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Haley Anderson opens up about struggles following the Tokyo Games postponement & how she is coping with the uncertainty

by ZwemZa on August 18th, 2020

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. (Getty Images)

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.

​Throughout my whole career, I have been a big believer in having a positive outlook, even during the toughest situations. I believe that your approach to any situation will greatly impact the outcome.

Luckily, I have a great support system and a close friend took me into her family home for most of quarantine. I was no longer alone. I was able to talk through my thoughts and fears about the future.

When you work for so long and plan for this one moment and then that moment is in jeopardy, it is hard to process. It’s impossible to process alone. My friends and my family were there to listen to me while I talked through every emotion I was feeling at any given time. That is what helped me really get through this.

I was stressed and worried, like a lot of people during lockdown, but my family and friends were so patient with me and so understanding. Even though I had qualified for the Olympics already, it didn’t feel any less stressful. Did I even have a right to be stressed? I should feel lucky that I had even qualified.

I am extremely blessed Tokyo will be my third Olympics. I have spent so much of my life training at an elite level that it’s really become my whole life and everything I know. I made my first National Team and international competition in 2009. I have grown and changed in those 11 years. My journey to each of my Olympic competitions has looked so different and this upcoming one even more so. I am glad each year and each Olympic quad has been different, it would be impossible to get better if it wasn’t that way, it would also be very boring.

Throughout my whole career, I have been a big believer in having a positive outlook, even during the toughest situations. I believe that your approach to any situation will greatly impact the outcome.

The last few months have been a big test of that philosophy. I found myself getting down on myself about what I was able to do. I live in an apartment in Los Angeles. I wasn’t one of the lucky people who had a home gym in their garage. I had one medicine ball and one kettle bell and whatever other things I could use as weights. I had to get really creative to stay active and I was mad about it at first. I constantly reminded myself that the difficult times are when you discover how strong you really are.

I believe most elite athletes are highly capable of overcoming obstacles. This postponement is another opportunity for many athletes to grow mentally. We will come back from this stronger and with the right outlook. COVID-19 has taught me perspective. I teeter between being rational and thinking I’m being dramatic about my situation.

When you take a step back and look at the bigger picture the whole world is going through the same thing. My world of sports rarely gets disrupted and I don’t think any of us were ready for what that meant to us emotionally. But we, and hopefully the world, will come out of it stronger.

By Haley Anderson | Team USA

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