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Knicks dancer moves from MSG to coronavirus frontlines

On March 6, Tara Rappleyea was on the floor of Madison Square Garden performing to Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie” with her fellow Knicks City Dancers as the team took on the Oklahoma City Thunder. Less than a week later, her dancing gig was on ice when the NBA postponed the season due to the coronavirus.

But the 27-year-old has hardly been idle. Her day job is working as an ICU nurse at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset in Somerville, New Jersey — and she’s been right on the front lines of the pandemic battle.


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“It seemed like it happened overnight. Our unit went from regular patients to COVID,” said Rappleyea, who lives in South Amboy and became a registered nurse almost two years ago. Before all this, she logged three 12-hour overnight shifts per week; now, she is working around 60 hours a week.

Since the hospital has a no-visitors policy, she is not only caring for patients but also managing communication between them and their loved ones.

“I realize now more than ever how important it is for me to take a moment to be present and sit with my patients — especially because they can only see my eyes [because of protective gear worn by the staff] — and hold their hand and talk to them to give them a sense of comfort, safety and connection,” she said.

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There are moments of hope. Whenever a COVID-19 patient is discharged, The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” plays throughout the hospital.

“You just get the chills,” Rapelyea said. “It reminds you why you are there.”

The Jersey native, who graduated from Rutgers, joined the Knicks City Dancers in 2016.

“A lot of people said that wasn’t going to be possible to do both, but I rely on good time management and being focused on the task at hand,” she said.

At the moment, the task is momentous.

But the other day, Rapelyea returned home from a shift, looked at her phone and saw a text from her fellow Knicks City Dancers.

“It was a 17-minute video of the girls telling me how much they appreciate me. Immediately, a wave of emotion came over me,” the nurse said. “It was one of the nicest things anyone has ever done. And it came at a moment when I really needed it.”

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