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From the Baseline to the Front Line: Oksana Yakoff

March 30, 2020

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 Oksana Yakoff (pictured above, left), mother of reigning Junior Orange Bowl Champion and USTA Eastern junior, Stephanie (center). Oksana is a nurse at Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, New Jersey, the epicenter of the outbreak in that state.


What can you tell us about your experience working in a hospital during this epidemic? What should people know?

Yakoff: I am mostly working in the hospital office right now, but every day that I go in, I know that I might be needed on the floor. [As nurses] we’ve been taking care of a lot of different patients over the years [with different illnesses]. We knew how to protect ourselves, how to protect the patient. But this situation is a little different. There’s a shortage of protective gowns and masks. We are pushed to reuse all of that—it’s a little scary. The good thing is, the nurses are encouraging each other, the doctors are helping each other, area hospitals are helping each other. [When we initially heard about coronavirus], we were all told that it would affect the elderly. The reality is that there are a lot of the younger people in the hospital. And it’s very painful to watch because I have kids around that age. 20-year-olds, 30-year-olds. I don’t know why that’s happening. But this is what it is.


How can people help out?

Yakoff: People just have to follow the rules. Kids are home, and they have to stay home. Honestly, it’s a very difficult age to deal with this. They’d rather see friends and play outside. My husband and I were teenagers during Chernobyl in Ukraine, and we were not allowed to be outside for a long period of time then. It was hard at that age not to see your friends. But with COVID-19, people can be asymptomatic the first couple days. You don’t know if someone your kid is hanging around is going to become positive in two weeks from that time. When they tell us to stay home, they say that because they know that this is the only way to stop [spread].


Your daughter Stephanie recently won Junior Orange Bowl and then came in third place at USTA National Winter Championships. What is she doing to keep active while at home?

Yakoff: The jump rope is Steffi’s best friend. I said, “Don’t break it because we can’t go and buy another one—the stores aren’t open and only important stuff will get delivered.”


And how is she handling the break from the game?

Yakoff: Yesterday my daughter was baking. She was making brownies. She never bakes. I don’t bake. But she never had time. When these kids are competing, they’re either playing or going to school. She told me one of her [tennis] friends was doing the dishes, and I was like “Ooh, great idea!” [Laughs]. They are all learning things that maybe they wouldn’t have learned due to the lifestyle. But when they get back on the court, they’ll be hungrier than ever to play. Steffi has been injured many times and has come back stronger than ever. Because she wanted to play. It’s just in their blood.  Right now, though, the tennis stuff is locked in the closet. Hopefully it will come out soon, but the priority is to take care of everybody, that’s it.


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