When it became necessary to park College Notebook off the pages of Voices because of what the pandemic had done to commerce, I had been working with Margaret Diaz of Oxford on a story about being the mom of college athletes. She has eight children, and the column had covered two of them: Brennen, a football player at Western Connecticut State, and Camren, an All-America in the rising sport of acrobatics and tumbling at Quinnipiac University.
Margaret, a nurse at Columbia/New York Presbyterian Medical Center, has seen her way through a memorable year. She and husband Lu have eight children. Lu was an assistant head football coach at Oxford high since the year after the program began. “He certainly has seen the effects the pandemic has taken on our high school players – their drive, their determination, their ability to play, their love for the game,” she wrote.
Lu is also a teaching assistant with the 18-to-21-year-old special needs kids in the Oxford School System. “They, like the rest of the world, had to adjust to online life, but will hopefully continue to get back to a more normal routine- as a loss of this routine certainly made its impact on this very special group of students,” she said.
And the pandemic affected the Diaz sports connection with Camren.
Brennen, a former Oxford High School and WCSU football player, has been in the Navy for almost 3.5 years. He will soon relocate from Pearl Harbor to Virginia Beach. “We are all really excited he will be closer to Connecticut!” Margaret said.
Taren is the youngest Diaz, and she joined Camren on the Quinnipiac acrobatics and tumbling team in 2019. “Taren has an underlying medical condition which required brain surgery just about six years ago, and she unexpectedly required another surgery in March of 2020 right when the pandemic hit. She is no longer doing acrobatics and tumbling, but was so happy to return to campus life last fall – even pandemic campus life – with all its new rules and regulations.”
“In looking at the world right now, I am most grateful for the health of my family. I am grateful to still be working as a nurse in NYC, despite the anxiety and ongoings that come with that at this particular point in time. I know that any inconvenience, any lifestyle change, any cramp in our style and our schedule is what we all need to do right now as a people. It is absolutely necessary.”
Margaret detailed the lives her kids and grandkids have lived through the pandemic, and there were hard times, for sure. She and Lu helped shepherd everyone through.
“Of all my children though, my heart is especially heavy for my 2020 senior at Quinnipiac, Camren,” she said. “Not only did she miss her last semester of college – going to class, spending time on campus, extracurricular activities, going from spending time daily with her boyfriend to adjusting to an out-of-state long-distance relationship, bonding with her housemate teammates for one last time, graduating in May – but she also missed her senior season with her Division I acrobatics and tumbling team.”
Remember, Camren Diaz was an All-American at Quinnipiac in this sport.
“Camren could do back handsprings before she could tie her shoes,” her mom says.” She started gymnastics the month she turned 4, and started dance the year before that. She danced for more than 10 years and enjoyed many years in the competitive USA Gymnastics programs, winning state titles on beam and floor. She enjoyed middle school and Oxford High School cheerleading, and worked incredibly hard to help their high school team win league and state titles, and made All-State all four years on the team. She mentored others, choreographed floor exercise routines, and coached at IGC (International Gymnastics Camp) in Pennsylvania for several summers (“after attending there herself more summers than I could ever count.”)
Camren’s dream came true when she earned a spot on Quinnipiac’s acrobatics and tumbling team. She worked very hard her four years there – on the mat and in the classroom.
Camren was in the University’s Honors Program, was inducted into the Alpha Eta Honor Society, made the dean’s list every semester, and graduated magna cum laude. She has multiple recognitions as a University scholar athlete, an ECAC league scholar athlete, was named to the ECAC All-Academic Team, and the National Collegiate Acrobatics and Tumbling Association (NCATA) national honor roll. She was on the inaugural NCATA All-Academic team in 2019, only one of eight women receiving that recognition in the country, and this July, she was named to the NCATA Academic Honor Roll for 2020, along with sister, Taren.
On the mat, Camren was named ECAC Player of the Week and NCATA Honorable Mention Player of the Week. She contributed to winning seasons, and perfect 10’s, and was part of the 2018 team which defeated the University of Oregon for the first time in program history.
Quinnipiac consistently ranked third in the country, qualified for the National Championships and event finals for our years, and in 2018 competed in the National Championship Final, losing to Baylor, becoming the National Runners-Up. Camren was named to the ECAC All Conference team and was the 2019 ECAC Player of the Year in acrobatics and tumbling. As her head coach stated in their senior tributes, Camren is “one of the most-decorated athletes in program history.” Senior year, she was the only current Quinnipiac acrobatics and tumbling team member who was an NCATA two-time All-American.
Camren was also the Q-Coor coordinator – in charge of the community service group organization for all the Quinnipiac student-athletes on campus. Before Covid-19, she volunteered weekly in the Yale ER.
Margaret noted the end of that part of Camren’s and the family life.
“There are to be no more W’s, no more perfect 10’s, no shot at getting into another National Championship Final or to take the win in an event final. No chance to get All-American or All-Academic just one last time. She no longer has to have one of the girls do up her hair for meets, or find a new, inspiring ‘shoestring quote’ to pump up the team on meet day.
“And will be no last-minute running out into the sports arena, music blasting, with her younger sister as her teammate, no last hand over her heart, eyes welling up during the National Anthem. No more introductions over the sound system, replays on the jumbotron, high fives for my grandsons with Boomer the Bobcat, no going down onto the floor after the meets, hugging, laughing, venting over the scoring, relishing in the victories, taking family photos.
“And no Senior Day – which siblings had airfare booked from Italy and Hawaii to come home and surprise her so we could all be there together for her last big home meet. No senior banquet, no last run onto and off the mat. No last applause, no last rolling up the mats, no last ice baths, nor a last closing of the locker room doors.
“Everything just stopped…stopped without warning,” Margaret said, the shock total. “Just tears, disappointment, sadness. That’s it. This is how it was meant to end. There was to be no big finish, no closure, no goodbyes, no one last time or one last chance – for any of it.
“So, through the tears and disappointment and sadness – we look for meaning – sometimes we learn in life that this is all we get. This is it. It’s done. And that has to be good enough.
“For us, boy, it has been good.
“It has been amazing and incredible and gratifying and so wonderfully rewarding. It has also been really difficult, incredibly painful, just pushing through all those obstacles. There have been really high highs, and very low lows, and everything in between. It has brought so much joy and happiness and fulfillment and purpose! It has taught work ethic, and dedication, and commitment, and passion, and the unwavering desire to strive to do better, be better, and achieve perfection! It has brought wonderful life lessons, experiences, and memories that we will always hold dear. These experiences have molded this young child into a smart, beautiful, dedicated, and incredibly hard-working young woman!
“It is the journey and not the destination that really matters,” Camren told her mom.
Margaret said whatever comes next in life for Camren, “she will continue to do amazing things – academically, professionally, and personally.”
Camren is now an assistant coach under Mary Ann Powers at Quinnipiac acrobatics and tumbling , and turned down an invitation earlier this year to interview for an assistant coach position at nationally ranked University of Oregon. She is working as an EMT in New Haven, accumulating patient contact hours to apply to Quinnipiac’s physician assistant program.
“I know that her years, and the years of all my children spent in their former respective athletic programs has taught them discipline, work ethic, teamwork, focus, determination, and drive that has spilled over into all the facets of their lives and helped to shape the wonderful adults they are today.”