Pandemic restrictions interrupt Olympic hopeful's training

·4 min read

Brooklyn Douthwright, a high-performance swimmer, just wants to be able to keep on training uninterrupted as the Olympic trials approach in May.

Douthwright is going into the trials with a real shot at making the Olympic team, but she said her province isn’t giving her the guarantee her competitors are getting that she can keep on swimming.

The 17-year old, from Riverview, is a nationally carded athlete, those who compete at a senior international level or are on track for senior international success, said her coach Ryan Allen. They are being paid to train and receive other resources and services which can include access to psychologists, kinesiologists and others, he said.

Many provinces have made exceptions to allow carded athletes to keep training, even if a region enters a more restrictive health level and many facilities close to recreational athletics, such as children taking swimming lessons, said Brooklyn's mom, Shannon Douthwright.

But New Brunswick rules have prevented high performance athletes here from continuing, she said.

While the new rules announced at Friday's COVID-19 news conference brought some relief -- travel is now permitted between zones during orange phase restrictions -- the worry the region could return to red phase at any time between now and the Olympic trial leaves the anxiety hanging.

“Without an exemption in place, there is always the threat and constant fear that something is going to interfere with her training plan,” said Shannon.

Brooklyn Douthwright explained she needs to swim at the Canada Games Aquatic Centre in Saint John, because it is the only pool in the province identical that in which the Olympic trials will take place.

But until Friday, while the Moncton zone has been in orange and red phases, she has not been able to travel to the port city, interrupting her training for the Olympic trials by weeks so far.

Pools were open in the Moncton area during the orange phase and are “better than nothing” but they are not Olympic size, she said.

“Competing in a short course pool is a completely different race. It’s a different strategy,” she said, noting she needs to be training in a pool that is the correct size to mentally prepare and feel confident.

Access to training facilities even in more restrictive periods is not something her competitors across the country are facing.

“Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec have specifically exempted high performance athletes,” said Allen, noting if you happen to live in B.C. or Ontario you have a better shot because you’ve been able to consistently train.

Carded athletes also receive certain services, such as meeting with their kinesiologist, in Fredericton, so those who do not live in that zone have not had access to these key members of their team while travel between zones has been restricted, said Allen.

“Really, all I’m asking for is the chance to have a consistent training plan, not having this constant interruption,” said Brooklyn.

Shannon travelled with her daughter to Toronto to train uninterrupted for several weeks earlier in the pandemic. Knowing that for the period she was in Toronto there would be no interruptions to her training schedule because of the exemption made a huge difference, said Brooklyn. “I haven’t really had that here. We’re constantly waiting for the press conference to know if we are going back to red or orange.”

Allen said New Brunswick athletes, like those he trains, are being forced to consider if they need to move just to have an equitable shot in competition.

Shannon said she has received different answers when she tried calling every helpline or government office she thought could help, but Health Minister Dorothy Shepherd wrote saying she wouldn’t grant an exemption to allow Brooklyn to train while in red.

When asked by the Times & Transcript if exemptions would be considered to allow carded athletes in New Brunswick to continue training in any future red phase, Dr. Jennifer Russell left the possibility open at Friday’s COVID-19 press briefing, but made no commitments.

“We have been very vigilant and pretty strict about exemptions, but certainly, moving forward, we can take that back and have more discussions, but up until now we haven’t been giving exemptions,” she said.

Clara Pasieka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal