Haley Anderson with her gold medal after winning the Open Water Swimming Women's 5k race at the 15th FINA World Championships on July 20, 2013 in Barcelona.
The clock has always been my biggest opponent in swimming. It’s always there - counting your progress, counting your setbacks, counting down. I had been counting down to August 5, 2020 for almost four years. I planned out every single year—2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and the beginning of 2020—to be at my best on August 5.
When I finished my last race at the Olympics Games Rio 2016, deep down I already knew I would keep going and keep competing. At that moment, my Tokyo dream started.
Like most of us, even in my wildest dreams, I could never have imagined how 2020 actually unfolded. There were plenty of emotions circling my head when I heard the Olympics were postponed - relief, apprehension, and confusion, just to name a few.
Relieved that I didn't need to worry about peak performance in just a few short months, during a pandemic. Apprehensive about whether I could really train and compete at this level for another year. Confused because after 11 years at my team, the coaches I had come to trust and rely on would be leaving.
I would need to find a new home. I’d need a new coach, a new team and new training partners. It felt like so many things were being thrown at me and I wasn’t equipped to handle them all.
When our “shelter in place” order went into effect, I was at home alone in my Los Angeles apartment. When you are sitting at home with no physical connection for weeks, it gets to you.
I have always been independent and capable of being on my own, but I was on an emotional roller coaster, trying to figure out my next step without even knowing what was possible. The fear of the unknown really got to me. I had nothing concrete. No plan. No light at the end of the tunnel.
There has been structure in my life since I started sports, and since the start of lockdown that structure has been completely thrown out. I shut down and decided that I wouldn’t think about the decisions I would eventually have to make. I would give myself some time to decompress, really listen to my body and mind and take care of myself.
I wouldn’t be able to train or compete for the foreseeable future, so no point in worrying about something I couldn’t act on yet. Of course, this was much easier said than done. I would have random moments that hit out of nowhere and the panic of not having a plan was overwhelming at times.