There was no roadmap for navigating the COVID-19 pandemic for athletes.
Like everyone else, they were sort of just figuring it out as they went along.
Training facilities are shutting down? OK, try to make due with what you’ve got at home. Another competition got cancelled? Keep putting in work and hope you’ll get the chance to compete at some point soon.
For national women’s hockey team forward Blayre Turnbull and bobsledder Ryan Sommer – they’re a couple, just for the record – there was a lot of improvising throughout the last seven months.
There were homemade gyms and Zoom calls with teammates and, well, a whole lot of fly-fishing.
“People love hiking and people love walking, and I think you get some of that (with fly-fishing),” said Sommer, who is a key member of Justin Kripps’ team on the World Cup bobsleigh circuit. “You hike into a pretty remote spot — we go to Southern Alberta a lot, like, the foothills — and from there you kind of break down the water and read the water and it can take your mind off the craziness in the world.
“It’s an escape. I really love it and I’m happy Blayre really enjoys it because otherwise, it would just be me escaping on my own every weekend.”
Sommer has been fly-fishing all his life, but it’s something Turnbull has only taken up in the last couple of years. They both swear by it, and it gave them a way to escape the craziness of the pandemic and get their minds off the uncertainty of their immediate sporting futures.
“It’s great. A lot of people don’t understand the finesse and tactical thinking that goes into fly-fishing, but it’s a lot of fun,” Turnbull said.
Having fun was important this summer, because like everyone else, it’s been a challenging time for athletes.
Normally for top women’s hockey players like Turnbull, the third year of a four-year Olympic cycle is critical. National team coaches would be evaluating potential talent constantly in advance of making decisions on who would be earning invites to be on the centralization roster next September before the 2022 Olympics.
Those opportunities to stand out just aren’t available right now. There are small groups of players spread out across the country who can train together, but few chances to actually play competitive games.
“Honestly, everybody’s just taking care of their own stuff and making sure if you’re training with a group that you’re pushing that group and pushing yourself so that if we do get an opportunity to play again we’re ready and at our best,” Turnbull said. “We do have a group text and we’re in constant communication with the whole group.
“It’s a group of 47 athletes and then we have our staff. We communicate once a week via Zoom and we’re in constant communication with the whole group.”
It’s been a little more straightforward for Sommer, largely because Team Kripps is based in Calgary.
When the pandemic hit, both Sommer and Turnbull went to his family home in Kelowna. They set up a home gym and trained, rarely leaving the house.
Eventually, they moved back to Calgary and Team Kripps set up their own training space and were able to work out throughout the summer. It wasn’t the same as having the High Performance Institute at Winsport available the whole time, but it was something.
And as they learned over and over again throughout the pandemic, having other athletes around was huge. That definitely, definitely includes being able to lean on one another.
“I think we were able to hold each other accountable,” Sommer said. “There were a few days where you’d rather go swim in Lake Okanagan or eat all the pizza or pasta you want, but we definitely held each other accountable and it is nice to be able to chase a common goal with someone. I think it’s pretty special.”
Turnbull feels the same way.
“I think it was really important. Our lifestyle is obviously a bit different from that of a normal person but I think going through everything with another athlete and understanding things we still needed to get done and needed to stay on top of, despite everything else going on in the world, I think it made it a lot easier,” Turnbull said.