British Columbia

Olympic postponement one more obstacle for resilient Canadian athlete to overcome

Earlier this month, when Canada’s Women’s Softball Team held training camp in Halifax, Nova Scotia in preparation for the 2020 Olympic Games in Japan, Sara Groenewegen was in peak form and her teammates were in phenomenal shape.

Softball player Sara Groenewegen was gearing up for the Tokyo Games after battling legionnaires' disease

Canada's Sara Groenewegen delivers a pitch during a game in 2019. (Carlos Osorio for CBC Sports)

Earlier this month, when Canada's Women's Softball Team held training camp in Halifax, Nova Scotia in preparation for the 2020 Olympic Games in Japan, Sara Groenewegen was in peak form and her teammates were in phenomenal shape.

With softball back in the Olympics for the first time since 2008, Canada — the number three ranked team in the world — was gearing up to challenge powerhouse nations Japan and the United States for the top spot on the podium.

As camp wrapped up, however, sports around the world began to postpone their seasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic and less than two weeks later, the International Olympic Committee announced the Tokyo Games will be postponed until sometime in 2021.

"As softball players, it's difficult news to hear," Groenewegen said.

"But in the grand scheme of life, health is way more important than sport."

Groenewegen, 24, appreciates her health more than most.

In 2018, a form of pneumonia known as legionnaires' disease left her in a medically induced coma and doctors were unsure whether Groenewegen would survive.

A year later, after working relentlessly to get her strength back, Groenewegen was back on the mound at Softball City in her hometown of south Surrey, helping Team Canada qualify for the Olympics.

"It's been an unreal rollercoaster," she said.

"We all face our adversities but I'm just really proud of where I am today."

Sara Groenewegen is working out with dumbbells she borrowed from neighbours during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Team Canada Softball)

Training at home

Soon after Groenewegen returned from training camp, health officials introduced strict social-distancing measures and gyms were closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

With no fitness equipment at home, Groenewegen asked a Facebook community group if anyone had weights she could borrow.

"It's crazy right?" she said, laughing.

"I wrote, 'Hi, I'm Sara, I'm training for the Olympics, and I need help."

Neighbours dropped off some dumbbells a couple of days later, so her workouts now consist of basic weight training and running outside. 

"The team says to take this time when we're all at home to back off training for a little bit," she said.

"Just be a normal citizen and be with your families."

Canadian starting pitcher Sara Groenewegen is congratulated after finishing an inning during her team's 8-0 win over Venezuela in Lima, Peru in 2019. (Carlos Osorio for CBC Sports)

What's next

The International Olympic Committee said the Tokyo Games must be held no later than the summer of 2021, but it's unclear when an official date will be set.

Groenewegen says the delay is disappointing, especially for the veterans on the team who have been waiting since 2008 for a chance to play in the Olympics, but she believes postponing the Games is the right decision.

"We've waited 12 years, so we can wait for another one," she said.

"I'm fine with Tokyo 2021 as long as we're all healthy and ready to compete."

CBC Vancouver's Impact Team investigates and reports on stories that impact people in their local community and strives to hold individuals, institutions and organizations to account. If you have a story for us, email impact@cbc.ca.

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca.  

About the Author

Jesse Johnston worked in private radio from 2004 to 2014 in Vancouver, Red Deer and Calgary. He spent the next five years based out of Surrey (his hometown) as CBC's South of the Fraser reporter until he joined the Impact Team in 2019. Jesse is a two-time recipient of the RTDNA Dave Rogers Award for Best Short Radio Feature. He loves radio, running and dogs. He also loves the Detroit Lions, but if you follow him on Twitter, you already knew that. @Jesse_Johnston

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