Olympic hopeful details emotions of coronavirus impact on training for 2020 Tokyo Summer Games

Editor's note: USA Fencing athlete Kamali Thompson shared her story before Dick Pound told USA TODAY on Monday that the 2020 Tokyo Games will be postponed. Thompson, who is from Teaneck, N.J., is a student at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

On Thursday, March 13 I woke up in Paris, France just coming off a competition in Athens, Greece with plans of training with the French national fencing team for a week before the next Olympic qualifier in Sint-Niklaas, Belgium.

With three (out of 13) Olympic qualifiers left, this was grind time and I planned on being as productive as possible during the next week to do well in the remaining competitions. My plan was to wake up and head off to practice. However, when I woke up, my plans quickly changed.

Kamali Thomspon is a U.S. saber fencer who is a student at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. (Photo: Courtesy: Kamali Thompson)

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I awoke to 30 text messages, DMs and missed FaceTime calls from my family and friends. They all sent me the article explaining Trump’s travel ban to Europe and told me I had to get out of the country ASAP. Obviously my first concern was the World Cup. What if I can’t get back in time to fence? Does it make more sense to stay here? But, within 10 minutes, I realized if nobody could attend the World Cup, there was no way it would count – if the World Cup was happening at all.

I woke up at 9 a.m., changed my flight by 9:30, packed liked Kevin’s family in the first Home Alone, headed to the airport at 10:15, and was on a 1 p.m. flight home.

The next several days was spent in confusion as the remaining qualifiers were cancelled. My dream was so close to being achieved then unexpectedly halted. My first concern was training. Do I just go back to my normal routine? Is it even safe to go to my club? Between myself and my teammates we all just came from four different countries (France, Greece, Luxembourg and Hungary) and came in contact with hundreds of competitors. The odds are high someone has it even though all the cases in those countries were low. I was certain the fencing club would be closed in a couple of days but I was so torn. Did it make sense to go to practice and risk exposing myself just for two hours of practice?

But the mamba mentality kicked it and guilt tripped me. How can you say you want to be an Olympian if you’re not giving it your all? I decided to miss one day of practice and that night the fencing club and all gyms were closed.

I realized the severity of the pandemic once Italy shut down its borders. There was a reason they were doing this and I thought the U.S would be next. I read about different methods of transmission, some people thought it was airborne, some thought it was only from contact.

My medical school friends, now residents, were also unsure of what was happening, but they said social distancing was key to prevent further transmission. I didn’t have a choice but to work out alone because all my facilities were closed. While it was the best I could do, I didn’t know how long this would be the most effective way to train.

As more information comes out about COVID-19, I’m definitely worried about the future. I’m worried about my mother who gets bronchitis at least once a year, who picked me up from the airport.

Meet @Kamali_Thompson, a medical student with big dreams of competing in fencing this summer at the Olympics in Tokyo!@craigmelvin got to see her take on both challenges with fierce determination and competitiveness. pic.twitter.com/Cji4pm7fy3

Every week the pandemic is getting is worse. My friends in health care working with COVID-19 patients are rationing their PPE (patient protective equipment) and are concerned about catching the virus and transmitting it to their family. Today it was announced the Olympics will most likely be postponed to 2021. Being a fourth-year medical student, finishing the remainder of the Olympic cycle while applying for residency is going to be extremely difficult. However, I know postponing the Olympics is the best option to keep the athletes and spectators safe.

Fortunately, I have a great support system. My family and friends have been checking on me just to get updates and offering really positive opinions. While all these thoughts keep cycling through my head, the strongest one remains that I can only focus on my goals and what I can control.

For the time being I’ll continue to train however I can and focus on qualifying for my first U.S Olympic Fencing Team.

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