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Olympic hopeful Matthew Sharpe reflects on how COVID-19 has affected his triathlon future

When Tom Hanks got it, it all changed

Photo by: Kevin Mackinnon

We had been in Mooloolaba, Australia for about three days. And before that, at a Triathlon Canada training camp in the Algarve region of Portugal. It felt like we were running away from the virus. Just managing to keep it off our shoulder. Surging away timely, just as it would reconnect. As borders closed in Europe, Portugal was still relatively COVID-free (although knowing what we know now, it probably wasn’t). The World Triathlon Series race in Abu Dhabi, part of our Olympic qualification, had been cancelled due to an outbreak at the hotels we were meant to stay in. We had hastily changed our flights to head straight to Mooloolaba and start our season a week later than expected. The last few days of camp were spent in an anxious haze of training, recovering, and hunting for masks and hand sanitizer ahead of the cross-world journey.

The airports in Faro, Munich, Abu Dhabi and Brisbane were still fairly busy when we began our journey at the beginning of March. Usually, for myself, travel is filled with an optimistic energy. There is always an exciting potential in travelling, especially for a race. Starting our journey there was still an energy, but it was far from normal. At the airports there were those who were going about their business like nothing had changed. Those like myself, who were diligently hand sanitizing and donning non-medical masks. And there were the ones in the Abu Dhabi airport who looked like they had come straight out of “Breaking Bad,” with head to toe hazmat suits and gas masks. And to be fair, I thought they were pretty smart.

Matthew Sharpe was on the cover of the May, 2020 issue of Triathlon Magazine Canada.

Arriving in Australia at first felt like we had finally dropped the virus. Running down the homestretch away to some kind of viral-free victory. Then Tom Hanks got sick on the Gold Coast a couple of hours south of where we were supposed to compete. Then the NBA postponed their season. Then the Australian government cancelled all events greater than 50 people, starting the following Monday. Our race was scheduled for Saturday afternoon, narrowly missing the cutoff.

On the start line I was grateful to have the opportunity to compete. I even joked with a competitor saying “this is gonna be our Olympics.” And, sadly, it kind of was. I had an average race in Mooloolaba, finishing in 19th place. When I finished all I wanted to do was get home, back to some stability.

Arriving back in Canada in mid-March was a whirlwind of nothingness. Trying to find a routine amid the two-week quarantine.

“Could I run outside? If no one is around?”

“Will I be racing in Spain in a month?”

“Will I be racing this year?”

There were many questions I had. Some had always been there, but were brought forth due to the postponement of the Olympics. I began working with my sports psychologist, and that brought up even more questions. With no racing I had time and space to answer them. Through that process I made a major coaching change and decided to base myself in Canada. The consequences of that have seen me lose access to race funding, equipment and facility access. It’s a huge blow, but I will adapt. I know there are those out there willing to help, and I am grateful for that.

Racing will be on hold for some time. And once I can return to it, I will be more grateful to be on that start line. But for the time being my new goals are the health and wellbeing of my family, friends and community. I hope during this pandemic you are able to find the answers to your own questions, and continue to “be kind, be calm and be safe.”

Matthew Sharpe was on track to represent Canada at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and is one of Canada’s top prospects to be on the team next year. You can find out how you can help Matthew achieve his Olympic dreams through Instagram mdsharpe1.

This story originally appeared in the July, 2020 issue of Triathlon Magazine Canada.