The world would have been watching the 2020 Olympics right now, and the games would have ended on August 9, but due to the Coronavirus pandemic, it was postponed until next year. The postponement was obviously a devastating blow to hundreds of athletes who have been grinding arduously the past three years in preparation for this once in a lifetime opportunity to represent their country.
Olympians are just one group of athletes whose career goals were sideswiped and dreams deferred and delayed by the effects of COVID-19.
Unlike most countries that receive government support, U.S. athletes rely heavily on the support of the community. Adding to the physical and emotional toll that a delay in competition places on their shoulders, their revenue streams, and hope for success in 2021 is now under threat.
Team USA boxer and registered nurse, Darius Fulghum, the Olympic Trials heavyweight champ is working toward the Tokyo Olympics of 2021, while his nursing classmates at Prarie View A&M are on the frontline of the pandemic.
With gyms closed because of the lockdown on “non-essential businesses”, Fulgham, 23, works out in a garage gym, honing his craft and waiting to hear word on his potential path toward Tokyo.
“At the time that it happened we were getting ready to go to Argentina to get our spot for the Olympics,” Fulghum, told the Shadow League. We were all perfectly in shape and mentally focused to do that and then everything kind of hit the fan. We all got sent back home and all the gyms were shut down and nothing was open and we didn’t know if the Olympics would be postponed or canceled. We were kind of a little lost for a while, but things are starting to get back up to speed now.”
The shock of the Olympic postponement was compounded by the initial quarantine.
“When we first got locked down all we were able to do was train outside and in my garage in Houston, Fulghum said. “I had my coach with me. No sparring but we were making do. The good thing with boxing is it’s an individual sport and you don’t need much to work out.”
The National Governing Bodies (NGBs) — the organizations that help train and support athletes in their quest to compete on Team USA in the Olympic & Paralympic Games — came together to announce the launch of Giving Games: an effort to support and sustain U.S. sports federations and their athletes on their journey to Tokyo in 2021.
The Giving Games launched on July 24, in what would have been the Opening Ceremony in Tokyo. With the postponement of the Games, many U.S. sports and their athletes are facing extraordinary financial hardship and decision making, especially with the cancellation of most, or all, of their domestic competitions.
Fulghum says he wasn’t able to get work as a nurse when he returned home to Houston because the hospitals weren’t hiring any new graduates to the floor. Fortunately, USA boxing has supported the members of the team financially during this time with a monthly stipend, but other athletes aren’t as fortunate and that’s where the Giving Games come in.
“Also through Giving Games, Fulghum said, “we’re trying to get a lot of donations to help out the cause. We’re trying to support a lot of the local gyms and a lot of boxing gyms are failing and with the gym shutdowns, they can’t stay open or pay their rent. So we’re trying to give them financial backing during these times to keep gyms open and especially help cultivate future Olympians.”
Elana Meyers Taylor
The Winter Olympics Games, scheduled for 2022 in Beijing, China are still scheduled for February 4-20. However, the absence of the Summer Olympics negatively affects winter athletes like Team USA Bobsled star and three-time Olympian Elana Meyers Taylor.
“Traditionally we’ve relied on recruiting athletes from Summer sports and converting them into bobsledders, ” Meyers, a former college softball player, told The Shadow League. “We’ve had success with crossover summer Olympians from Lauryn Williams to Lolo Jones… who have made huge contributions to our team. With Summer Olympics being pushed back it really limits the number of athletes we are going to be able to cross over into bobsled, if any.”
“Right now the 2022 Winter Olympics is still scheduled and we’ll have to see if that remains to be true, ” Meyers Taylor tells The Shadow League. “For us Winter olympians… we really use the Summer Olympics as motivation and kickoff to seeing Team USA compete at the highest level and that motivates us and gets us into gear to really buckle down for the next two years and get ready for our Olympics. So it’s crazy to not have that happen this year.
I feel for all those athletes. It’s so hard to put your life on hold for four years to go after this dream and then have it pushed back a year and not really sure what’s going to happen is definitely something I can imagine is very difficult.”
While the Winter Olympics are still on schedule, Meyers says her training regiment was hindered by the COVID-19 lockdown.
“For Bobsled, we run and lift and train really hard throughout the year,” Meyers Taylor said. “The biggest thing was having the gyms closed. I’m a person who traditionally will do my lifting and running in gyms and now we don’t have access to them. Fortunately, me and my husband have been able to make a gym out of our garage, but it’s not the same as training with people and having state of the art facilities and whirlpools and saunas to make sure you are recovering properly.
We (Team USA Bob Sled) have an actual training center in Lake Placid, New York, where we can push sleds… bobsleds on wheels to work on our pushing techniques and we don’t have access to that right now and can’t until the quarantines are lifted and businesses are allowed to open up. That’s been the most difficult challenge, not being able to do more sports-specific stuff.”
At the age of 9, growing up in Georgia, Meyers Taylor says she decided that she was going to be an Olympian. Fast forward to 2020 and she’s won two silvers and a bronze medal and broken gender barriers in the sport as the first female to pilot a World Cup 4-man Bobsled.
Her goal is to win two gold medals at the next Olympics.
The US Women’s Team has a rich tradition and is the only team to win a medal in every single Olympics since women’s Bobsledding became an event in 2002. “We have a very strong lineage of medal-winning,” Meyers Taylor told The Shadow League.
Meyers Taylor says athletes are relying heavily on Giving Games which ends on Aug. 9.
“Through Giving Games, Meyers Taylor says, “hopefully, we are able to get some good donations out of that because it is a bit of a struggle for athletes right now because we don’t make money in a traditional sense. Even for those of us who work normal jobs too, our jobs are being put on hold or we are being laid off across the country and this is in addition to us not being able to make money through our sports. So it’s been tough on us and the Giving Games hopefully will provide some very much needed resources for athletes.”