When the Covid-19 outbreak first hit, 2016 Olympic gold medalist Ryan Held feared the worst.
“In my mind, I thought postponement equaled cancellation,” said Held, a graduate of Sacred Heart-Griffin in Springfield and grandson of Marge and the late Daisy Held of Raymond. “So at first, I was very scared that all of these organizations, USA Swimming, USA Track, USA Gymastics, Team Canada, said that they would not be going to the 2020 Olympics because of Covid-19, because I thought that meant there would probably be no games. How do you put the biggest sporting event on hold after you’ve made all of these promises.“
Then, on March 24, Held and the rest of the world got word that the games wouldn’t be cancelled, but that the Olympic Committee and Japanese officials had made the unprecedented move to delay the games until no later than the summer of 2021.
“When they said it would be postponed and not cancelled, I felt a little bit of relief,” said Held. “Honestly, it’s taken some of the mental stress and anxiety off. I feel like its good for a lot athletes, especially swimmers, who need such specific training environments.”
With pools across the country shutting down to slow the spread of the virus, Olympic hopefuls have had trouble finding places to train during the pandemic. Held is one of the lucky ones, using a small two-lane pool at the Tuscaloosa Yacht Club in Alabama with three other postgraduate swimmers training under University of Alabama Head Coach Coley Stickels.
“It’s private so there are no life guards, swim at your own risk, but they’ve agreed to lend a helping hand,” Held said, who swam a U.S. record 47.43 in the 100 meter freestyle at the U.S. Championships in Palo Alto, CA, last July. “It’s not much, but water is water.”
Held has also been doing a lot of cross training while at his home in Tuscaloosa, which has helped him stay physically ready, but being in the water helps with another aspect of the sport.
“It’s not like you lose your fitness without being in the water for a few weeks, but you’ll lose the feeling and the tactile awareness of where you are in the water,” he said. “You lose the mental side of it and that’s what people were kind of freaking out about and nervous about.”
Like most people, Held is now just trying to find ways to pass the time, watching TV, doing puzzles and completing homework for his grad work at NC State, where he graduated in 2018 with a degree in conservation biology. While he plans to pursue a career in GIS and the natural resources field, those plans will have to wait another year.
“It’s kind of a blessing and a curse,” Held explained on the delay. “It does put life on hold for one more year, but I get to do my passion, my love, for one more year.”