Brandon Lyons competes at the Parapan American Games Lima 2019 on Aug. 30, 2019 in Lima, Peru.
Every athlete living at the United States Olympic & Paralympic Training Center knows about “Pad Thai Tuesday” and “Waffle Sundays,” but in a time when nothing is the same anymore, those are about the only two things that haven’t changed for the Team USA athletes living on complex in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the complex — where hundreds of Olympic and Paralympic athletes would normally reside, train and dine — has had to make some changes.
“It’s different,” said gymnast Eddie Penev. “Nobody is training here, and that’s the purpose.”
Penev has been a resident at the training center for five years, so when the pandemic started in early March, he opted to stay.
“My knee jerk reaction was like, okay, let’s go home,” said Penev from his room inside the training center. “But then we found out that if you left, the protocol upon returning was to undergo a two-week quarantine.”
With his parents living in New York, he decided to wait out the pandemic from the safety of his room in Colorado Springs.
“New York wasn’t doing too great,” said Penev. “I figured I would just wait it out because you feel very safe here. I think that’s a lot of where that decision to stay came from.”
Another resident who decided to stay was hand cyclist, Brandon Lyons, who has been living on complex for the past two years.
“When this whole thing happened in March, there were about 50 athletes physically here,” said Lyons. “And then it went down to 30, and then 20, and now there are 13. Usually on any given day there are around 300 athletes, but people who were away at a competition weren’t able to come back because they couldn’t travel.”
Colorado first issued its statewide stay-at-home order on March 26, which has since been lifted, but Lyons said the training center has been following orders from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the governor of Colorado.
“The staff have done a great job of looking after the athletes,” said Lyons from his dorm room at the training center. “There is signage to stay six feet away from one another, the furniture has been spread out throughout the OPTC and people are wearing masks.”
Cyclist Emma White — who has only been a resident since January — said, “you definitely realize all the changes happening around campus.”
Emma White celebrates at the UCI Road World Championships on Sep. 25, 2015 in Richmond, Va.
Some of the new policies include shortened hours for the cafeteria with to-go food only and no more than five people allowed in at a time.
And while she admitted that “Hot Fudge Fridays” have stopped for now, the dining staff has made up for it in other ways.
“May 18th was National Reese’s Day, so they gave everyone Reese’s” said White. “They definitely have understood the importance of little things, like Reese’s and dessert, which has been nice.”
Thankfully the staff at the training centers have been trying to keep things as consistent as possible for resident athletes.
“Honestly without them, this place wouldn’t work and we wouldn’t be as successful as we are,” said Lyons.
Despite the crazy time, the athletes still made it a priority to continue their training.
“I remember looking out my window and seeing one of the gymnasts with a huge mat flipping and tumbling,” said Lyons. “That was fun to see.”
While Penev was happy to hear his improvised workouts have been entertaining for not just himself, he admitted he was itching to get back in the gym.
Eddie Penov competes at the 2016 Pacific Rim Gymnastics Championships on Apr. 8, 2016 in Everett, Wash.
“I’m really anxious to get back in there, training with our team, like normal again,” said Penev. “These at home workouts are fun and for the first couple of weeks you felt okay, but I’m ready.”
Despite the initial disappointment of the Tokyo Games postponement, the USOPC continued to provide resources for the athletes, which for Lyons meant access to their team nutritionist and U.S. Paralympics sport psychologist, Sarah Mitchell.
“I could at least accept it and then try to plan to move forward,” said Lyons. “It was just the uncertainty that was difficult to manage.”
Relief also came in the form of having an extra year to train. Without any competitions on the horizon, White said her training became about bringing it back to what she loved about the sport and knowing we are all in this together.
“Knowing that every other country is dealing with the same thing is helpful to me,” said White. “Of course it’s tough for us, but it’s tough for everyone right now.”
Penev is also looking at the bigger picture.
“I’ve realized with everything going on this is much bigger than sports, or gymnastics in general,” said Penev. “You have to be appreciative of what we have, and that we’re able to be here at the training center.”
Lisa Costantini is a freelance writer based in Orlando, who covers Olympic and Paralympic sports for various publications. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since 2011.