How a frontline nurse trained for the Olympics during a pandemic

As many of its competitors spent their days preparing for the Olympic Games , Joan Poh has spent much of the past year helping Singapore...


As many of its competitors spent their days preparing for the Olympic Games, Joan Poh has spent much of the past year helping Singapore fight the coronavirus pandemic.

Ms. Poh, a 30-year-old rower who represents Singapore at the Tokyo Games, had trained and participated full time in the preparation of the event. But she put that on hold in April last year when she resumed her job as a nurse after the government call for first-line medical reinforcements.

“In a pandemic, going back to work was like a call,” she said. “When I’m at work, I’m 100 percent a nurse. When I train I am a 100% rower. It’s always about finding that balance and making it work.

Ms. Poh looked for ways to keep training, getting up at 5 a.m. to train before 10-hour shifts in the kidney unit at Tan Tock Seng Hospital. After finishing work, she would rush to the gym for masked workouts which she jokingly compared to “oxygen deprivation exercises” because they made her dizzy.

Although Ms Poh has not worked in a Covid department, her return has allowed others to focus on the virus. One of a handful of specially trained dialysis nurses at the hospital, she often had to treat patients suspected of having the virus and feared contracting it herself.

The rigors of the job also forced her to adapt to an unpredictable schedule. When she trained full time, Ms. Poh followed strict diets for eating and sleeping. Upon her return to the hospital, having to skip meals and take emergency shifts in the middle of the night proved to be a challenge, but only increased her motivation.

“I understood when I was young that sport is a luxury,” she said. “Being able to pursue your dream is a luxury. And so, if you can, then you must. “

The pandemic has made the Tokyo Games, which began this week after being postponed for a year, like no other as organizers try to minimize the risk of coronavirus transmission. Spectators will be excluded from most events, and athletes are discouraged from giving hugs, greetings, and handshakes.

Of the tens of thousands of people traveling to Japan for the Games, the scores tested positive for the virus, including several inside the Athletes’ Village. Some athletes withdrew for safety reasons.

Ms Poh plans to apply her nursing experience when taking infection precautions. Her manager, Koh Yu Han, who traveled with her for a qualifying race in Tokyo in May, said they make a point of wiping down equipment and tables and carrying their backpacks to everything. moment to avoid putting them in a place where they could be contaminated.

On one occasion, she and Ms Poh were the only passengers on a bus full of athletes to sanitize their seats with alcohol, drawing attention to them.

Singapore has only sent 23 athletes to the Tokyo Games and Ms. Poh is the only rower. She is only the second Singaporean rower to reach the Olympics, placing 12th in the qualifying regatta.

She was sixth of six in her first wave of the women’s single scull on Friday, but will compete again on Saturday.

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

Constantly working, her parents had neither the money nor the time to develop her interest in outdoor sports, but she still found ways to continue what has become her love of being on the water.

Ms Poh joined a dragon boat team at the age of 17, honing her paddling skills on a traditional long boat, in what was his first introduction to rigorous coaching.

She learned to row a scull in 2015 and won a bronze medal in the women’s coxless pair at the Southeast Asian Games hosted by Singapore later that year.

Ms Poh’s athletic ambitions often took her abroad, where she sought out coaches and races, dipping into her savings and relying on loans from friends to cover her expenses. In 2019, she took an extended leave of absence from her hospital job in order to train and compete full time in Australia.

Among the various water sports she has tried over the years, Ms Poh said she finds rowing particularly invigorating due to the discipline it takes to perfect every stroke and push of the leg. “I feel empowered when I paddle,” she said.

Her trainer, Laryssa Biesenthal, said that while Ms Poh’s 5ft 5in height put her at a disadvantage compared to taller rowers, she didn’t let that limit her goals. “She is doing everything she can with what she has to get the boat going as fast as possible,” Ms. Biesenthal said.

Ms. Biesenthal, a Canadian who won Olympic bronze medals in rowing in 1996 and 2000, coached Ms. Poh for free from Vancouver Island last year, reviewing her rowing videos and designing training programs before to travel to Singapore in June to train Ms. Biesenthal. Poh in person after qualifying for the Games.

In the spirit of giving back, Ms Poh recruited a team of amateur rowers in Singapore in the hope that they could compete internationally in the eight-woman category. She worked with the Singapore Rowing Association to build the team, demonstrating techniques between her own weekend workouts.

“How we define success is always about medals, but it’s not just about winning,” said Ms. Poh. “Yes, winning is important and I hope to get close to it in the next cycle, but seeing this team that we have built is a step in the right direction. This is also how I would like to define success.

Ms Poh said she was driven by a desire to transcend the circumstances of her childhood and wanted to create opportunities for others along the way.

“Looking back, I didn’t want my lack of resources earlier in life to permanently determine what I could do,” she said. “Even when we don’t have a good start, we can still aim to finish strong. “

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Newsrust - US Top News: How a frontline nurse trained for the Olympics during a pandemic
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