A Look into the Life of an Olympic Athlete Among COVID-19

By Tyler Sakalys-Moore

ATHENS, Ga.—The 2020 Olympics have now become the 2021 Olympics. This fact has turned Olympic hopeful Andrew Wilson’s life completely upside down.

The days leading up to the postponement of the 2020 Summer Olympics seemed to be the most painful. “That was the most stressful and hardest point mentally, when we didn’t officially know, but we all saw the writing on the walls,” Wilson said. And yet he knew he’d been through far too much adversity to let even this slow him down.

Andrew Wilson started out as a swimmer in high school just like any other kid. He just happened to be a kid who would end up as an NCAA Division III record holder in three separate events, as well as an Olympic hopeful just seven years down the line.

However, it didn’t always appear as though that would be his future. Going into his senior year of high school, he decided to reach out to Division III powerhouse Emory University to see if they could offer him a spot.

“He was somebody that we had initially given some time standards for him to hit his senior year,” Coach Jon Howell of Emory University, said. “When he first approached us, he wasn’t really at our competitive range, but I remember meeting with him and really liking him.”

After some conversations with people close to Wilson as well as an in-depth look at his improvement over the course of his senior year, Coach Howell decided to give him a chance. “We decided we’d take a shot and offer him a spot which obviously was the right decision,” said Coach Howell, “From the very beginning, he always trusted the process, he trusted the coaches, and he believed in himself very much.”

All Wilson seemed to need was a chance because from that moment on, he became a force to be reckoned with as he would go on to drop nearly eight full seconds in one of his main events, the 100-yard breaststroke over the next three years. Not only that, but during those three years, he’d go on to break multiple Division III records, not to mention the fact that the Olympics didn’t seem like too far-fetched a possibility anymore.

Five years later, and Wilson’s opportunity was finally here. The 2020 Olympics were coming up, and Wilson was about to be given the chance to show the world just what he was capable of.

At first, there wasn’t too much thought about this new virus that had been spreading around the world. It hadn’t gotten to the United States of America at this point and so there wasn’t much concern over what the future of the Olympics had in store. Of course, that was before COVID-19 seemingly put the world on lockdown.

“I remember going to the pro swim in Des Moines (Iowa) and that was right when people were starting to get worried about it. I remember I was getting on the plane and I was worried, so that meant I had Lysol wipes,” Wilson said. He thought back on this moment, back when things still seemed somewhat normal. “I wasn’t wearing a mask. No one was wearing a mask. No one was distanced and I was thinking that wiping down my armrest was going to keep me safe.”

While current athletes such as Wilson himself thought about the possibilities of what to expect going forward, many former athletes found themselves wondering what if it had been them? Connor Jaeger, former Olympic Silver-Medalist was just one of the many former swimmers who couldn’t help but wonder how they might have handled it.

“There’s the big concern of whether you would have pool access or not. Would you have access to athletic trainers? Would you have access to your physical therapists? Would you have access to your strength and conditioning coaches?” said Jaeger “Obviously that is a huge hurdle if you don’t have access to any of that stuff.”

Still, there were concerns outside the sport of swimming itself and in the realm of athletes’ personal lives. “There are some people that had this date on the horizon for one, two, three years where they were planning their relationships and how they were going to support themselves financially,” Jaeger said. “So, having that date pushed back a whole year, I’m sure that it really shook up a lot of things.”

The need for athletes such as Wilson to do anything they can to stay in shape for their sport seems to be particularly prominent at this time, because of the fact that the Olympics are still scheduled to begin this coming summer in 2021. Swimmers in particular have the added challenge as pools continue to be closed throughout the country.

Wilson remembers having to go to any measures just to find pool time, particularly in the beginning stages of the pandemic. “I was swimming 5-6 times a week and doing 5-6,000 yards in this 17-and-a-half-yard pool,” he said.

In addition to this, Wilson found that having to drive upwards of an hour each day was common just to find a pool to swim in. This being something that swimmers of all ages are more than aware of at this point in the pandemic.

No matter your sport, or your backstory, these are trying times for any athlete at any level. No matter if that be an elementary school student, first getting into their sport, or one of the top athletes in the world.

Wilson, along with many other athletes throughout the country continuously find themselves needing to fight to stay ahead of the game, even through a pandemic. While yes, the climate may not be the same as in years past leading up to the summer Olympics, the goal remains the same for both athletes of the past and present.

Wilson’s story continues to be an inspiration not only in the Division III world, but also for swimmers all around the world. As he goes through his journey to the Olympics, we will follow along with his times as he fights for this dream, which he undoubtedly is prepared to give everything he has for, just as he has for his entire career.

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