A COVID-19 Q&A with Olympic Athlete Aisha Praught Leer
The Tokyo Olympics are postponed, and one might think this news would rock my world. My life has been lived, worked and planned towards being my best self at the Olympic Games—to test myself on the world’s biggest sporting stage, the one of my and every other kid’s wildest dreams. I love how the Olympics draws the world closer together, revealing that we are all more similar than we build our differences to be. The Games are positive and fun, and… awfully close quarters. With each building 24-hour news cycle, the pressure of COVID-19 began to fill me with uncertainty and drain the good from The Games.
Choosing to postpone is the right call. After hearing the decision, I exhaled and my new normal took shape. In a normal year, I train, with very few, if any, days off for 50 of 52 weeks. During my post-season break I take around 14 non-consecutive days off of training. My work simply cannot be put on pause so long as it is safe to train. My life is shaped around this reality and I love (almost) every minute of it. I am steeped so passionately in this work that to rest and slow my progress during this unprecedented time would be completely disorienting. Running is what I know and what brings me peace.
I train in a group of ten athletes who share my passion and with a coach who doubles it. What were practice times filled with hard work, togetherness and joy have now transitioned to ten much-quieter individual practices on isolated dirt roads north of Boulder, Colorado. Everyone in the group is keenly aware of the loneliness of the long-distance runner with tens of thousands of miles in each of our bodies. We are built for this.
As such, life isn’t that much different and I’m lucky for it. I am building toward Tokyo 2021 with every step of my 75-mile training weeks. The reality staring me in the face is that 2020 will be anything but business as usual. What was once a concrete schedule of competitions is riddled with uncertainty. But this time away from the structure of racing has helped me zoom out, gain some perspective and see what is important.
What do I focus on now? I view my role as an athlete as more than producing fast times on the track. I want to be an athlete worthy of the admiration of others. I want to spread positivity and hope. I want to be a leader, advocating for the rights of my fellow athletes. In this endeavor I produce feel-good workout videos for the masses, reach out to those who seem to be struggling, call my friends and family, try to be a good partner to my husband, say hi and wave to those I pass six feet apart on a trail. Life now isn’t easy. But I’ll gladly train in solitude, knowing that little girl with a dream who lives within me would do the same.
I’ll smile a little harder under my mask so maybe the grocers can see the gratitude in my eyes for their work. I’ll keep socially distancing because I know we’ll all be together, cheering for our countries and favorite athletes on the biggest stage again soon.
Author: Aisha Praught Leer – Professional Runner & CamelBak Athlete
Date Written: April 16th, 2020