Jade Jones-Hall and Training partner Buddy
For our elite athletes the training didn't stop in 2020, even during lockdown. It has required versatility, commitment and huge mental and physical strength, and we salute everyone who has kept on going during these toughest of times.
I think like a lot of people, I first became aware of Covid-19 in January. I was lucky enough to be spending January-March in Spain on a training camp in preparation for the Tokyo Paralympics that were due to be held in August. My husband (who is also an athlete) and I were sat down for dinner one night at the end of a tough training day, with the news on in the background. They spoke about Covid and how it was affecting China, particularly Wuhan. The infection rates were growing, and with that the death toll too. Next came the lockdown in China. I don’t know why, maybe because I was in a bit of a bubble in Spain with my focuses all being on training and the games, but I didn’t really think about the fact that Covid would inevitably come to not just Europe but the UK. On 14th March, Spain went into lockdown. The options for us were to stay, and be surrounded by complete uncertainty, in a country where we don’t speak much of the native language, or head home. It was an easy decision in the end and so we packed our things and set off on the long drive back to the UK.
The UK went into its own lockdown on 23rd March. I know this brought with it different challenges for everyone, but for athletes, it was a difficult period too. All training facilities were forced to close. Swimming pools and gyms were not able to be accessed, and for how long? We just didn’t know. How was I supposed to train for the Paralympics? With only 5 months to go to the games it was a worrying time. All any athlete wants is to be in the best shape they can be for the games, it is our biggest event, and it only comes around once every 4 years. Amongst the stress there were feelings of guilt. How could I be worried about the impact to my training when there are people dying all over the world due to Covid-19? Something like this really does put things into perspective, and makes you realise what is important in life.
It may sound strange, but for me, whilst the postponement of the games was disappointing, it actually came as a bit of a relief. In what is such a strange time for everyone, it wouldn’t have felt right holding the Paralympic and Olympic games this year. The postponement allowed me to breathe out a breath I felt like id been holding for weeks. It allowed me to train in a slightly different way. To not worry about my swim fitness leaving me day by day, but to focus on the bike and chair strength I was gaining by having extra time to put into them.
The Olympic and Paralympic games are huge for many reasons, but I think the Paralympics for an even bigger reason. I genuinely believe that Paralympic sport has the power to change perceptions of disability, if done and shown in the correct way. The games being postponed does come as a massive blow to the Paralympic movement. Paralympic sports generally don’t have as many events on each year as our Olympic counterparts, and so as each event and competition was cancelled one by one, it does make me wonder what the impact of this will be on Paralympic sport as a whole. We rely on TV exposure, events and competitions to showcase our sport, with the hope that one day we will be on a more equal footing to the Olympic Games. Tokyo 2020 was due to be an amazing games. Tickets for the Paralympics had sold out rapidly. People spoke about how it is truly going to carry on the legacy that London 2012 created, and I’m absolutely sure that will be the case, we will just have to wait one more year to find out.