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How Pandemic Downtime Affected Paralympians

Posted by Bryan Potok on

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced most of the world to go into quarantine in March 2020, the International Paralympic Committee still planned to proceed with the Tokyo Games in August. Athletes around the world continued to train, despite the lack of access to training facilities.

 How Paralympians were affected by the forced pandemic downtime.

When the committee finally postponed the event, the athletes had to deal with a new set of uncertainties, disrupting their focus.

For some Paralympians, it was a matter of finding the right mindset to continue training. This was the case for 16-year-old track and field adaptive athlete Ezra Frech. The first two to three weeks of quarantine drove him to an almost depressive state. He described it as a "wave of sadness," similar to how one would feel when going through a breakup.

But after he saw other adaptive athletes still training on Instagram, Frech was inspired to do the same. However, with LA being in and out of lockdown, Frech and his friends had to keep looking for new places to train. From park and beach to his street or a random patch of grass, they had to adjust constantly and make the most out of whatever place was open that day.

Despite the hurdles, Frech says the pandemic made him completely immerse himself in the sport on a whole new level. He "took track more seriously" than before, and he's grateful to come out stronger.

For fellow track and field adaptive athlete Lacey Henderson, the pandemic taught her to be more resourceful when looking for training areas. She has been converting sandpits into decent long-jump pits with a bit of help from her trusty rake and shovel, which she always keeps in her car.

To be this adaptable, Henderson draws inspiration from her experience as an amputee, where one learns "to adjust no matter the circumstances." As an adaptive athlete, Henderson said she's constantly forced to adapt as well, whether due to injury or, in this case, a global crisis.  

However, for others, having forced downtime means more than just finding the courage to adapt and continue training. This was the case for triathlete Melissa Stockwell, who turned 40 last year. She planned to compete for the last time at the 2020 Games to focus on her new business.

The thought of competing at 40 filled Stockwell with doubts. Triathlons are notorious for being hard on the human body, and she wasn't sure her body could handle it anymore.

As Stockwell spent more time with her family, she noticed that she's more relaxed, but her performance improved. Armed with a more flexible mindset, Stockwell is now determined to make her last competition happen. The pandemic has taught her not to give up when things don't go as planned.

The Tokyo Paralympic Games are scheduled between August 24 and September 5, 2021.
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