After a Covid Scare, an Olympic Hopeful Recovers Her Optimism

Along with the remainder of the world, athletes have had their careers upended by the coronavirus pandemic. They are giving The New York Times an intimate look at their journeys in periodic installments via the remainder of the yr. Read Lee’s first installments right here and right here.

At first, Sunisa Lee, a favourite to make the United States ladies’s gymnastics group for the Tokyo Olympics, didn’t suppose a lot of the tickle in her throat.

But on that Sunday night final month, two days after the 2020 Summer Games have been supposed to start earlier than they have been postponed a yr, the tickle become soreness that made her throat really feel prefer it was on fireplace. When she awakened with a fever and chills, she panicked.

Contracting the coronavirus and unknowingly infecting her father, John, had been her worst worry all through the pandemic. He is at excessive danger for Covid-19, the illness attributable to the virus, as a result of he was paralyzed from the chest down after falling from a ladder in 2019, and his respiration is compromised.

To be protected, Lee, 17, shut herself in her second-floor bed room whereas her household — together with her three youthful siblings — relocated their bedrooms to the primary ground of their St. Paul, Minn., residence and slept on air mattresses or the sofa.

The week after I was sick, I was still stuck in my room while I rested and isolated. It was frustrating, but everyone wanted me to stay away from them, stay out of the gym and stay home. So I watched a lot of “The Vampire Diaries” and FaceTimed with my friends. I also did a lot of schoolwork, wrote three or four papers, and just chilled. My dad called me every day to check up on me, and I also made sure he wasn’t feeling sick. It was stressful to think that he might have caught something from me. I’m so relieved that he didn’t.

While I was at home, a Snapchat memory on my phone reminded me that it was one year since my dad’s accident. I actually didn’t cry when I saw it. I’m just so happy that my dad is alive right now. I looked back at the memories of his accident and got chills. I thought he was going to pass away when he was in the hospital, so I didn’t want to go to nationals and compete. But he told me to go, that he really wanted me to go. So I did. Now I realize that if he didn’t push me like that, I wouldn’t be in the spot I am right now with the Olympics so close.

On the anniversary, I texted him and said, “Dad, I’m so proud of how far you’ve come and that you’ve come back so strong.” He is still in a wheelchair, but he can use his hands and he is getting better every day.

The day the Olympics were supposed to start, one of my coaches, Alison Lim, sent me a text. She said today was the day I’d be at the opening ceremony and that this year didn’t turn out how any of us wanted it to. She told me to keep reaching and pushing my limits, and that it won’t be easy, but that nothing worth it ever is. On that sad, depressing day of this crazy year, it was so nice to get a note like that.

It really sucked to be out of the gym for so long. I can’t afford to miss more time because I already missed so much with my ankle injury. Getting sick pushed me back another two weeks. I’m so nervous that I’m falling behind. One of the hardest things was watching my friends post what they are doing in the gym. I just sat on my bed in my pajamas and watched them on Instagram. Everyone got pretty good.

Before I went back to training, I had to take an EKG to make sure my heart was OK. I also had to take a chest X-ray, do a throat culture and give blood for testing. The national team and my coaches wanted to make sure my body was ready for hard training. When I finally got back to the gym, my coach, Jess Graba, told me to take it slow and not rush into anything. Now I basically have all of my skills back, except on vault. I haven’t done vault yet because my ankle still hurts a little bit, but I go to physical therapy every week to strengthen it.

After you take time off, it can be really scary to do the harder things you used to do, and I personally hate being scared. When I’m scared of hurting myself, I start to overthink things and won’t go for it. The uneven bars make me especially nervous because when you stop training, you lose sense of where the bar is going to be. And I grew an inch and a half this year, so I have had to make adjustments.

So instead of thinking too much, I just force myself to do a skill. After I throw one, I’m fine, even though I always wipe out on that first one. I just get back up and get ready to go again.

I learned one very important lesson through all this. I realized that I could actually miss practice and rest, then come back to the gym and still have my skills. I had no idea that it could be that way. Now I think it’s more beneficial, mentally and physically, to rest sometimes because your body and your mind can heal and you can work on yourself as a person. And when you finally go back, your body feels brand-new.

Thinking about all the bad things that have happened to me has actually made me more positive about the Olympics. It reminds me that I could handle tough times and still be OK because I’ve handled many tough times before. Last year, just like this year, was one bad thing after another. I broke my ankle, then my dad had his accident, but then I did great at nationals and at worlds. I knew he was watching me so I did great for him.

I fought off the negative thoughts and the sadness, and just focused. Now I feel like I’m maybe tougher because of it. No, not maybe. I am tougher because of it.

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