‘Hell of an experience’: Shepparton basketball stalwart retells holiday scare

By Aydin Payne

March Madness is every basketball fanatic's favourite time of the year.

Watching the most exciting NBA prospects in the NCAA Division One tournament — a knockout event featuring more than 60 college basketball teams — go head-to-head for survival in the craziest month of basketball on the planet.

And one Shepparton couple, on a recent holiday to the US, was hoping to catch a glimpse of the basketball frenzy.

But instead, March Madness came to life in an entirely different and unbelievable way for Chris Judd and his partner Michelle.

The couple, which is entrenched in Greater Shepparton Basketball Association, was engulfed in the current coronavirus pandemic while in the States.

And in the space of one week, as the public health crisis worsened, the Judds’ trip overseas quickly turned into a stressful race against the clock to get back on home soil.

“It was just completely mind-blowing, we returned to New York after a week away in Boston and the city was a ghost town,” Chris said.

“Each day the number of coronavirus cases grew, on our final day in New York the number of cases in America jumped from 8000 to 15 000.

“It was very confronting.

“A ripple in the pond turned into a tidal wave in just a matter of days.”

In an incredible series of events, one where they became the final guests in a 21-storey New York hotel, Chris and Michelle finally touched down in Australia on Monday.

“After a couple of stressful days we finally got back on Monday, March 23,” Chris said.

“We had issues with our flights, the tour operator wouldn't let us change our flights because we hadn't booked them, Michelle's daughter had booked them for us.

“And our connecting flight to LA was the only one out of six flights that wasn't cancelled.

“It really was a hell of an experience.”

Since the Judds left the US last weekend, the country now has more than 60 000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 1000 deaths due to the deadly virus.

In the state of New York, the number of confirmed cases has reached 25 000, while yesterday Australia's figure passed 2500.

From when the couple arrived in the country at the start of March, there was little panic and "it was pretty much normal" Chris said.

The pair was able to see multiple tourist attractions in the first weeks of its trip, however, the basketball enthusiasts were unable to visit Madison Square Garden, home of NBA-outfit the New York Knicks.

But upon returning to New York for the second time, the situation had deteriorated quite substantially.

Chris retold the "mind-blowing feeling" of watching the New York City mayor implore people to get off the streets and stay inside their homes.

“In Times Square there was more police than people, the week before it was bustling and packed full of people, but resembled a ghost town,” he said.

“They started building makeshift hospitals, it was an absolute state of turmoil.

“Those last few days we were confined to our hotel room and we could only go out to eat, which you could only grab as a take-away.

“To see the city like that after seeing it normal the week before — was a very eerie feeling.

“We are just very lucky that we were one week ahead of the game.”

Back in the safety of their home, the madness for Chris and Michelle is over for now.

Since returning to Australia, the couple has heeded the advice of the Federal Government and is living in self isolation at home.

For the next two weeks, the pair will have each other for company, with Chris saying he could sharpen his skills in the kitchen.

“Nothing exciting really, just a bit of gardening, maybe work on my culinary skills,” he said with a laugh.

“But Michelle is able to work from home at the moment, so she has been able to keep busy.

“It is having huge effects on us, but we have to do the right thing to look after ourselves and everyone else.”