CLEARMONT — Seniors of the 2020 class at Arvada-Clearmont High School took the shutdown of in-person class for the better part of their final semester of high school as just another obstacle to overcome.
“We know how to handle (not having in-person class) because we’ve gone through a lot already — things where we’re missing school, injuries and all that,” senior Ashlynn Fennema said. “Of course it’s different online, but I think it’s just another thing where we had to persevere, and we’re all working through it.”
Fennema, like nearly all of her eight other classmates, has endured life-altering injuries that forced her into missing school and sports. Between Fennema and two other classmates, they had a combined six ACL surgeries. Her classmate and saddle bronc rider Parker Manor relates, as he was about to embark on his first spring rodeo season injury free.
“It’s been depressing in a way because it’s the first full year I’ve gone without being hurt,” Manor said. “It’s been kind of tough.”
With every setback came another opportunity to prove themselves, though. Fennema returned — knee brace in tow — to the hardwood to compete in her senior seasons of volleyball and basketball despite another ACL tear and subsequent surgery. Manor, after three years of enduring one injury after another, earned a trip to nationals in the fall before heading indoors to participate in basketball with his schoolmates. He was nearly ready to start his first summer rodeo season unscathed when the COVID-19 pandemic came crashing down, canceling the high school rodeo season.
Despite normal life being disrupted by the virus, Manor utilized the opportunity.
“Honestly it’s just been like fuel to the fire for me,” Manor said. “I just crave rodeo. Every time I’ve gotten hurt…I’ve been counting down the days until I could (ride again).”
And fuel to the fire it has been for the nine ACHS graduates, who will happily graduate in person together, something they cherish and celebrate after not being together for the last two-and-a-half months.
“It’s been super weird not seeing anybody,” Manor said. “We’re such a small class that a lot of us are really close and pretty good friends, so it’s been weird not seeing everybody. I’ve gotten to see a couple of them and it’s been really neat to see them after all this time. You’re just glad you get to see them.”
Fortunately, technology is on the Generation Zers’ side, and FaceTime provides an option to connect.
“We’re a very outgoing group of seniors. We’re all very social and I think that’s been hard on us not getting to see everyone,” Fennema said, saying she and her classmates understand the circumstances and have worked through it. “We FaceTime a lot, thank god for that.”
The close-knit group realizes the lessons they’re learning through hardships culminating at graduation simply provided practice to the real world, a place they will soon enter.
“No matter how big or small your role is on a team or even in society today — if we’re connecting it to the real world — you’re always important,” Fennema said. “I learned that through basketball, having to sit out during the state championship.”
Fennema said her classmates have learned to embrace and work around what they’ve had to deal with gracefully.