Cvancara Adjusts To Learning, Running In A Pandemic World
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ruth Cvancara (left) and other Alaska Anchorage nusring students took part in clinical rotations at Providence Alaska Medical Center.
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ruth Cvancara (left) and other Alaska Anchorage nusring students took part in clinical rotations at Providence Alaska Medical Center.
Cvancara was the runner-up in the 800 meters at the GNAC Indoor Track Championships and was part of the Seawolves' eighth-place NCAA Cross Country Championships squad.
Cvancara was the runner-up in the 800 meters at the GNAC Indoor Track Championships and was part of the Seawolves' eighth-place NCAA Cross Country Championships squad.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020
by Blake Timm, Assistant Commissioner For Communications

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Although she is used to running near the front, Ruth Cvancara was running from behind on the first day of her summer clinical rotation.

When third-year students in the University of Alaska Anchorage’s nursing program arrive at Providence Alaska Medical Center, a certain level of training is expected. Administering medication. Working with IVs. Handling common medical equipment.

But like Cvancara’s 2020 track and field season, the hands-on nursing study ground to a halt in March. A canceled spring rotation in the hospital due to the COVID-19 pandemic meant learning many of those skills online. The expectation, however, was to be ready to do it in person when summer came.

“A nurse asked, ‘Have you ever given insulin before?’ And the answer was ‘no,’” Cvancara said. “I had practiced things like flushing IVs and setting up medications in the lab. It was all new, doing it in real life.”

Much like everything since the pandemic changed life in March, the lack of experience that Cvancara and other UAA nursing students presented was treated with grace and understanding.

“Thankfully, all of the nurses were fantastic. They were patient and worked with us through everything,” Cvancara said. “As soon as we explained the situation, that it was technically just my second day in the hospital even though I am further on in my schooling, it ended up being fine. But on the first day, I was super overwhelmed.”

Cvancara felt more comfortable at the end of her six-week rotation, much of which was spent in Providence’s oncology department. The rotation ran one day each week with shifts of anywhere from eight to 12 hours. After a spring where just about all of her learning was remote, it was just what the doctor ordered.

“Nursing is very hands-on. A lot of it is human interaction, getting to know different situations and time management,” Cvancara said. “You assess the person and you assess the situation. We made the most of it.”

Cvancara has had to make similar adjustments to her running career. For as long as she had been in school, there was always a next training goal, the next competition, the next meet to be ready for. After the cancellation of the Division II Indoor Track and Field Championships, no tangible goal was in sight.

For Cvancara, it felt like she had already graduated because there was no looming goal. It was a need to shift from the rigor of continuously being prepared for competition to shifting to maintenance and fitness.

“There was no end in sight (to the pandemic),” she said. “I had to re-learn the purpose of training. It’s a lot of taking it day-by-day. It’s a lot of self-motivation.”

One of eight Alaska Anchorage athletes to qualify for the Division II Indoor Track and Field Championships, Cvancara was in Birmingham, Alabama on March 12: The day the sports world stopped.

A 2018 All-American as part of the Seawolves’ distance medley relay, Cvancara entered nationals with the chance to bring home two more trophies and was building toward a banner year in 2020. A key part of UAA’s eighth-place team finish at the Division II Cross Country Championships, Cvancara placed second at the GNAC Indoor Championships in the 800 meters.

Anchorage held the No. 12 time in Division II in the DMR while Cvancara herself was No. 17 in the 800 meters when the Indoor Track and Field Championships was abruptly canceled on March 12.

While the disappointment of cancellation certainly stung, Cvancara put it all in the proper perspective. She was a junior. The seniors saw their careers come to an unexpected end.

“I feel a lot of empathy for those who never really had a chance to be on the podium and who didn’t get a chance to race for a national title,” she said. “To be a senior and having that be the end of your season, not even knowing it was coming and to not be able to have any closure on the four or five years that you have been competing. That would be devastating.”

With that in mind, Cvancara has prepared all summer to be ready for when she can return to the cross country course or track. Head coach Ryan McWilliams set Cvancara and her teammates up with summer training programs. McWilliams has instilled the idea that since the last season went unfinished, it’s even more important to be ready for the next one.

“I want to give myself the chance the best opportunity to be the best I can be,” Cvancara said. “I don’t want to do myself a disservice by not being prepared when everything does start again. That has been my motivation to keep training. I recognize that, yes, it is not a normal year but it is still my last year. Because of that, I want to give it all I have with whatever opportunities I get.”

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, Cvancara is ready for whatever is next in not only her running career but in her nursing career. If anything, it has taught her some of what those same nurses presented to her back in June.

“Perseverance. It’s teaching me perseverance,” she said. “And a lot of patience.”

Working in a hospital in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic has significant risk. It was one that Cvancara and other students chose to take to further their nursing education.

A lifelong resident of Anchorage, Cvancara still lives at home with her parents and six of her seven siblings. Ruth was subject to all of the increased precautions required by the hospital such as temperature checks, symptom surveys and contact tracing. She also was careful around others, especially working in the oncology department.

Fortunately, none of the Cvancara family has shown symptoms of the virus.

“I was a bit concerned working in oncology, where there are many immune-compromised patients,” Cvancara said. “The majority of the community was isolated, though. I would say that we were pretty conscious about who we were seeing and where we were going and taking plenty of precautions.”

Cvancara considers living at home with her large family as a blessing. Where she has never been without daily face-to-face human interaction, she knows that other students did not have that same blessing.

One thing that Cvancara has appreciated of McWilliams, who is in his second year as Alaska Anchorage head cross country and track and field coach and his 12th year overall with the program, is how available he is to his student-athletes. He is simply a phone call or a Zoom meeting away.

“One of the most important things has simply been that he is available,” she said. “I am lucky that I am living with my family so I have people to interact with but a lot of students don’t have that. I think it is really important to recognize that mental health is really important and isolation escalates whatever underlying issue that you struggle with.”

Thankfully, running is a sport that lends itself to social distancing. With the weather still nice in Anchorage as the year slips toward the long Arctic nights, Cvancara is taking the opportunity to interact with her teammates not only through technology but also on the roads.

“We have group chats and we go on runs during the week,” Cvancara said. “I saw one of my teammates today and we ran. It is so nice outside and it is easy to be apart.”