The coronavirus pandemic put their plans on hold, but they are resolved to keep those dreams alive for 2021.
The first indicators that the novel coronavirus was unlike any other the world had seen in more than 100 years came from the sports world.
On March 11, an NBA game between the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder was canceled just moments before tipoff after a player for the Jazz was diagnosed with the virus, commonly known as COVID-19. From there, the dominoes fell.
College basketball conference postseason tournaments were canceled. Then came the major blow to call off the entire NCAA tournament, one of the signature sporting events in the U.S. each year. After that came Major League and college baseball, then the NBA axed the rest of its season, and by the end of the month, all professional and college sports worldwide were on an indefinite hiatus that, only now, is starting to take the steps to return.
One of the biggest sporting events to suffer the fate of postponement was the scheduled 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, which would have started today (July 24). Instead, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee agreed to postpone the games until no later than 2021. The games are now scheduled to begin on July 23, 2021.
"We both expressed the hope that in the end, next year, these Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 can be a celebration of humanity, for having overcome this unprecedented crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic," said IOC President Thomas Bach shortly after the announcement was made. "In this way, the Olympic flame can really become the light at the end of this dark tunnel the whole world is going through together at this moment, and which we do not know how long will be."
Postponement of the Tokyo Games also put on hold the Olympic hopes of several current and former Texas Tech University athletes. Some were seeking their second straight shot at Olympic gold while others were in the process of trying to fulfill their dreams of competing at the highest level on the international stage.
In the early days of the shutdown, Texas Tech Today caught up with five current and former athletes to see how they have handled the shutdown and the delay in having their dreams come to fruition, and what their plans are for 2021:
Janine Beckie, soccer, 2014-15; Big 12 Conference Player of the Year and four-time first-team All-Big 12 selection. Member of 2020 Canadian Olympic Soccer Team;
Trey Culver, track & field, 2015-18; two-time NCAA Indoor High Jump champion, three-time Big 12 high jump champion (2018 indoor, 2016-17 outdoor);
Victoria Esson, soccer, 2011-13; 20134 All-Big 12 first-team goalkeeper, career .760 save percentage (second in school history), 29 career shutouts;
Norman Grimes Jr., track & field, 2017-present; two-time Big 12 outdoor 400-meter hurdles champion;
Duke Kicinski, track & field, 2017-19; two-time Big 12 Conference outdoor discus champion (2018-19), holds school record for discus throw, 208 feet, 2 inches (63.45 meters).
What was your first reaction when you heard the Olympics had been postponed? What
did you feel when the announcement was made?
Beckie: My first reaction was disappointment, but also a full understanding that that was the right thing to do. I was proud that Team Canada made the stance they did to protect their athletes and, thankfully, the IOC followed. It gives us another year to prepare and get better, which is a positive.
Culver: Well, I keep up with all sports heavily, especially basketball. A week before the announcement, the NBA had postponed its season, the Big 12 basketball tournament was canceled, and March Madness was canceled, along with many other sports and organizations canceling and postponing things. My thoughts were, out of all things being postponed/canceled, the Olympics would be the last decision in sports. I felt a plethora of emotions, but the two main feelings were slight disappointment along with trust. I was disappointed that my dreams were postponed because I have prepared for this year ever since I didn't make the Rio Olympic team in 2016. But I also felt trust in the Lord and in our authoritative figures making the decision.
Esson: I was disappointed for myself and other athletes who have spent years preparing for Tokyo 2020. However, I felt it was the right decision. The safety of workers, athletes, support staff and spectators is paramount. I look forward to having the opportunity to participate in next year's games.
Grimes: I was upset and had a lot of questions.
Kicinski: It's unfortunate about everything negative the coronavirus has brought. But postponement means more time to prepare.
Do you agree with the decision? How concerned were you with personal safety?
Beckie: I 100% agree with the decision. Whenever you consider the enormity of something like the Olympics, you realize what the risk would have been, and that was a scary thought. I knew Canada and the IOC would do whatever possible for the safety of the athletes, and that's what they did.
Culver: I agree with the decision because I trust our authoritative figures with their decision making. I wasn't concerned with my personal safety, because if they approved us to go, I knew it'd be safe. If they didn't approve us to go, that shows there's too much risk of us not being safe.
Esson: Yes, I 100% think it was the right decision. Our team has a great set of medical staff who have kept us informed during this time. They helped to keep any concerns at bay and were on hand to answer any questions we had about safety.
Grimes: Yes, I agree with the decision. Public safety is a big concern and should be taken seriously.
Kicinski: I do agree. I'm not concerned about my own health and safety, but I am concerned for those who are at risk.
Where are you staying now? Are your friends and family members doing OK? Has anybody
you know contracted the coronavirus?
Beckie: I am in Colorado at home with my mom. Thankfully, no one in my family has contracted the virus and no one I know has gotten it either.
Culver: I am staying in Minnesota with my two brothers right now. Apparently, Minnesota has the least amount of cases in the U.S. We are just in quarantine, training, playing video games and watching Netflix every day. I'm very thankful to God that my family and friends have been blessed and are safe. The closest coronavirus case, and the one that has hit my family the hardest has been the passing of the mother of Karl Anthony Towns (a player for the Minnesota Timberwolves and a teammate of Culver's brother, Jarrett). My family has just been in deep prayer and thoughts for the Towns family during this entire season.
Esson: I am currently based in Norway, where I play professional football (soccer). My family is based back in New Zealand, which is currently still under lock down, too. (The lockout later ended on June 8). Everyone is safe and looking forward to restarting life as it was pre-COVID-19.
Grimes: I am staying in Lubbock and completing my online classes. My family is safe, and no one has contracted the virus.
How are you staying in shape in the time of social distancing and staying at home?
Beckie: We have been given at home programs to follow, but we have had to get creative. I've been running outside a lot, getting out to a field to train on my own and doing workouts with the team on Zoom. It's been an adjustment, but it's also been a fun challenge to keep things fresh and new.
Culver: Playing basketball. My brothers and I have been blessed to live in a home that has a basketball court and a weight room, so we play tons of basketball daily. My coach and weight trainer have sent in home workouts that are able to be accomplished anywhere so I've been doing those workouts also. It's also been warming up in Minnesota, so we have been able to go run or walk outside and come directly back in the house, of course.
Esson: In Norway, there are no restrictions on being outside, so I am lucky enough to have the freedom to roam and train on the football field. I have been training with our other goalkeeper while practicing social distancing, of course, which has been great to help me continue developing specific areas of my game.
Grimes: I ride my bike and do general strength exercises in my home.
Kicinski: I am training from home, where I have a gym and a homemade discus ring. It is good to be with family.
How many of you will continue to work toward making an Olympic team for next year?
How many of you will not?
Beckie: I think everyone who was in the pool for the Olympics this year will push to be there next year. I would be surprised if anyone decided not to go for it.
Culver: I prayed and asked the Lord to direct me in the desire of still pursuing the Olympics or not. He still has so much provision for me in this area of life, so I feel He wants me to still pursue this dream in 2021. So, I will be training and coming for a spot on the Olympic team.
Esson: I will continue to aim toward the Olympics next year. Although our team has qualified, personal Olympic selection is not guaranteed, so I will continue to train hard to put myself in the best position to be selected.
Grimes: The goal to make the Olympic team is still the same.
Kicinski: I will continue to work toward making the 2021 Olympic team.
What did you learn or experience during your time at Texas Tech that has helped you
during this time?
Beckie: My work ethic and how to best train my body to sustain a lengthy program. At this moment, no one knows how long this is going to be our reality, so managing my body and recovering properly is definitely something I learned at Texas Tech.
Culver: As weird as it sounds, I learned how to lose at Texas Tech. I learned that the loses are what create the wins. I learned to have a positive and hungry attitude throughout my losses. In a way this postponement feels like a loss. But if I attack this situation with positivity and perseverance, I can turn the situation into a win.
Esson: I found college a challenging time, balancing football and academics. I think completing my degree taught me that I have the ability to push through difficult times and come out the other side on top. When you have practices, games, classes and exams, it can get pretty busy. Once you make it through, you know the next time you will be just fine. I am leaning on that experience now, knowing there is light at the end of the tunnel. When things go back to normal, I and others will remember this time and use it to help guide us through future difficult situations.
Kicinski: Texas Tech track and field helped me find the confidence to get more out of myself when training alone.
Have you talked to any current/former Texas Tech teammates/coaches/teachers since
this all happened?
Beckie: I keep in touch with the staff at Texas Tech soccer very frequently, bouncing ideas off one another, sharing what we've been doing and what has and hasn't worked. I'm very much still connected to the program and hope to continue to be.
Culver: For sure. Former Texas Tech athletes I talk to almost daily are my high-jump mentors, Jacorian Duffield, a two-time national champion, and Bradley Adkins, who was a 2016 Rio Olympian. A current Texas Tech athlete I speak to daily is Justin Hall. He's one of my best friends. Justin and I have spoken about just going at this off-season training harder than ever to accomplish our Olympic aspirations. I also talk to Texas Tech assistant coach James Thomas often, too. We have spoken about current and future plans as well as just about life and sports.
Esson: I have talked to two of my coaches briefly from Texas Tech. It's great to keep in touch and I appreciate them reaching out.
Grimes: Yes, our team managers and medical staff keep us up to date on any new information.
Kicinski: Yes, everyone is caught off guard and upset by the changes but are optimistic about the good things that may come from this.
Norman, not only have the Olympics been postponed, but your senior season was canceled.
Describe what you felt when you found out. Will you take advantage of the NCAA ruling
and come back for another year? How much did defending the national title play into
Grimes: Yes, I will return to Texas Tech. I was upset about the situation, but I knew the decision was for the best. Defending the national title is very important.
For those who are still in school, how have your online classes been going?
Grimes: Online classes are difficult, but I am getting through it.
For those not in school, what advice/comfort can you give those who lost their senior
Beckie: My heart hurts for you and I hope there is some light you can see through this. I'm glad the NCAA will be recognizing this and allowing them to compete again if that is what they wish, and I would definitely say do it!
Culver: The more we live life we will recognize there are just things that happen we can't control. At the end of the day all we can do is make our peace with it, because there are bigger and greater things on the other side. I know our current athletes and I know they have greater things in life to accomplish than just their senior season accomplishments. Whether that is on the track or other areas of life, they have greatness within them.
Esson: I am sure for most people, losing their senior season is extremely disappointing. I hope they manage to get it back and can continue to progress with their sport; however, if they don't, they need to remember this was unprecedented and completely out of their control. There is no point on dwelling on the 'what ifs,' but instead look forward toward the next chapter of their lives, whatever that may be.
Kicinski: I will use the 2020 season like you would use a redshirt year, and you could be better for it in the long run.