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Athletes adapt training amid COVID-19 closures

It takes more than a pandemic to stop an Airdrie athlete. 

While closures and social distancing to limit the spread of COVID-19 has presented an unusual dilemma for local athletes, many are still keeping in shape using what is available to them at home. 

“It’s been quite difficult, mainly because we can’t get out and do our normal exercises,” said track-and-field athlete Sienna MacDonald. “We can’t do our tempo workouts or our sprint workouts because we don’t have a track to run on.”

MacDonald, 17, competes in the pentathlon and hurdles for the Calgary Warriors Track Club, as well as with the George McDougall Mustangs during the school track season. Since the pandemic has escalated in Canada, the Grade-12 athlete, who ranks among the nation’s top pentathletes and hurdlers for her age group, said her training has been limited.

“I’ve just been working on gaining strength, mainly, so working on leg exercises, abs and arms, trying to build up my strength for when we can go back out to compete,” she said. “I have a bike I can do some workouts on and we have a little bit of a gym in our basement, so I’ve been using that to try to stay fit.”

Hockey player Jake Neighbours, who plays for the Edmonton Oil Kings in the Western Hockey League (WHL), said he is following a workout routine sent to him by his coaches, using a combination of free weights and exercise equipment.

“We have a Bowflex that I can do a variety of things on at home, but for the most part, it’s body-weight stuff and hockey-specific training,” said the 17-year-old, who is NHL Draft-eligible this year.

“I wouldn’t say I’m completely confined to the house – I’m not afraid to go outside or anything like that – but for the better of the country, world and community, it’s just best to stay inside and stay isolated to stop the spread of this thing, so we can get everything back to the way it was before.”

Disappointingly for Neighbours, the cancellation of the WHL season came just before the playoffs were to begin. Considering the Oil Kings’ strong showing this year, the abrupt end to the campaign was a major blow.

“We worked extremely hard all year to put ourselves in a position to succeed. We were first in the eastern conference and in our division, so we were going to have home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs and that, obviously, takes a lot of hard work to accomplish," he said.

“When that wrench gets thrown into it, it just sucks and there’s a lot of disappointment.”

The city’s many football players have also been impacted. Bert Church High School senior Blaise Newberry, who signed his letter of intent to join the national-champion University of Calgary Dinos next fall, is one such athlete.

“My initial plan was to spend time in the Springbank area this summer, training with my friends down there and going into Calgary a lot for training,” he said. “Because of all that’s been going on, it’s put a strain on that, so I’ve kind of had to really isolate and find alternatives.”

Newberry said his current focus is adhering to a strict diet, jogging each morning, training basic muscle groups and working on his hand-eye coordination. As a wide receiver, he said he can still work on his catching abilities with help from a the equipment he has at home.

“I have a jug machine that shoots balls out, and I have a really supportive mom who helps me with that all the time,” he said. “I’m grateful for that, too, so I don’t have to worry too much about catching.”

With high school football spring camps cancelled, the George McDougall Mustangs coaches are using the time to run "virtual practices" using Zoom Plus. Head coach Chris Glass ran a video session on passing fundamentals March 23, which was posted to YouTube. 

Members of the Airdrie Raiders midget football team were in the middle of preseason when the Calgary Spring Football Association announced it would be postponing the 2020 campaign, under the directive of Football Alberta.

For Michael Schaan, a Grade-11 running back on the team, the postponement was particularly upsetting as he was due to finally return to competition after undergoing two surgeries in 2019. A duel athlete, Schaan also swims competitively for the Nose Creek Swim Association.

“That’s why this was such a big putdown,” he said. “I had my whole knee done [last summer] and then I had to re-do my shoulder a little bit on Halloween. Last month, I just started getting ready for the Raiders and football and was starting to get back into swimming by myself. I was supposed to get back into everything this April, so that was really disappointing.”

While the pandemic is a frustrating situation for local athletes, Schaan said it will provide a test of resilience and dedication.

“Coming out of this, I think we’ll see who the real athletes are,” he said. “Some people are going to be using this time as a break, while others are going to be using it as a chance to get better by themselves.”




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Scott Strasser

About the Author: Scott Strasser

Scott Strasser, sports/RCMP reporter
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