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How a Frontline Nurse Trained for the Olympics in a Time of Pandemic


Many of her rivals spent whole days preparing for OlympiadJoan Poe has helped Singapore fight the coronavirus pandemic for most of the past year.

Ms. Po, a 30-year-old rower who represents Singapore at the Tokyo Games, constantly trained and competed, preparing for the competition. But she put it off last April when she returned to her job as a nurse after the government call in medical reinforcements

“During the pandemic, getting back to work was a calling for me,” she said. “When I’m at work, I’m 100 percent a nurse. When I train, I am a 100 percent rower. You always need to find that balance and make it work. “

Ms. Po looked for ways to continue her workouts, getting up at 5 am to work out before 10-hour shifts at the renal unit at Tan Tok Seng Hospital. After finishing work, she rushed to the gym for mask training, which she jokingly compared to “oxygen deficiency exercises”, because they made her dizzy.

Although Ms Poe did not work in the Covid branch, her return allowed others to focus on the virus. As one of a handful of specially trained dialysis nurses at the hospital, she often had to treat patients suspected of contracting the virus and feared she might contract it herself.

The hardships of the job also forced her to adapt to an unpredictable schedule. When she trained full time, Ms. Po followed a strict diet and sleep schedule. When she returned to the hospital, having to skip meals and take emergency shifts in the middle of the night proved to be a problem, but only increased her drive.

“From a young age, I realized that sport is a luxury,” she said. “Being able to fulfill your dream is a luxury. And therefore, if you can, you should. “

The pandemic has made the Tokyo Games, which kicked off this week after being postponed for a year, unlike any others as organizers try to minimize the risk of coronavirus transmission. Spectators will not be admitted to most eventsand athletes are not advised to hug, high-five, and shake hands.

Of the tens of thousands of people who came to Japan for the Games, the results tested positive for the virus, including several athletes in the village. Some athletes have refused to participate for safety reasons.

Ms. Po plans to apply her experience as a nurse when taking precautions against infection. Her manager, Ko Yoo Han, who rode with her to the qualifying race in Tokyo in May, said they always wipe equipment and tables and carry their backpacks so they don’t put them where they might be infected.

On one occasion, she and Ms. Po were the only passengers on a bus full of athletes who disinfected their seats with alcohol, catching the eye.

Singapore sent just 23 athletes to the Tokyo Games, and Ms Po is the only female rower. She is only the second Singaporean rower to reach the Olympic Games, finishing 12th in the qualifying regatta.

She finished sixth out of six in her first time in women’s singles on Friday, but will compete again on Saturday.

Rowing was not an obvious vocation for Ms. Po, the eldest of three children who grew up in a one-room apartment in a family that often ate instant noodles for meals.

Constantly working, her parents had neither the money nor the time to develop her interests in outdoor sports, but she still found ways to realize what became her love of swimming on the water.

Ms. Po joined the dragon boat crew when she was 17, honing her rowing skills in a traditional long boat. her first exposure to rigorous coaching.

In 2015, she learned to row on a skull and won a bronze medal in the women’s pair without a helmsman at the Southeast Asian Games, which were held in Singapore later that year.

Ms. Poe’s athletic ambitions often took her overseas, where she looked for coaches and raced, rummaged through savings and relied on friends’ loans to cover expenses. In 2019, she took an extended leave of absence from the hospital to train and compete full-time in Australia.

Talking about the various water sports she has tried over the years, Ms. Po said rowing is especially inspiring for her due to the discipline required to perfect each stroke and kick. “I feel strong when I row,” she said.

Her trainer, Larissa Biesenthal, said that although Ms Poe’s 5’5 ” height put her at a disadvantage compared to taller rowers, she did not let that limit her goals. “She does her best to keep the boat going as fast as possible,” said Ms. Biesenthal.

Ms Biesenthal, a Canadian who won Olympic bronze medals in rowing in 1996 and 2000, coached Ms Po from Vancouver Island for free last year, watching her rowing videos and developing training programs before her trip to Singapore in June. to coach Ms Poh personally after she qualified for the Games.

In a spirit of dedication, Ms Poe recruited a team of amateur rowers in Singapore in the hope that they would be able to compete internationally in the women’s racing category. She worked with the Singapore Rowing Association to develop the team, demonstrating techniques in between weekend workouts.

“Our definition of success is always related to medals, but not only to victory,” said Ms. Po. “Yes, winning is important, and I really hope to get closer to it in the next cycle, but seeing this team that we have created is one step in the right direction. This is also the way I would like to define success. “

Ms. Po said that she was motivated by a desire to transcend her childhood circumstances and that she wanted to create opportunities for others along the way.

“In hindsight, I realize that I didn’t want to be forever determined by what I could do because of a lack of resources at an earlier age,” she said. “Even if we don’t have a good start, we can always aim for a strong finish.”

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