Nova Scotia

COVID-19 causing stressful times for top athletes

COVID-19 has created an extra level of anxiety Canadian athletes accustomed to competing nationally and internationally. They are used to the competition and the global pandemic is playing by its own rules.

'Mentally, it's a very, very different year for us,' says gymnast Ellie Black

Gymnast Ellie Black continues to train but admits she is missing international competition. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

COVID-19 has created an extra level of anxiety Canadian athletes accustomed to competing nationally and internationally.

They are used to the competition and the global pandemic is playing by its own rules.

"There are certainly challenges in terms of motivation for athletes who are used to a cycle of competitions that happen throughout the year, especially those who are trying to compete at major competitions like Canada Games or even Olympic and Paralympic Games," said Ken Bagnell, president of Halifax-based Canadian Sport Centre Atlantic.

It was announced last week that the Canada Summer Games set for the Niagara region for 2021 would be pushed back a year.

Ken Bagnell is president of the Canadian Sport Centre Atlantic. (Canadian Sport Centre Atlantic)

The Olympic Games in Tokyo were also pushed back until 2021, and questions remain whether they will proceed.

"I think a lot of athletes took a look at where their life was at, and took a long look at what an extra year would mean for their future path," said Bagnell.

"It's a big stress, but I think it's one that our athletes have done a good job at kind of accepting the circumstances and then moving forward with a plan to continue, or in some cases, not to continue."

For Canadian gymnast Ellie Black, the last year has seen its share of ups and downs.

The decision to push the Olympic and Paralympic games back one year was good news for her in one way because it will give her more time to recover from foot surgery. But with no competitions due to the virus, it's been a mental challenge.

"We are so used to having immediate goals that we're working towards, the things that keep us motivated and competitive, were now trying to find other ways to do that," said Black. "Mentally, it's a very, very different year for us."

Para athlete Kamylle Frenette hasn't competed in a triathlon race since 2019. (Wagner Araujo)

Black, who just turned 25, is continuing to train. But she's desperate for some competition.

"I've never had a time like this where you don't know when your next competition is going to be," said Black. "Not having competition for the majority of a year, when you're healthy and not injured, it's very different."

Black said there are regular Zoom meetings so the national team can stay in touch, and there is the hope of training camp before the end of the year. But it may not materialize.

Another athlete continuing to train for international competition is para triathlete Kamylle Frenette.

After posting fourth-place finishes in two World Cup events in 2019, the 24-year-old was hoping to win a medal at the Tokyo Paralympics.

"The day we found out I was pretty sad just like everyone else," said Frenette, a pharmacy student at Dalhousie University in Halifax. "It changed the timeline for us and I think it kind of changed the perspective of everything as well."

Dartmouth paddler Ian Gaudet missed out on two international regattas this summer. ( Josette McCauley)

Frenette, who was born with a club right foot, hasn't taken part in a race since the 2019 world championships. She was scheduled to go to Hawaii this summer with other members of the Canadian team to train in the heat to prepare for Japan.

"I was home all summer long this year, which is very different," said Frenette, who started competing in para triathlon three years ago and did all her training in Halifax this summer.

"We bought a big tent, and to recreate the heat we put some big heaters in there. Definitely a lot of things were different this summer."

While it's been a frustrating time for Olympic and Paralympic athletes, it's also been a tough summer for young athletes hoping to get to that level.

Ian Gaudet, a 17-year-old paddler from Dartmouth, missed out on two international regattas this summer.

"It was a big blow but it just helped me to refocus for next season," said Gaudet, who paddles out of the Banook Canoe Club. "I'm just hopeful that there will be international competitions allowed next year."

Gaudet travelled to Florida for a spring training camp with other local paddlers but the four-week camp was cut short. They had to return home to Nova Scotia after just one week due to COVID-19's spread.

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