he has yet to do either. He wakes up later than he’d like to and occasionally studies for the ACT and the SAT. 

His days will soon start to accelerate, at least a little, as he begins a job on the grounds crew at Echo Canyon River Expeditions near the Royal Gorge.

As for football, Lopez has found a way to improvise while he and his teammates wait for official practice to start this summer. A group of eight or so players, mostly incoming seniors, gathers for “semi-secret” football practices usually six days a week, focusing on route-running skills and capping some of the practice sessions with a competitive game. 

Lopez, a lineman, said he and his teammates share a love of the sport along with a competitive streak and they all want to stick with the sport and get stronger and faster. They created their own practice schedule when it looked like official practice might be off for the whole summer break.

The first few covert practices Lopez attended were almost liberating, reuniting him with peers he enjoys being around for exercise and competition.

“It’s really energizing and it’s a lot of fun,” he said.

Lopez said he understands the need to curb the coronavirus, though with few cases in Fremont County, it’s challenging to be sidelined. He noted that people aren’t seeing the need to take necessary precautions against the pandemic, and as cases remain low even as they don’t follow through with precautions, those precautions feel pointless.

Lopez, who hopes to study engineering at the Colorado School of Mines, is trying to make the most of the extraordinary summer.

“I don’t want to sit at home doing nothing,” he said. “I really want to make the best of it. Memories can be made in tough situations, and so I’m just trying to do my best to make a little money right now and have a good time on the side.”

And, after a stressful few months of remote learning and anticipating a hectic fall, he’s grateful for the chance to coast this summer.

“I really needed a break, so to me this summer has kind of been my own blessing,” Lopez said. “I had a pretty long, strenuous school year, so although it’s admittedly far less exciting than last summer it’s exactly what I wanted.”

Trading in family trips for boredom

Simone Heath, 16, dribbles a basketball. Simone, who had hoped to visit family across the country this summer, has spent part of break playing volleyball and basketball with friends at the park. She also planned to practice basketball and play games through her school this summer. That wasn’t possible in May because of the coronavirus, but players will be able to get back into the gym this month in small groups. (Valencia Heath, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Simone Heath was eyeing summer as a time to make more memories with family members who live across the country from her home in Colorado Springs.

The 16-year-old, who will be a junior at Sierra High School this fall, was ready to jet to Las Vegas in May and Virginia in July to visit family. With the coronavirus continuing to rage across the country, Simone stayed put in May. She may have to again next month, depending on the severity of the pandemic.

“Now that (COVID-19) is here, social distancing is getting more important, and I don’t want to risk my family members and their kids getting sick so I’m going to just stay home until we’re clear,” she said.

One trip canceled and another hanging in the balance are part of a string of disappointments for Simone, who also missed out on a spring break cruise in April thanks to the coronavirus.

The Colorado Springs native has devoted about a month of previous summers to visiting aunts, uncles and cousins who live there.

“It’s like going home,” she said.

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The coronavirus also has delayed getting her driver’s permit — though that hasn’t fazed her — and crushed her plans to play basketball over the summer so far. Typically, she takes part in summer workouts, basketball practices and games against other schools. None of that has been possible this summer, though players will be able to start going back into the gym this month in small groups.

All the letdowns have added up to a somewhat boring summer.

“I’m just trying to figure out what to do at home, just keeping myself occupied,” Simone said. That includes cleaning and drawing — doing her part to social distance — or venturing to the park to play volleyball or basketball mostly with friends.

Apart from also going to amusement parks, Simone’s day-to-day activities aren’t all that different from how she’s spent her time over past summers while at home.

Still, she’s sad the coronavirus has thwarted her summer plans, especially her chances to see family. But sticking close to home has allowed her to spend more time with her mother, and she’s trying to keep a sunny outlook on the rest of her break.

“As long as I keep believing that (coronavirus) will get better and people will start healing, then our summer can get better.”

Canceled fairs, college visits dampen summer fun

Brinn Thomas, 17, has been fishing with her family in the mountains this summer in the midst of the coronavirus. (Brinn Thomas, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Two high points of Brinn Thomas’ summers revolve around crowds of people.

The rising Centauri High School senior anxiously awaits Manassa Pioneer Days and the Ski-Hi Stampede, a rodeo in Monte Vista, each July. 

She doesn’t recall having missed a Pioneer Days celebration in her life and bets she’s been to about a dozen Stampede events in her 17 years.

“Both of the big celebrations are, like, really important to our community,” she said.

But with the coronavirus continuing to put lives in danger across Colorado communities, both have been erased from the calendar.

That means there will be no no food, no carnival, no parade, no rodeo and no demolition derby at Pioneer Days and no carnival, no rodeo and no concert with a headlining country artist at the Stampede.

Brinn, who lives in La Jara, understands why neither event can be held this year.

“It’s just sad, but we’ll all get through it,” she said.

On the upside, Brinn is spending more time with her parents and younger brother.

“I’ve realized that I didn’t get to spend as much time with them as I do now, which is really nice,” she said.

The four often head to the mountains, where they fish and ride on four-wheelers — what’s become their “main source of entertainment,” Brinn said.

The coronavirus has also snagged plans with the teenager’s friends, whom she normally hangs out with at a community pool or the movies. While one community pool requires making a reservation, the other hasn’t yet opened, she said.

Come later this month, Brinn will be busier as she starts two English classes through Adams State University.

She’s also trying to dive deeper into exploring colleges to get a better sense of what direction she wants to take after graduation. The pandemic hasn’t made that process any easier.

Brinn and her parents were planning to visit in-state college campuses this summer, including Colorado State University, Fort Collins; University of Colorado, Colorado Springs; CSU-Pueblo; and CU Denver. Because of the coronavirus, in-person campus tours have been converted to virtual ones, which leaves students like Brinn hanging. 

Without being able to get a feel for the campuses, Brinn said she’ll have a harder time determining what kind of school she wants to attend.

But she recognizes that her attitude about the summer will define it.

“We’re all stuck at home, but if you have a good attitude about it I feel like you’ll be fine.”

Life in the fields disrupted

Malcom Lovejoy, 16, helps cut wheat during harvest. Malcom said that as the coronavirus has affected farmers and altered the prices of wheat and other grains, one consequence will be less for his employer to cut and less profit. (Malcom Lovejoy, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Last June, Malcom Lovejoy’s job at DLT Harvesting and Hauling planted him in wheat fields, where about all his waking hours were consumed by cutting wheat.

During harvest that month, he would wander out into the fields at about 7 a.m., working with crews harvesting until 11 p.m., seven days a week.

Malcom, 16, is back in the same fields this summer. He typically continues working for DLP — which has two components, one in harvesting and another in hauling — throughout the school year, when he has time on weekends. 

The student, who will be a junior at Campo High School this fall, returned to his job in May, after his boss wanted to limit the number of people coming to work when the pandemic hit.

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Much of his job now looks the same as it did last year, though it likely won’t throughout the summer. Malcom said that as the coronavirus has affected farmers and altered the prices of wheat and other grains, many farmers will bring in a lot less than they normally would and many won’t bring in anything this harvest. They won’t necessarily be able to pay to have wheat cut and instead might just bale it. 

He said that means the business will be cutting a lot less and losing profit.

Work is a priority for Malcom, but he also had plans to attend sports camps for football and potentially track, shotput and discus — which have been canceled. Additionally, he had a 4-H camp lined up and was going to continue the tradition of showing animals in the Baca County Fair. The coronavirus has put an end to the camp and will likely jeopardize the fair, which draws the county together, he said, with most kids in the southeast Colorado county showing livestock. 

Most of the children who would regularly show livestock have already purchased their animals and equipment, he said, but without a fair, there won’t be a sale at which kids have the opportunity to make money.

“And without that, it’s a big loss on a lot of families,” he said.

Malcom’s family also is struggling with the prospect of a canceled county fair. They raise show sheep and had 11 lambs this year. Typically, they would sell the animals that Malcolm and his brothers did not plan to show, but other families have decided not to purchase show animals considering how tentative the fair remains.

The county could still hold a smaller livestock show, Malcom said, but the auction afterwards would attract a lot fewer people.

Even as the coronavirus has disrupted Malcom’s summer routine, the season doesn’t feel much different from years past.

“Us living all the way out here, I already don’t see a lot of people so not a lot’s changed with all of this,” he said.

After high school, Malcom is leaning toward a career in the military. He was slated to visit a few colleges during the school year, but the coronavirus interfered with his trip. It’s also, however, gifted him more time.

“And if anything, it’s just given me more time to kind of do my own research as to career paths,” he said

An anxiety-filled transition to college

Haley Valdez, 18, is spending the summer working on a project designed to teach high school and middle school students more about climate change and organizing an initiative around the Black Lives Matter movement. Valdez will attend the University of Southern California, where she wants to study public policy, in the fall. (Haley Valdez, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Haley Valdez graduated from STRIVE Prep – RISE in Denver last month and is looking ahead to her next chapter with a mixture of anxiety and excitement.

Valdez, 18, aimed to get a job this summer at Amazon’s Aurora warehouse, but abandoned that plan when some employees became infected with the coronavirus.

“I don’t want to put myself at risk and I don’t want to put my family members at risk, especially after all the precautions we’ve taken these last few months,” she said.

Instead, she’s now focused on her work as a student adviser for Colorado Environmental Science and Climate Institute on a project designed to teach high school and middle school students more about climate change.

Valdez has also helped take charge of organizing a youth-led protest for the Black Lives Matter movement, building on the momentum of other demonstrations throughout Denver and across the country in the past week, following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Alongside some other recent graduates, Valdez created an initiative called Denver Metro BLM, with an initial protest held on Saturday. Valdez and her peers are passionate about social justice issues and want to show community members that there are a lot of young people in the area who really care.

Valdez is trying to stay optimistic as she sets out to have a productive summer before she leaves for the University of Southern California, where she wants to study public policy.

USC will offer in-person classes this fall, she said. She’s preparing to move to campus and feeling anxious along the way.

Valdez has been keeping up with the university’s social media and watching videos about what orientation and the first day of classes will look like. There’s so much school spirit, but she doesn’t know how that will play out this coming year.

“I was excited for that aspect of coming into school, but I’m just wondering what that’s going to look like when there’s so much darkness in the world right now,” Valdez said.

A small part of her is eager for a change of scenery after being locked in a house the past couple of months. 

But her anxiety overshadows her enthusiasm. Even before the coronavirus, the idea of moving away from home to a new place was daunting, she said.

“There’s an entire pandemic happening and that makes it 10 times worse,” she said.


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