We asked a few of our Elite Athletes to share the hardships of the last year in quarantine with us. This is the second in that series. Many thanks to Discus National Champion Sam Mattis for sharing his thoughts on the rough ride of 2020! We've included a couple links as well to some of Sam's favorite supplements toward the end.
What’s it been like training for the 2020 but now 202One ™ Olympics? Well...it’s been a ride.
Going into the 2020 season that never was, I was in the best shape of my life. I had just come off of winning my first senior national championship, making my first senior world team, and nearly making the finals of my first senior world championship. Not just that, but I was feeling even better than I had felt competing at those meets. I was pumped for the season. More than that, I was excited to have a very real opportunity at making the Olympic team I had been training toward for over a decade. Then I saw a few stories about this new virus pop up on my Twitter timeline. Before I knew it, it was here and we were in lockdown.
I had lived in New Jersey for most of 2019 with accomplished athletes and goons, Noah Kennedy White (of EFM blogging fame) and Rudy Winkler (of Olympic fame). But once gyms and facilities began to close, that fellowship came to an end. Rudy left to train at his alma mater, Cornell, while Noah and I made our return to Berks County, PA. This move was to train with our coach, Dane Miller, at one of the best gyms in the country. We limited the amount of people in the gym, trained outside, wore masks and did our best to stay safe. We’ve continued doing our best to follow proper safety protocols since then.
As spring crept closer to summer, it became clear that the Olympics weren’t going to happen, the 2020 season wasn’t going to happen and things weren’t going to go back to normal for a very long time. Thankfully, I had saved up enough money from a successful 2019 season to financially make it through 2020. If I had even a slightly less successful 2019 season, I likely would have had to retire to try to find regular employment in the middle of the ongoing economic catastrophe. Most sponsors have stopped signing new athletes and there have been almost no international meets with prize money that American athletes can attend. Since the summer, I’ve been getting by with some savings and unemployment checks. The life of an Olympic sport athlete is truly glamorous.
With the summer came a wave of social unrest and (hopefully) an awakening of a truly democratic, racially inclusive and socially just spirit in America (well, for some of America). It was clear then as it is clear now and always has been: we all have an obligation to demand and fight for justice. But, as you may have noticed, that awakening was not met with peace and acceptance by the police and the powers that be. We were teargassed for marching peacefully, threatened with arrest for exercising our first amendment rights, shouted at for stating that Black lives matter and ordered to disperse while Proud Boys and other racists were given water and treated kindly by law enforcement.
This struggle is not new and its roots trace back to America’s founding, but the intensity of unrest and the brutality of our society is now more visible. And it is something that will not go away until this country finally attempts to address the mistakes of the past and works to build a truly just future. I encourage you all to get involved in your communities. Do something to give meaning to those black squares you posted, and come to a holistic understanding of how our political and economic systems propagate an unjust world.
To not get too far off track, suffice to say that all this has not necessarily had a positive impact on my training.
In July, I woke up one day with some pain in my sides. By the end of the week I couldn’t stand for more than ten minutes. Because of the time and energy that protesting and organizing were taking, I had been neglecting the recovery portion of my training and ended up with a pretty bad injury in my intercostal muscles. I missed three weeks of workouts and it was almost three months until I could resume normal training.
But that hasn’t stopped my training, organizing or other pursuits. Over the summer (shameless plug incoming), Noah, myself and a few friends started our own supplement company, Respect Des Fonds. Through our experiences, especially over the past year, we have a keen understanding of how much stress affects the mind and body. We sell adaptogens, a class of plants and herbs that can help the body deal with stress holistically and on a cellular level. (If you want to learn more about adaptogens, who we are or what we sell, check out our IG @respectdesfonds or visit the website).
Outside of these highlights, though, 2020 was honestly pretty monotonous. The one thing I keep coming back to is just how maddeningly repetitive the day-to-day has felt. It’s been weird to wake up and train everyday without having meets to look forward to, especially with the backdrop of the pandemic and all the suffering that it has produced. Meditation has helped with focusing through the monotony, but the days have certainly been blending together for about a year (a decade? When was March 2020?) now. Sometimes it feels like the only difference I notice is whether it’s cold enough to demand a sweatshirt while I warm-up or hot enough to work out in shorts. I haven’t competed in a major competition in a year and a half. And while I’m optimistic that the Olympics will happen this year, I’m very aware that they might not. I hope they do. But if they don’t, I guess I’ll just keep rolling with the punches.
It has been a truly insane 400 days (more than that, honestly, but let’s just start with the pandemic). Even the simple things like training haven’t been so simple. Navigating through a profoundly unjust world with little economic means in the midst of a pandemic has been tough at times, but boring through most. I know my experiences are not necessarily unique, and the hardships that I’ve dealt with are by no means the worst of what people have had to go through this year. If 202One has taught us anything, I hope it’s to understand different perspectives, value different experiences and have empathy with our fellow humans. And I hope the spring, the vaccine and a generation finding its voice can bring us not just back to normal, but to a better world. And in that better world, it would be nice to focus on the silly things, like throwing a two kilogram discus as far as I can.