Stuart Weir is reaching out to see how COVID 19 is challenging athletes in our global sport…
Covid 19 Around the world South Africa
The Covid 19 pandemic has caused so much grief and sadness around the world and over half a million deaths. It has played havoc with our sport. In this piece I look at how it has affected athletes around the world.
Australian high-jumper, Nicola McDermott trained on beaches and using the sea as her ice-bath.
Wenda Nel, 2018 Commonwealth Games bronze medalist in 400h who lives in Pretoria, shares her experience of lockdown.
1. What has life been like?
Wenda Nel: For the first five weeks off lockdown we were not allowed to exercise outdoors at all so I was just doing some home workouts – using a spin bike, weights and other body workouts. Then in May we were allowed to exercise outside but only 6.00am to 9.00am and only in the street in your immediate neighbourhood. So I did some jogging and hill runs. A few times my coach drove to my street, parked his car and coached me in the street! They weren’t high quality sessions but it was nice to have someone there encouraging you. In two of the sessions one of the other guys joined. I wear a neck-warmer because there are people around and if anyone wants to chat to you, you can cover your mouth.
At the beginning of June we moved into what is called level three which allowed us to train outside any time 6.00am to 6.00pm. The university track where I normally train is still closed but we’re expecting it to open in the next week or two but with some restrictions.
2. It is hard training on your own?
Wenda Nel: It was a challenge. While I normally train in a group, it’s quite a small group mainly sprinters and sprint hurdlers. For the last two years I’ve been the only female 400 hurdler, so most of my session I’ve done my own. But it is nice to have someone with you on the track, even if the guys do outrun me! So, it was nice to have the coach with me for a few sessions.
One thing I’ve learned over the years is how to adapt. In sport you have to be adaptable as there are always unforeseen challenges coming your way.
3. What about hurdling?
Wenda Nel: No. Before lockdown I had borrowed some small hurdles from my coach. I’ve done a few drills on my grass and some hurdle walks. My yard is not big so I could really only put one hurdle up and have a 10 metre run at it. So that is a challenge. But I’m patient and I don’t want to rush things. When we get back on the track, I will take it from there. I have a good fitness base. So, what I’ll need is sharpening up and speed work.
4. Do you expect to compete this year?
Wenda Nel: If the body allows it and my form is OK, I definitely want to. I’ve seen the tentative schedule they have put out. There are a lot of issues to consider. Some European countries have already moved back to track training but we’re still in lockdown. At this stage I don’t know if we would be able to travel internationally and how that would work, could we go from country to country? There could be a situation where I’m ready and willing to compete but will my country allow me to travel and can I get a visa? Another question is can they fund events without spectators? The logistics around it all may just be too difficult.
5. How did you react when the Olympics were postponed?
Wenda Nel: That was an interesting time for me with my emotions going up and down. I took three weeks to think about it. My plan had been that I would most likely retire after the 2020 Olympics. But now I’m going to continue because, particularly if we don’t compete this year, I don’t feel that my career is done. At the same time, I am excited about life after athletics because I have a number of plans and some things I want to do.
6. Is this a difficult year for you financially?
In a performance-based sport, it’s always difficult to be sure how much you would have earned. Luckily, I have my base income from Puma sponsorship but even with that there is some uncertainty as it is possible that they wouldn’t be able to make the payment for the second half of the year. In the past two or three years I’ve been able to put away some of my athletics income for the future. The contract with Puma expires this year which is another reason why I would like to do some competitions this year to see if I can get a contract extension.
One thing I’m sad about is that last year there were several young South African athletes who looked as if they were about to make a breakthrough on the world stage and 2020 could have been the year that they did it. Doors were opening for potential sponsorship but that is all more difficult now.
The interview was recorded in June and since then restrictions have eased somewhat.