Olympians fighting on the front lines of the pandemic
Australian Olympians with dreams of Tokyo gold have traded oars and pistols for face masks and stethoscopes on the front lines of the battle against coronavirus.
KAYAKER JO BRIGDEN-JONES
Paramedic Jo Brigden-Jones should be on the Gold Coast training for the Olympics, but instead she treats and transports patients with confirmed cases of COVID-19 across Sydney's north shore and northern beaches.
The sprint kayaker's clothes are kept in a storage cage at her apartment building in Narrabeen, from when she packed up her apartment three weeks ago.
The plan was to make a mad dash north across the Queensland border before it closed and bunker down in an elite team training facility at Mermaid Waters on the Gold Coast, where the whole Australian team would spend five months in isolation fine tuning their preparation.
But two days before the athletes were due to leave home for the last time until at least August, Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) officials called to say the training camp was off, the Olympics had been postponed and to stay home.
"I had packed bags, packed up my apartment and put the apartment up for rent," Brigden-Jones, 31, said. "I'd even cleaned out the pantry.
"I still am only living in basic clothes because everything else is in a storage cage in the apartment building, but unpacking is in the too-hard basket right now."
Rather than training in isolation from coronavirus, the paramedic is back working on the front line; interacting with people who have suspected or confirmed cases regularly.
"We're at the forefront of the pandemic," she said.
"Everyone has thought in the back of their head when we're coming to work every day and putting ourselves out there and staring coronavirus in the face, that there is risk involved.
"But I protect myself so I can go home to my family and friends and turn up to work the next day."
The paramedic wears gloves, a gown, facemark and goggles to respond to triple-0 calls for suspected COVID-19 sufferers.
Eight years since she qualified for the 2012 London Olympic Games, Ms Brigden-Jones was back at the peak of her powers but has been forced to drastically scale back her training to avoid peaking too early.
The K4 sprint kayaker keeps fit doing body weight exercises with her trainer through Zoom video conferencing and takes her kayak out for a paddle three times a week.
"Athletes are so precise and meticulous about training and our lives are dedicated to a single goal of going to the Olympics, that it's hard to adjust when plans are suddenly thrown out the window," she said.
"We're in limbo at the moment and I'm still wrapping my head around the Olympics being 16 months away.
"I don't want to train too hard too early, so I'm taking it easy and staying active."
ROWER GEORGIE ROWE
Rower Georgie Rowe has put her Olympics dream on hold to play her part in a much greater battle.
On the verge of qualifying for the Tokyo team before the Games were postponed, the registered nurse has now jumped out of the boat and into the army of medical staff combating the pandemic threat on the frontline.
Rowe has resumed part-time work at a Narrabeen Nursing Home and is also considering putting her hand up for shifts at the Northern Beaches Hospital.
"You become a nurse or a doctor for a reason - you want to help people. You care about people, and for their wellness and their health," the 27-year-old said.
"For the person I am, there was a point last week where I had this weird feeling, like, 'rowing is great, and I love it and I love the Olympics, it's my No. 1 priority', but there's this other feeling of 'I should actually be helping right now'.
"I'm in the field, I've got the training, I've studied for three years to do this job and in a time where the world is falling to pieces around you in a pandemic, there's actually something I can do to help."
KAYAKER ALLY BULL
Firefighter Aly Bull doused a burning car wreck and cut a dead driver out of a car last week - when she should have been focused on carving out her place in Olympic history.
The Rio Olympian is the frontrunner for Australia's Olympic kayak team, after twice winning the K2 race at the national championships last month with teammate Alyce Wood.
Bull's preparation for the biggest stage in the sport went up in flames with the announcement the Tokyo games would be postponed a year in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The kayaker should be training three times a day, but social distancing laws have banned her from setting foot in a tandem kayak.
"If this was a normal year without a pandemic we would be gearing up to go to world cups in May in Europe and we would come home for final Olympic prep before heading to Japan in July," Ms Bull said.
"Normally we'd be training twice or three times a day, in the gym or in the water, at full high-intensity race pace.
"We have been forced to take a step back."
Bull is back on the front line for the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services, responding to car crashes, rescues and fires.
While she is bitterly disappointed the Olympics have been postponed, Bull said the fight against COVID-19 must take precedence.
"The structure of the sport has been taken away and for good reason; a lot of people are suffering in the world right now and sport is not important in comparison," she said.
"In Australia we're luckier than some countries because we can still leave our houses to do exercise.
"The flip side to the pandemic is we have a unique opportunity to be fitter and stronger than we would have been."
SHOOTER PAUL ADAMS
Olympic shooter Paul Adams has conceded he is at a higher risk of catching COVID-19 working in a hospital, but he hopes it won't dash his dreams of a gold medal.
The 27-year-old registered nurse will not shy away from treating patients with confirmed cases of coronavirus, even though it could kill him.
"I don't want coronavirus because there have been healthcare workers at my age that have passed away from it," Adams said.
"That said, a lot of healthcare workers my age have survived and recovered from coronavirus."
Adams works in a Brisbane private hospital which has so far been shielded from pandemic patients, but that is likely to change after the federal government struck a deal with the private sector to access another 34,000 hospital beds.
"We will take whatever patients the public hospitals want us to, and I am prepared for that," Adams said.
"If I do get coronavirus, it will suck for a couple of weeks, but thankfully I have plenty of time to hopefully recover and get back training."
The skeet shooter was relieved to hear the entire Tokyo Olympics was postponed and the Australian team would not be forced to boycott for safety reasons.
"Everyone has to go through the delays and I will deal with it," he said.
"11,000 athletes are in the same boat and it's all about how you come out the other side."
SHOOTER ELENA GALIABOVITCH
Doctor Elena Galiabovitch is still shooting for Olympic glory, despite the coronavirus pandemic throwing her professional and sporting career for a loop.
Galiabovitch, 30, has refused to lose focus of her Olympic target and has turned her home into a simulated shooting range.
A wireless computerised pistol shoots lasers at a makeshift target in Galiabovitc's Melbourne living room, and the results are displayed on her laptop.
The 2018 Commonwealth Games medallist and Rio Olympian does weights and squats to keep her core strength, which is crucial for maintaining strength, stamina and balance critical for accurate shooting.
A prostate cancer research study, a Master of Surgery degree and an Olympic bid have all been put on ice while the world is in lockdown.
In the meantime, Galiabovitc will work as a fill-in, or locum, doctor in surgery theatres to plug any gaps in the health system.
"Everyone's in same boat around the world, we're all doing what we can and we never know what's going to happen,
"You can never really predict how things will sway, all I can do is what's in my power."
Originally published as Olympians fighting on the front lines of the pandemic