From the Baseline to the Front Line: Jason Pasion
The COVID-19 pandemic has produced much uncertainty across the country, but one thing it has unequivocally reaffirmed is our respect and adoration for the many officials and health care providers dedicating their lives to keeping others safe. In our new series From the Baseline to the Front Line, we’ll honor members of the USTA Eastern community who also happen to belong to that heroic group. Here we speak with Hofstra University Head Coach Jason Pasion (pictured, near right), who, after the 2020 tennis season was canceled, began volunteering at local hospitals.
Most people from USTA Eastern know you as the Head Tennis Coach at Hofstra University. What is your background in medicine?
Pasion: [Growing up] medicine never crossed my mind. My mom was a nurse, and I had family members who were doctors. But I always wanted to follow in the footsteps of my dad, who worked on Wall Street. As soon as I went to college, I started taking business courses, and the first course I took was Business Statistics. I hated it in the first five minutes. [Laughs]. So I switched my major to pre-med. I was actually all set to go to medical school in the Philippines when my dad was diagnosed with cancer. I decided to hang back to help take care of him. I ended up becoming an Emergency Medical Service (EMS) worker during that time. I spent a couple days working [as an EMT at Ground Zero] immediately after 9/11. Following that [experience], I decided to go to PA school to become a physician assistant. I graduated in 2007 and was working in family medicine for a bit before I realized that tennis was really my first love and went into coaching full time. So medicine really went on the backburner—until now.
How did you come to the decision to go back and volunteer during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Pasion: First, we learned at Hofstra that they were ending our spring season. And then I was hearing on the news that there’s a shortage of health care workers, so it got me really thinking: “I’ve got this degree and I can do something with it, and this is probably where I’m needed the most right now.” I still keep in touch with a lot of my classmates from PA school, and they all work at hospitals and private practices. So I reached out to a few a people that I went to school with and decided that I would volunteer at a few hospitals.
What can you tell us about volunteering during this crisis? What should people know?
Pasion: It definitely is chaotic—that’s probably the best way to describe it. Not only are you dealing with things that you would normally deal with at a hospital, like someone coming in with a scrape or a bruise, but you’re also dealing with patients who may or may not have COVID-19. It’s overwhelming for health care workers. It takes an emotional toll. We’re seeing people suffer. They’re in a lot of pain, and there’s only so much we can do. Mentally, it’s something I’ve never had to experience. It’s really a dangerous disease.
You were an EMS worker on 9/11 and at Ground Zero within hours of the towers falling. You spent nearly three straight days at the site. Did you learn anything from working during that unfolding tragedy that you have kept in mind while dealing with tough situations in these hospitals?
Pasion: It’s a little different. I had a great brotherhood [with other EMS workers] during 9/11, and they helped keep me in check mentally. [But] there were really no patients on 9/11. Unfortunately, we knew that these people were already deceased. We were doing more search and recovery, helping the firefighters. Now [with the pandemic] you’re seeing people suffer and in pain. And all these patients are looking up to you.
What can people do to help?
Pasion: If anyone has anything to donate, like masks, there definitely is a shortage of PPE [personal protective equipment]. My wife is a maternity nurse and she says the same thing at the hospital where she works. Wash your hands, and wear a mask if you have to go to the grocery store. Practicing social distancing is really important. Staying home, being with family. That’s the best thing that everyone can do right now.
As a tennis coach, how do you recommend players keep active while social distancing?
Pasion: To stay in shape, they can do cardio, a bodyweight routine, calisthenics. To help your tennis: Find a wall, whether it’s against your house, against a fence, and practice volleys. The wall will always win! But at least you are keeping your time, keeping your hand-eye [coordination]. Also, the mental part of tennis is so big, and that’s not something younger players really practice. Use this time [to work on that]. There are so many good things people put up on YouTube to help, like the 16-Second Cure by Dr. Jim Loehr.
What are you missing the most about tennis right now?
Pasion: I definitely miss my players. I also miss the competition, I miss the traveling, but I most miss the interactions between myself and the players that I coach. I just hope things get back to normal and I can see them soon.
USTA Eastern thanks and proudly supports health care professionals for their service. If you know somebody in the USTA Eastern community who should be recognized in "From the Baseline to the Front Line", please contact us.
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