As the coronavirus pandemic started to touch every aspect of our lives in March of 2020, my colleagues around the world rallied to lift each other’s spirits on our internal comms channels.
There were songs written, TikTok dances produced, artwork painted, workout challenges proposed and accepted. Our #Hometeam was truly inspiring.
But one email from an HR colleague caught my eye and stood out from the rest.
It was a note about Sara Baeza, a sales assistant from one of our stores in Madrid, Spain, who had swapped the shop floor for a job as a COVID frontline worker in one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in Europe. Her Store Manager, Carlos Oliva, had been in touch to let us know that Sara had answered the call for auxiliary nurses to join the Infanta Sofia hospital and was now sporting personal protective equipment (PPE) gear daily rather than her usual 3-Stripes tracksuit and Superstars.
I was determined to talk to Sara as I wanted to understand what would drive her to take such a brave step. My chance came in October as Sara was once again moving from store life to ward life, with the number of COVID-19 cases back on the rise in Madrid.
The motivation to make a difference
When I spoke to Sara, she explained that as soon as it was clear the pandemic was taking a deadly grip on the Spanish capital, she was ready to act and sign up as a COVID frontline worker.
Conditions in hospitals are extremely tough for all involved. Sara signed up as an auxiliary nurse and was greeted with long shifts, layers of PPE and the need to be emotionally strong for her patients. This task is not for everyone. It truly is a vocation for Sara.
She explains that some days in the hospital can be really tough, “but once I see COVID-19 patients getting better and knowing that I helped in my own small way, it just makes all the hardship worth it.”
Using mental strength to get through each day
Sara uses her athlete mindset to stay energized during her shifts and get her through the tough moments as a COVID frontline worker. As a former Spanish National Champion in Artistic Gymnastics, she picked up techniques to handle the pressure that comes with competition, to keep her focus.
As a teenager, she would spend up to eight hours a day on the gym floor, and it’s there where she shaped her own personal mantra: “If you fight for something, fight seriously for it. It may cost you more, it may cost you less, but you can achieve everything you want if you truly fight for it. Never back down.”
Having the right people and pets in your corner
A strong support system to fall back on is also something Sara relied on during her gymnastic days and became even more important this year as she had to learn to decompress and disconnect at the end of some very stressful days.
“I’m lucky to have a supportive family, boyfriend and friends. These are the people that I could talk to at the end of the day and that took care of me when I needed it.” Sara also stresses the benefits of having a furry friend in her corner. “Knowing that my dog would be waiting for me at home, wagging his tail, gave me happiness. Even if I didn’t feel like it, he would push me to go out and take him for a walk and play with him. Having a pet was really good for my well-being and helped me to switch off.”
Relying on old and new teams
Sara counts on three teams to help her fulfill her purpose as a COVID frontline worker.
Her adidas team gave her the timeout to follow her need to help on the frontline of the pandemic. “My store colleagues sent me lots of encouraging messages and videos on WhatsApp. They made me feel appreciated.”
The support from her local gymnastics club where she teaches kids showed Sara just how important her commitment to nursing COVID patients was to the wider community.
Finally, the third team Sara found was made up of her fellow COVID frontline workers.
Taking the time to talk and release all the tension that accumulated throughout the day was essential. Sara explains, “We talked a lot in the hospital when we had a bit of downtime. Even if it was just five minutes, we would take off our protection gear and all sit down together. At first, we were all quiet and stood in silence, but the minute someone would start talking we would all release everything we held inside. It was like being a family. We knew we were all there to support each other.”
Ready for wave two as a COVID frontline worker
At the end of the summer, Sara became infected with the coronavirus but luckily was asymptomatic and able to isolate to stop the spread to family and friends. She’s now immersed in Madrid’s second wave, but she is buoyed by her experience to date: “What I learned from the first wave of COVID is not to be so afraid, as it makes you lose control. You have to have respect for the virus and take all precautions against it, but you must also keep a cool head.”
I would like to finish by thanking Sara and all the COVID frontline workers around the world. They are the true heroes of our society and are facing the ugliest side of the pandemic, teaching us what hard work, bravery and determination really looks like. They hold the hands of our family and friends when we can’t be present and are spectators of unexpected recoveries that fill us all with hope and happiness.
We will never forget what you have done for us, and for that we are forever grateful. ¡Muchas gracias, Sara!