Colleen Young poses with her bronze medal at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016 on Sept. 11, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Paralympic swimming medalist Colleen Young has had a shift in her attitude since the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 were postponed to next year.
The coronavirus pandemic and all the changes that have uprooted Young’s daily life in the pool have transformed her perspective on her swimming career.
“Last season, I started putting so much pressure on myself. If I didn’t have a good practice, I would really beat myself down,” said Young, who swims for Fairfield University in Connecticut.
“Now, once all of this clears up and I go back to regular training, I just want to have fun with it. If you don’t love the sport you’re competing in, then it’s not going to be fun and it’s going to feel like you’re stuck in a rut. I really want to focus on keeping that fun attitude, while still accomplishing my goals in a lighthearted way.”
Young, born with albinism and legally blind, has been swimming since she was 7. She was the youngest member of the 2012 U.S. Paralympic Team at 14, finishing as high as fifth place in the 100-meter breaststroke on the world’s largest stage.
“At 14, I don’t think I understood fully what it meant or how impressive it was for me to go,” Young said. “Looking back now, I’m like, wow, and more appreciative now every time I get to go represent Team USA.”
After going on to win bronze in the 100-meter breaststroke at the Rio 2016 Games and a combined nine medals at the last two world championships, Young is expected to be a podium favorite in Tokyo and will potentially swim four events: 50-meter freestyle, 100-meter breaststroke, 100-meter backstroke and 200-meter individual medley.
Young was sent home from a national team camp in Florida in mid-March when the pandemic hit the U.S., as staff did not want swimmers stuck there. That was her last practice in the pool. When the Tokyo Games were postponed a couple weeks later, Young felt her mind become alleviated.
“When they did postpone it, I was relieved. I thought it was the best decision,” Young said. “The anxiety of wondering where you’re going to be able to train, or if your other competitors are training and you’re not, obviously had a huge impact.”
Young is riding out the quarantine at home with her family in the St. Louis suburbs, where she’s always finding new ways to stay in shape without a pool, whether it be playing with her dogs or taking part in 20-minute virtual core workout classes.
Before all local businesses in the area shut down, Young went out to purchase dumbbells, resistance bands and a medicine ball. One of her favorite new exercises is having her dad hold her legs as she balances on a medicine ball, hanging off it and lifting 10-pound weights to simulate a breaststroke pull.
“It’s definitely not the pool, but it’s something,” Young joked, adding that she’s been trading exercise ideas with all her national team teammates.
Additionally, for someone who didn’t run before, Young’s quickly gaining speed on land. Many of her brisk walks around the block have turned into jogs or runs where she tracks her mileage to get her cardio in each day, circling her half-mile route multiple times.
But what has jolted the change in Young’s attitude the most is her newfound love for meditation, and taking 10 minutes each morning to herself when she wakes up. She now makes a checklist each morning of everything she needs to do each day.
“It brings you the sense of accomplishment and goals that you would normally have during a practice,” Young said, of getting to check items off her list.
“I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting, trying to reflect on my swim career and my past. I’ve always put a lot of pressure on myself and I’ve always expected a lot from myself so with this time to sit back and reflect on everything, I’m trying to take it one day at a time and focus on one race at a time. If I set this goal, what are the things I need to do to get to that goal. And if I don’t get that goal, how am I going to react to it?”
Stuart Lieberman covered Paralympic sports for three years at the International Paralympic Committee, including at the London 2012 and Sochi 2014 Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.