Vanessa James and Eric Radford are not at all certain they will compete at the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships after testing positive – and recovering – from COVID.
The pairs short program is on Friday, Jan. 7 while the long is on Saturday, Jan. 8. The pair, who got together this season, will train this week and make a decision on Thursday.
The twosome, training in Montreal with Julie Marcotte, both got booster shots on Dec. 22. Both felt fatigued afterwards, but thought perhaps it was because of the vaccination.
But on Dec. 23, preparing to go home for Christmas, James took a PCR test that proved positive. She was shocked. She had no symptoms.
The positive test prevented her from giving the virus to her family. And because they recovered in time to practice a bit before nationals, she feels the positive test was a blessing.
Radford felt symptoms at the same time, but they were mild. “I felt like I had a cold,” Radford said on a conference call on Tuesday. “I did feel a little bit of body ache, runny nose, a bit of a cough, but nothing severe at all.”
His positive test came back on Boxing Day.
They were required to isolate for 10 days from the onset of symptoms. So on Monday (Jan. 3) they were allowed back onto the ice to train. Radford says they will take a rapid antigen test, just to determine whether they are still positive before they go to Ottawa for the championships, the Olympic qualifier. These days, it is not so easy to get a PCR test and results could take days. Skate Canada doesn’t mandate a negative test before nationals.
James and Radford probably won’t be alone. The Omicron variant is raging across the country. Pair skaters Deanna Stellato and Maxime Deschamps tested positive at about the same time, and they, too, were to return to the ice on Monday. While James and Radford say they pose no health risks to others, other skaters face risks by competing. Should they contract COVID at this point, it would probably dash their ability to go to the Olympics in Beijing, where protocols are extremely strict.
James and Radford were asked incisive questions: Should the national championships be called off? Should the Olympics be postponed?
“There will be athletes who want go ahead, no matter what,” Radford said. “And feel that the protocols put in place will keep everybody safe and everything will go off without a hitch. And I do think that is definitely a possibility.
“But I think that at the same time, it’s a very difficult risk to weigh when the Olympics are fast approaching and if you have athletes, that if they do test positive now, could possibly eliminate their chance of getting to the Olympics in Beijing. That is a risk.”
He’s depending on the diligence of organizers who are “using all the information available and are consulting health authorities in and around the arena, around Ottawa, and around Ontario,” Radford said.
“We have to put our faith in them,” he said.
James said Skate Canada has established very strict protocols: participants must wear KN95 masks, the audience has been eliminated, as is the media, who will report virtually, as they did at Skate Canada International. “I know there is a safe way to hold this competition,” she said. “It’s been done before.
“For us, we know that we are not at risk – normally – to get COVID again, and we’re also not at risk to pass it on to somebody else,” she said. “Now it’s just whether we are capable of putting on a good performance. And if we’re at risk to put on a bad performance, and go into the Olympics unprepared, or without the confidence we need, or of not making t6he team. That is something we will have to think about this entire week.”
Skate Canada has a selection protocol that allows it name an entry to the team despite their performance or lack of appearance at the nationals, James said.
Radford said he hopes athletes are being as vigilant as possible over the coming weeks. And he admits that it is probably a good thing they caught COVID when they did – “to reduce the possibility of having a positive test” that would prevent them going to the Games.
“All of these athletes are in the same boat,” he said. “We are all hoping and wishing the best for everybody else.”
The pair said they followed all of the COVID protocols. “We’re doing well now,” James said. “Obviously, we haven’t had the proper preparations for a competition, but we stepped on the ice Monday with the mindset that we want to be able to compete and do nationals. We’ll just take these days step by step and day by day to see how we feel and if we’re capable of putting on a good performance for nationals.”
They were pleased to see that their elements hadn’t deteriorated when they did get back on the ice.
James and Radford were off the ice for almost two weeks and a major worry was how to maintain their cardiovascular levels when they couldn’t leave their living quarters.
Radford did burpees. He hadn’t done them in three, four, five years. They proved helpful while in isolation. (Never had the pleasure of doing a burpee? It’s a total body strengthening exercise, combining a jump, squat, plank and push up.)
“I’d play our long program music and do 4 ½ minutes of burpees,” Radford said. “I think it’s a good way of getting your heart rate up. But it’s not the same type of motivation and it’s not the same type of energy when I’m in my bedroom doing burpees, trying to get my heart rate up.”
James admitted their exercises weren’t idea for neighbours downstairs, so they tried to do them as quietly as possible. Members of their high-performance team also helped them mentally, and with proper nutrition.
They’ve made changes to their routines – they are constantly making changes – but they were able to train them with visualization, doing high knees and quick feet for transitions. “We connected with our program and the changes that we made,” James said. “We felt pretty good getting back on the ice.”
Radford said it is hard enough for an athlete to prepare for an Olympic Games. “It’s one of the most stressful times of an athlete’s life,” he said. “Now there is this invisible minefield, laid out in front of you over the next few weeks, as you try to dodge COVID and not become positive in the next couple of weeks, while trying to train for one of the biggest moments of our life.”