At some point over last year, many people experienced the feeling of giving up.
“A lot of tears in the eyes because they knew – this was the beginning of the end," said Jillian Herbst, Lakewood Ranch High School Senior.
There were times that it was easier to just want to give in.
“They are afraid," said Deacon Ben Hooks, St. Peter Claver Catholic Church. “It’s, it’s so sad.”
But determination is something Floridians know all about.
“Sometimes chaos births blessings. And today, I am truly blessed," newlywed Norman Harris said.
When the storm hits in Florida, that is when determination begins.
“I just look at him and it all melts away," new mother Kayla Reynolds said.
After this past year, people found the determination within to keep trying, pushing, and to keep going.
“We have been sprinting during a marathon," said Tim Marks, Metropolitan Ministries CEO & President.
Looking back, 2020 started with high hopes for many people.
“First game this season, everybody ready? Yeah! Ok good," said T.J. Goelz, Lakewood Ranch Varsity Softball Coach.
High school seniors had dreams of graduations, promising sports seasons, and prom.
“That was the year," said Herbst, thinking about the start of 2020. “Yeah, and then COVID."
Herbst was on a dream team last year. So, when the pandemic shut everything down, the frustration was overwhelming.
"It was devastating honestly, like I honestly did cry," said Herbst.
Lakewood Ranch Varsity Softball was in the middle of an 8-0 season and was ranked number one in the nation. Then COVID stopped everything.
“Like this was our year. It was our year that we were going to win states for the first time." Herbst remembered.
It's now called the 'Lost Season' for that team, which had nine girls go to Division I schools to play ball.
But more than sports, youthful experiences were gone. For 2020 seniors, and now 2021 seniors, there are high school experiences they will never know.
“It took a lot away," said Herbst. "It really did. I have never been to a prom. I probably won’t go to a prom.”
But for a girl who had lost her mother unexpectedly in 2019, she knew – perhaps better than most – how to deal with tragedy and hardship.
“That is what it taught me," said Herbst. "You can’t control everything, and we have to let things change if they are changing.”
It was a time everyone learned to adapt to restrictions like wearing masks and keeping a lot more distant.
The Mustangs team motto this year is now 'Find a Way.' This group of talented athletes is certainly not along with feeling those words pull them forward.
Kayla Reynolds certainly found a way this past year into motherhood.
“I counted all his little toe. I was like five toes on this foot, five toes on this foot," said Reynolds, looking down at her newborn.
2020 created a bit of a baby boom. Reynolds and her fiance welcomed little Ryker into the world on February 6, 2021.
“I am like 'you are prefect, perfect, perfect,'" said Reynolds.
She was pregnant during the toughest times of the pandemic. The limitations on what would normally be joyful experiences were certainly felt.
“My fiancé not being able to go with me to any of my doctor’s appointments, that was really hard. At our anatomy scan, at our 20-week anatomy scan, we found out he had a calcification in his heart. And I was by myself. And that was the most terrifying thing, and especially not to have anyone there," said Reynolds.
The calcification worked itself out, and Ryker was born healthy. But giving birth during a pandemic is just different. All medical procedures are different this year.
“The nurse that was there with us, she actually was the other person on the other side of me holding my hand and telling me it was ok," she said, crying. "And that was, it was great to have that other person there, but it would have been better to have my mom.”
But even with the restrictions, just one look at Ryker now melts all the bad away.
“I look at him, and I almost forget that we are in a pandemic. Like, it’s crazy, but I do. It’s insane, especially after going through it for over a year at this point almost. It’s, I just, I just look at him and it all melts away," said Reynolds.
In fact, Reynolds wants to remember this year and wants Ryker to know about it too. So, she made a scrap book so he could see what the world was like during this time.
"I wanted to show, I wanted him to see everything. I wanted him to know," Reynolds said.
The last pages are blank and ready to be filled with more hopeful memories.
“A lot of hope in these pages," she laughs. "A lot of hope, yeah.”
She hopes for a bright future – a future a pair of newly weds are hopeful for, too.
"That is the crazy part to me. I never would have thought in a million years from home in a shutdown, I would find the love of my life," giggles Alicia Harris, a newlywed.
In 2020, Alicia's last name was Henry, and she had never met Norman Harris. But, at the start of the pandemic, a setup from friends led to the socially-distanted beginning of happily ever after.
“You have to meet each other where we are and make the best of it. And that is what we did," Norman Harris said.
The pair knew it was meant to be pretty quick, and they decided to marry on Valentine's Day 2021.
“Ya know don’t give up on hope and love, and it will happen when you least expect it. Because I wouldn’t have thought with getting sick with COVID, that I would find my future husband," Alicia said.
“It just goes to show you, sometimes blessings are just around the corner. We just have to be willing to accept," said Norman.
The truth is blessings came by the millions this past year. They came when people set their minds to help one another – story after story of people helping their fellow man began to spread.
“Yeah, it was overwhelming to see the response of volunteers," Tim Marks said.
As CEO & President of Metropolitan Ministries, Marks said the cry for help has been loud. But the act of giving is louder.
“Giving went up as a result of the pandemic," said Marks. "We thought we would be shutting down programs. We expanded programs.”
People did things outside of their job descriptions this past year. But, one big thing we all had to do for one another, was to sometimes do nothing at all.
“Oh God, our church was so alive," said Deacon Ben Hooks.
St. Peter Claver Catholic normally sits a good 200 people for a service, but over the past twelve months it's been a very different sight.
But fewer in numbers doesn't mean people have lost hope.
“Faith, faith, that no matter what happens God is always with us," said Hooks. "It fills them, and it sustains them."
As the human race, we did learn, and we did grow during this pandemic. We learned we need to live for the now and to live in the moment when it is upon us.
“I am married, I am happy, and I believe I have a very, very bright future with Alicia Harris," laughs the newlyweds.
There are things this pandemic could never take away. Qualities like perserverence, hope, love, caring and faith will always outlast any virus.