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Saskatoon-based para swimmers finding new ways to train during COVID-19 pool closures

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WATCH: Para swimmers Shelby Newkirk and Nikita Ens have adapted their Paralympic training plans with pools being closed in order to slow the spread of COVID-19 – Apr 28, 2020

Athletes everywhere are coming up with new and creative ways to stay sharp during the days of COVID-19, but some sports present bigger challenges than others.

With pools being closed as part of the pandemic response, it’s difficult for competitive swimmers to replicate their usual training routine. But for a pair of Saskatoon-based para swimmers who are accustomed to overcoming adversity, it’s just another challenge to meet head-on.

Shelby Newkirk was gearing up for her first Paralympic Games when the pandemic hit. A silver medalist at the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships, she had already qualified for a spot on Team Canada in Tokyo, and having the Games postponed was tough news to hear.

However, her focus soon shifted to things within her control.

READ MORE: Summer in Saskatchewan will be like no other in recent memory due to coronavirus

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“I’ve had to be adaptable in the past and so a lot of those skills that I already had, I tried to put into place,” Newkirk said.

“I just kind of took that one day off and then the next day I woke up and I did a workout first thing in the morning and I’m like, ‘you know what, this is gonna be fine. We’ll figure it out.'”

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With actual swimming temporarily out of the picture, Newkirk’s training plan features exercises that target her strength and mobility.

To that end, she recently purchased a handcycle — essentially a three-wheeled bicycle that is pedalled by hand instead of foot — and she’s been spending plenty of time on it.

“I’m just trying to keep it exciting and [trying] to learn new things and different movements and [trying] to see what my body can do and just experiment with that,” she said, “and so it’s been really fun, actually, to try out different things that I don’t normally get to do.”
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It’s a similar story for Nikita Ens, a teammate of Newkirk’s with the Saskatoon Lasers who is also hoping to qualify for the Tokyo Games.

The 31-year-old has not been swimming competitively for as long, having taken up the sport following a 2014 car crash that left her partially paralyzed, and compared to that, having no pool to swim in is nothing more than a minor inconvenience.

“It really wasn’t hard [to adjust]. Having experienced some other things it kind of puts it in perspective,” Ens said with a laugh.

Ens’s home training routine includes a stationary arm bike, resistance bands and a device called a standing frame, which helps with bone density, maintains blood flow in her legs and provides a full-body workout.

“The time frame, we don’t know it yet, so it might be tight between [Canadian] trials and Tokyo and it’s probably good to stay as close as you can to your peak performance,” she said.
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READ MORE: Saskatoon athlete Michelle Harrison training for the future during COVID-19 pandemic

Both athletes acknowledge that their current training setups are less than ideal, but they’ve also been given an extra year of preparation and they’re hoping to use it to their advantage.

“All the goals that I had for the Games, it’ll be the same for next year, it’s just the timing’s a little bit different and now that I do have a little more time I will be trying to push those times a little bit more,” Newkirk said.

On top of that, it makes getting there potentially even sweeter.

“Not only is it the Paralympics but I think it speaks volumes when someone encounters a struggle or a roadblock but emerges victorious,” Ens said.

And when the pools re-open, watch out.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

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Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.