By Tom Fjerstad
Let’s see if I can get through this month’s column without saying the name of the elephant in the room. I’m certain you’re as tired as I am of hearing about it every waking minute of every day.
Canceled seems to be the word most used, not only in wheelchair sports but in seemingly every aspect of life over the last couple of months. I’m sure there are many opinions among our readers as to what should be canceled and what should be allowed to proceed as scheduled.
I have a T2 level spinal-cord injury (SCI), and as much as I hate to admit it, I and many others with SCI fall into what are classified as “high-risk” individuals. While gyms may be closed and team sports aren’t playing or practicing, I hope you can still take some steps to maintain your level of fitness all while keeping yourself as safe as possible.
If you’re a handcyclist who loves fresh air and the wind in your face, you hopefully will be able to continue your training as usual. I’m certain the idea of cranking away on an arm ergometer in your garage is far from appealing, nor are the options, if any, for many other athletes, especially for those who participate in team sports.
Personally, I had just received my registration confirmation to compete in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG) that was scheduled to take place the first week of July in Portland, Ore. This would have been the first NVWG in which I had competed since the 1995 Games in Atlanta.
I registered to compete in five events. Four of those — trapshooting, 9 ball, bowling and table tennis — required little to no physical conditioning but needed considerable skills and practice. The fifth event, the 20K handcycle race, I chose for one reason only — it required that I get my butt outside to train in an attempt to shed a few pounds and regain some semblance of strength and endurance.
In light of current events, handcycling may also have been the easiest one to prepare for, as the facilities required to practice my other four events are no doubt closed for purposes of social distancing. Bowling centers, billiards halls, recreation centers and gun clubs are, at the very least, operating under greatly altered rules and schedules, if not shuttered all together.
The inability to train was really not as big of a deal to me. I know it’s been for many of our readers, though — those of you who are actually accomplished athletes, athletes who had plans to compete in Tokyo at this year’s Summer Paralympics or other major sanctioned events.
Many of the athletes at the NVWG are also accomplished in their sports, train fervently and truly relish the spirit of competition.
For me, this trip to compete in Portland was more about camaraderie and seeing old friends — a trip where I’m certain I’d have consumed more calories than I’d have burned and would have spent more time connecting with old friends than developing strategies to propel me to the win.
On one hand, this may very likely be a summer full of heartbreaking disappointments, but on the other hand, I’m hopeful we’ll find opportunities to fill possible voids in other aspects of our lives.
Try to enjoy the beginning of summer, and I hope a sense of normalcy returns soon.