TarHeelIllustrated - No Shortage Of Obstacles For Rene During Shutdown
football Edit

No Shortage Of Obstacles For Rene During Shutdown

Patrice Rene's pandemic experience has inlcuded his own rehab, being stuck in Canada and the COVID-19 death of his uncle.
Patrice Rene's pandemic experience has inlcuded his own rehab, being stuck in Canada and the COVID-19 death of his uncle. (Jenna Miller, THI)

At some point later in Patrice Rene’s life, he’s will look back at the last eight-plus months with the kind of pride that can fuel a man through just about any obstacle he encounters.

These are trying times for most Americans and everyone has their own COVID-19 shutdown story. Job losses, anxiety, isolation and stress wondering what will happen in our nation are justified causes for serious concern. But Rene’s story goes a bit deeper than that.

As a college football player at North Carolina, Rene was in the middle of rehabbing a torn ACL he suffered in the second game of last season, which was supposed to be his final campaign playing for the Tar Heels. Since he hadn’t redshirted yet, Rene qualified for one last fall and has worked toward returning this coming season.

The task coming back from a torn ACL is considerable, a nine-month process that epitomizes the definition of grinding. So, when the nationwide shutdowns hit in March and UNC suspended everything, most players returned home, including Rene, who is from Canada, more specifically its nation’s capital, Ottawa, Ontario.

Suddenly, in the middle of a rehab process that must be closely monitored by UNC’s medical staff, Rene found himself more than 800 miles from Chapel Hill and lacking the necessities to aid in his effort toward regaining full strength so he could play this coming season.

The border between the United States and Canada was closed to non-essential travel, so Rene was stuck.

Rene (5) and Myles Dorn (1) celebrating early in the Miami game last September.
Rene (5) and Myles Dorn (1) celebrating early in the Miami game last September. (Jenna Miller, THI)

“Once that whole COVID-19 hit and I had to leave and go back home, that was a little bit challenging at first,” Rene said during a Q&A session on Zoom on Wednesday. “Just trying to figure out how to maneuver and how to just keep attacking my rehab with the same intensity and the same consistently as I did once I was on campus. But, thankfully enough with the help of our training staff and our trainers and our doctors, they were able to come up with a plan for me to do at home…

“But, once things in the country and back home in Canada started unfolding and I realized things were going to be closed for a longer period of time than expected and I want to be able to get actual physical attention by a doctor or my physical therapist from home, that’s when I realized that I should probably should explore the idea or try to come back to campus and get back to where I have more access to more resources.”

So Rene, UNC Coach Mack Brown and Mario Ciocca, Carolina’s Director of Sports Medicine, worked to get a waiver for Rene so he could return to Chapel Hill. It included Ciocca writing a letter to the embassy on Rene’s behalf.

Rene’s needs?

He was a scholarship athlete intent on playing this coming fall but needed to properly rehabilitate his knee to avoid incurring further, longer lasting damage. And, he lives there. Sort of. He was paying rent on a house in town, so Rene had a right in being back in Chapel Hill.

Tough times have hit Rene, but he's perservering fueled by faith and a positive outlook.
Tough times have hit Rene, but he's perservering fueled by faith and a positive outlook. (THI)

“Talking to the embassy, having the doctors write a letter, this and that,” Rene said. “But ultimately, it was done and they approved me coming back in and I was allowed to travel. I’ve been back for three or four weeks now, continuing with my rehab and getting right.

“So, it was a little challenging, a little bump in the road, but now I’m back and just attacking full force again.”

Those are two bumps Rene has scaled, but nothing could prepare him for the third.

His uncle passed away from complications due to COVID-19 in late March. Rene’s father’s sister’s husband, who lived in the New York City area, fell ill but didn’t tell anyone about it for a few weeks. And by the time he did, it wasn’t long before the family experienced the worst of this gruesome virus.

Making matters more difficult, Rene and his family could not attend the funeral because of shutdown and travel restrictions, so they had to watch it on Zoom.

“For us as a family, it was really hard because we are a big family and we are very close,” Rene said. “My family means the world to me, we have a really good relationship, and the fact that we weren’t able to physically be there for my aunt, I wasn’t able to physically be there for my cousins, that was really what was hard for us.

“And to have my aunt go through the whole process by herself. My dad, their family are nine brothers and sisters and they’re all kind of spread out throughout the states, and obviously my dad’s in Canada and all the other siblings are spread out. So not being able to physically be there for one another was very hard for us and challenging.”

Rene versus Virginia Tech in 2018.
Rene versus Virginia Tech in 2018. (Jenna Miller, THI)

Rene has leaned heavily on his faith during this period, which dates back to the Sept. 7 injury during a win over Miami. Long days rehabbing while he watched his teammates rebuild the culture and trajectory of UNC’s program typically wouldn’t be easy for a 22-year-old.

Neither is being stuck in another country lacking the necessary facilities to rehab and not knowing when he could return was another layer for Rene. And then having to deal with the death of a loved one to the virus causing a worldwide pandemic is a trifecta that significantly challenged the talented Tar Heel.

Yet, Rene is at peace with his personal process. No negativity, even with respect to his uncle’s passing. Perspective is important, and it’s clear Rene has it.

“We’ve been able to move on,” he said. “And I talk to my cousins each and every day, we facetime, group chat, and make sure I’m just there for moral support and just do everything I can to help them get through this time.

“But, just to not be able to physically be there is hard. Having the funeral through Zoom and missing that was kind of challenging, but we’re going through it and we’re a family of faith and we know that God’s in our corner. So, we’ve been relying on Him a lot, too, to help us out.”

Most people have stories they can share about the last few months, and many are gut-wrenching. Patrice Rene has one, too, well three prongs to it, but he’s working through it and coming out stronger on the other end.