The Olympic flame is going to have to burn a little longer this year. With coronavirus gripping the globe, the International Olympic Committee in March postponed the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics until 2021, leaving athletes, including current DU students and alumni, in a holding pattern.
‘All this uncertainty’
Qualifying for the Paralympics is hard enough on its own, but as a blind person during a pandemic, Chaz Davis (MSW ’19) can’t help but feel like he’s running uphill. Training in a traditional sense has proved impossible for the distance runner, who relies on a guide when jogging outside. Plus, the gym he visits daily has been shuttered for months.
“Over the last two months it’s definitely been hard to motivate myself and keep training, especially when I don’t have the people I normally run or work out with for accountability,” says Davis, who ran the 1,500- and 5,000-meter events at the 2016 Rio Games.
Though qualifying events like the Boston Marathon have been canceled, Davis says he’s trying to maintain a positive outlook. The delay offers time to recover from injury and offers extra opportunities to prepare.
“I feel like once we really return to a point where I can train to the best of my ability, I’ll be able to carry that motivation through until next summer,” he says. “I’m really looking at this whole experience as a way to build more fortitude and mental strength. I think that will really help in a marathon where I’m competing against runners from all over the world.”
‘A breath of fresh air’
Postponing the Paralympics may have been just what Lacey Henderson (BA ’11) needed. The two-time Paralympic long jumper, whose right leg is amputated above the knee, has welcomed the chance to rest and recover.
Instead of training six days a week, Henderson has scaled back to three. She uses a local high school for her on-the-track workouts and visits the gym in her brother’s garage when she wants to use equipment.
“It is still your job at the end of the day,” she says of training, “but there are other things that are more important. That helps me remind myself that I don’t need to go to the track or be track-ready. Accepting that sports are not the most important thing in the world has been an important realization.”
Still, Henderson says she is motivated as ever to qualify for Tokyo, whenever that opportunity may arrive. Trials have yet to be rescheduled.
“We’re all going to have to be in a position to be ready when the time comes,” she says. “You train to be peaking and ready at a certain time.”
‘We are all Team USA’
From Chuck Aoki’s perspective, pushing the Paralympics back a year was the best thing that could have happened.
“I actually felt relief when they delayed it,” says Aoki, who captains the Team USA wheelchair rugby team and is getting his PhD in international studies. “Canceling it would have been devastating.”
The two-time medalist has spent the pandemic with his girlfriend and her family in Texas, making do with the exercise equipment he has available. Trainers from Team USA have helped him modify old workouts and create new ones so he can stay in shape.
In the meantime, Aoki has focused on promoting disability and Paralympic sports on his social media accounts. There is a common thread, he says, in the unity during the Olympics and the pandemic.
“So many little parts of this country make things work,” he says, pointing to essential workers. “There’s a team behind the team. I didn’t get [to the Paralympics] by myself. Something we can all take forward coming out of this [is] appreciating those people that mean so much to us.”