More than three months and 18 miles removed from helping the Loyola Maryland women’s track and field team set a school record at the prestigious Millrose Games in New York City, Carly Spinnler is exerting herself in a different — but perhaps more important — field.
Every weekend for more than a month, she has been working as a certified nursing assistant at a nursing home in her hometown of North Haledon, New Jersey. As of last week, the Holland Christian Home had reported 63 positive cases of the coronavirus and nine deaths.
But rather than be fearful, Spinnler, 20, said that the experience has actually strengthened her desire to graduate with a bachelor’s in nursing and become a nurse practitioner.
“I have learned that helping people is second nature for me and that I wouldn’t question it even in a pandemic like this,” she said, adding that she will add a few more weekday shifts to her schedule. “It really solidifies that I do want to stay in the medical field for the rest of my life. It’s good exposure, and even though it’s scary, it has to be done.”
Spinnler’s decision to juggle online courses at Loyola, take off for practice runs on her own and work at the nursing home does not surprise Greyhounds coach Amy Horst.
“She’s really been focused on caring and working in the medical field since I’ve known her in her junior year of high school,” Horst said. “So this isn’t something like, ‘Oh, I seem to be good at this.’ She has this desire to go into the medical field. So it absolutely fits.”
Spinnler, who earned her emergency medical technician certification as a junior at Passaic County Technical Institute and had been working at Holland Christian Home every summer since her senior year at high school, said she was home for about two weeks after students had been sent home in mid-March. While out for a training run on some neighborhood roads, Spinnler was approached by her boss, who asked her to consider returning to the home, which at that time had one patient exhibiting flu-like symptoms and several employees quarantining at home after testing positive for COVID-19.
“I definitely was a little hesitant at first,” she said, referring to being apprehensive about possibly infecting her parents. “I didn’t want to bring home the sickness to them. But we agreed that as long as I would be getting the right protection and all that, it was the right thing to do. And then I didn’t really think twice about it after that.”
George Spinnler, 67, said that he and his 60-year-old wife Kathy’s support for their daughter far outweighed any concerns about the coronavirus.
“You always have that thought in your mind,” he said. “But at the end of the day, she’s a grown up, and this is what she wants to do for the rest of her life. We’re on board with what she wants to do.”
As soon as she arrives at the nursing home, Carly Spinnler wears scrubs, a gown with a hood, a hairnet, a disposable mask over an N95 mask and gloves. She then visits patients with responsibilities ranging from feeding, bathing, grooming and changing their clothes.
The gear and the warm room temperatures preferred by the residents make it tough for Spinnler. But she said the most difficult aspect is trying to explain the current situation to residents — many of whom suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
“It’s definitely sad because they really don’t understand what’s going on for the most part,” she said. “They don’t understand why they can’t see their families. They know that it’s not right that they’re families haven’t been visiting them, and they have some built-up anger because of that. It’s just hard to try to explain to them that they’re sick or their neighbors are sick. I feel like that’s the worst part for me. They’re alone, and we can’t really do anything to help them except get a phone call. They have no human interaction except for us, which is the worst part.”
Spinnler called the speed at which COVID-19 can spread from one person to another and deteriorate one’s health “scary.” Based on what she has experienced, Spinnler said she has been bewildered by the presence of conspiracy theorists who question the seriousness of the coronavirus.
“It’s kind of annoying because these residents in the nursing home, obviously they have underlying conditions, but the rate and how fast they’re getting it and passing away is what is really astonishing,” she said. “So how someone can say that it’s fake or made-up, it makes no sense to me.”
After work, Spinnler removes her clothes behind her parents’ house, places them in a bag, seals the bag, and leaves the bag there until she can launder the clothes the next morning. Although she is not self quarantining, she said she has not hugged or kissed her parents and has not seen extended relatives in person.
George Spinnler said that his daughter has borne the weight of what she has seen surprisingly well.
“She understands that this thing is bigger than all of us,” he said. “She’s a positive thinker and does what is asked of her. She wants to be a healer, and that’s what her mindset is.”
Carly Spinnler has been a productive member of the Loyola track team. At the Millrose Games on Feb. 8, the sophomore middle-distance runner teamed with seniors Kayleigh Caggiano and Heather Merrifield and junior Senna Ohlsson to finish the distance medley relay in 11 minutes, 51.80 seconds, bettering the previous school record of 11:54.57 set in March 2017 by Sarah Askine, Margaret MacAulay, Cordelia McGinn and MaryEllen Woods.
On March 7, Spinnler, Caggiano, sophomore Grayce Heinemann and junior Jordyn Pugh completed the 3,200 relay at the Patriot League championships in 9:04.07, which ranks as the fourth-fastest time in program history.
Horst said Carly Spinnler’s running ability has been counterbalanced by her reputation as “a goofball” who has broken out into song or recited a Hail Mary or danced “The Carleton” to break up the monotony of an exercise or drill.
“She knows how to get it done,” Horst said. “Her dramatics are fun, but they’re validated in the output. She has performed at a very high level.”
Spinnler’s foray into the medical field is a family tradition as her paternal grandfather was a general practitioner and her maternal grandmother was a nurse. Her grandmother initially expressed reservations about her presence at a nursing home, but has since changed her mind.
“I think at first, I was like,’ Well, maybe she’s right.’ But at the end of the day, it’s just what I love to do,” Carly Spinnler said. “I love to help people. It’s one of my favorite things, and it’s my job.”
George Spinnler said the admiration he and his wife have for their daughter has grown as they have watched her try to alleviate the coronavirus outbreak.
“From the very beginning, this gal has been well-grounded and takes care of the details and knows where she wants to go,” he said. “So to say that we struck gold with this child would be an understatement.”