Anastasiya Muntyanu shifts her Olympic drive into her work as an MD in a Montreal hospital

Eight years after competing in the London Olympics, the former rhythmic gymnast is now a medical resident in the city that's become the epicentre of the pandemic in Canada.

Eight years after competing in the London Olympics, former rhythmic gymnast is MUHC doctor in residence

Anastasiya Muntyanu competed for Canada at the 2012 Olympics in London. Now she is a doctor in residence at the MUHC's Glen campus. (Submitted by Anastasiya Mutyanu)

Anastasiya Muntyanu predicted that her first year working in a hospital was going to be full of new challenges, but she never anticipated having to deal with a global pandemic.

The 2012 Canadian Olympian, now a medical resident, finds herself right in the middle of the battle against COVID-19, working at the McGill University Health Centre in Montreal, the city that's become the epicentre of the pandemic in Canada.

"It's not exactly what I had imagined coming into my residency," Muntyanu said.

"All of this just came in an unexpected fashion. It evolved very quickly and we had not been prepared for this ahead of time."

Muntyanu has been working in the hospital's so-called "cold zones" so far and anticipates that she will eventually be rotated onto the wards treating those infected with the virus.

She's had a front-row seat as the health-care system adjusted on the fly from a pre-COVID-19 reality into what it has become today.

"The adrenaline in the beginning was definitely really helpful," she said. "Now I think everyone is becoming used to the idea that every day is different, and every day poses its own challenges."

"The way to approach it is to have calm, organized discussions and communication."

The road to medicine started in the gym

On Sept. 24, 2011, Muntyanu and her teammates completed their routine at the World Rhythmic Gymnastics Championship in Montpellier, France.

They went to the kiss-and-cry-zone to await their scores, and as the numbers came in, so did the realization that they had qualified for the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

The team from Canada performs during the rhythmic gymnastics group all-around qualifications at the 2012 Summer Olympics. (Julie Jacobson/The Associated Press)

"Seeing our score pop up on the screen and seeing our ranking and seeing that we had qualified was an incredible experience. All of us started jumping up and hugging each other," Muntyanu recalled.

Anastasiya Muntyanu says her Olympic training continues to pay off now that she's a doctor. (Submitted by Anastasiya Muntyanu)

It was the first time Canada had qualified a team to rhythmic gymnastics at the Olympics in 16 years. For Muntyanu, it represented everything she had worked for since she first took up the sport at the age of three.

The team finished in 11th place in London, and Muntyanu returned home with cherished memories. Looking back now, she said she realizes how her sports career could have been derailed.

Her knees started flaring up when she was about 15, and doctors told her she might have to give up her sport. She recovered from her injuries, but she witnessed others who weren't as lucky.

"I saw a lot of the older gymnasts getting injuries and being told by doctors that they can't compete, and they have to stop," she said.

That experience became the catalyst for her decision to become a medical doctor.

Olympic-level training habits an asset in hospital

Today, the mentality Muntyanu developed while driving herself to become an Olympian continues to pay off.

"In sports, we were always taught to be comfortable being uncomfortable, because nothing is predictable. In the last few months that's been really helpful because everyday you come into work, there is something different," she said.

Anastasiya Muntyanu, third from the left, celebrates a silver medal with her teammates in rhythmic gymnastics at the Pan Am Games in Guadalajara, Mexico in October 2011. (Canadian Olympic Committee)

She credits her career in gymnastics for the drive that helped her get through medical school and now helps her make it through long shifts at the hospital.

"At the end of the day, no matter how tough the day was, it's still rewarding to look back and see that we were able to help someone," Muntyanu said.

Just as she had full confidence in her gymnastics' teammates, Muntyanu says her experience working with other members of the health-care team through this pandemic gives her confidence she will be able to safely do her job when she is transferred onto the COVID-19 ward.

"I'm not too concerned," she said, impressed with how quickly her medical colleagues adjusted to the pandemic's new reality.

"It really shows that all the personnel in the hospital are really coming together and working at the front lines."

Just as her Olympic journey made her more resilient, she hopes she will emerge from this experience stronger for it.