Oceania Athletics’ athletes adapting in COVID-19 times

The Oceania region has athletes from many different backgrounds and cultures, but the one thing they all have in common is that they want to be the best that they can be, and for many, the ultimate reward is to represent their country.  The Oceania Athletics Association (OAA) has spoken to a group of athletes regarding the changing world and how they are dealing with the disruption to their plans.

The athletes we spoke with include; Fijian Triple Jumper, Eugene Vollmer, Vanuatu Para Thrower, Ellie Ennock, Australian Heptathlete, Tori West, and New Zealand High Jumper, Hamish Kerr.


1. What were your thoughts, when you first heard that the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics were being postponed, and rescheduled for 2021?

Eugene Vollmer (EV) – I was not entirely surprised that they would cancel it. I think it is only fair that they had cancelled it. Fair in the sense that it would provide athletes who have been directly or indirectly affected by COVID-19 a chance to prepare well for the Games. Also, it would seem controversial to go on with the Games, especially when the Games stood for humanity and all that it represents.

Ellie Ennock (EE) – I didn’t react because I understand the situation.

Tori West (TW) – At first, I didn’t believe the news as I don’t pay that much attention to it. But as soon as the IOC released the official postponement, I ate chocolate and refined carbs for a few days to celebrate the end of my 2020 summer season. I see more opportunity than negatives out of the postponement. Although I missed an exciting European season in 2020, I was at least able to compete and win at Nationals in February. And overall, the decision was deemed necessary for global health, so I have to respect that.

Hamish Kerr (HK) – For me, there was a massive sense of relief when it was postponed- It was becoming increasingly apparent that this situation is much bigger than sport, so to know we have been given the freedom to look after ourselves and our families was nice.


2. Have you managed to adjust your focus to continue to 2021 at least, and how have you done that?

EV – Yes, I have managed to change my focus, and it was straightforward; take some time out to rest, [and I] will start preparations again for 2021. I think that’s one thing that sport has taught me and that’s learning to adapt to situations.

EE – I have been able to do some training and exercise at home. But Vanuatu is very lucky to be free from COVID-19. We are now not in a full lockdown and can return to training.

TW – My major focus is always just to improve and strive to be the best version of myself. Competitions come and go, as long as I am on an improvement trajectory and feeling good, good performances come. So my focus on day-to-day at training is the same. My coach has just altered my program for off-season base training.

HK – Terry (my coach) and I decided early on that we would forgo competing this year, to focus on conditioning in readiness for next season. This was a great way to adjust my focus, as it means I’m using my energy on things I can control right now, such as getting fitter and stronger from home.


3. Have you managed to find some positives in the postponement?

EV – Yes, I have – it’s allowed me to learn how to be resourceful and creative with workouts. For example, I have built my own squat rack that can be used as a bench press rack as well. I’ve had to use my surroundings like hills and roadsides and parks.

EE – Yeah I am lucky to have a strong Vanuatu Paralympic Committee here who support me and give me positive thoughts to help me maintain my sporting career. We have a saying “TEAM VANUATU NEVER GIVE UP” so we are always thinking positive in whatever we do and follow our dreams. I also say that being disabled doesn’t have to be a disadvantage!

TW – Many, many positives. I am still relatively young in my training age for the heptathlon. I have experienced exponential improvement since April 2017 and unfortunately have also missed about a year of training due to injury. I switched coaches and training base in late 2018 since then we have been on the upward trajectory. I really want to reach the top in my event, and I know this takes hard work, dedication and time. For me, another year of training is a huge opportunity to make the gains necessary to qualify and be competitive at international meets.

HK – I think a big thing for me always sees situations as opportunities, no matter how weird or unlikely those situations may be! When I found out we would be in isolation, I flew home to Auckland, to be with my family. This has meant we have all spent much more time than we usually would together, something I’m really taking advantage of.


4. What are the tips you would give to any other athlete who is planning to go to the Olympics, which are now a year later?

EV – Remain focused, be resourceful, and it doesn’t mean that if you have no equipment or training facility that it can’t be done.

EE – I say I am happy because this gives me extra time to prepare well and qualify for the Paralympics in 2021.

TW – Take advantage of this time to go back to basics with technique, build your base fitness and sort out any niggles in your body. Tall towers can only be built with deep foundations. Now is the time to do this. Also, take a break from thinking only about athletic performances, explore other hobbies you may have, and consider your sport-life balance. There is much more to life than athletics.

HK – I think the biggest thing would be don’t put pressure on yourself right now. As athletes, I think we can be prone to be pretty hard on ourselves, but in a time of uncertainty like this, listen to how your feeling and be ok with how those feelings will be changing day to day.


5. How have you been keeping fit while in isolation?

EV – Just been doing a lot of manual labour on the farm in the morning, and workouts at home in the afternoons. And of course, using my surroundings to train like hills and grassy parks.

EE – I don’t have good facilities at home, but I used whatever I could to help me get fit. My coach helped out a lot by calling and texting me.

TW – I do boxing sessions at home, go for regular runs and am able to train at a local grass track one-on-one with my coach or training partner. So for the most part, I am still keeping fit and building a base for 2021.

HK – I’ve been training in the back garden most days, just with what we have lying around the house as equipment. I’ve had to be pretty innovative, and currently, my weightlifting equipment includes a backpack filled with water bottles and a wooden stick with milk bottles on it!


6. With so much extra time on your hands, what are your favourite things to do in isolation?

EV – Work on our old jeep, manual labour on the farm, reading, working out and DIY projects for gym and training equipment.

EE – Hands are made for many things! We have been making sure we use good hygiene in our home, but I have been able to help my family out and helping my son with his homework.

TW – My favourite thing to do is work.  I do digital design and development for companies and also Athletics North Queensland. So am working on building my skills to produce better designs and build up online media platforms for the organisations I work for. I really enjoy what I do, and I have a lot of freedom to be innovative and gain new skills. I feel very blessed to have the opportunities I do. I am also building a track and field app – it’s been 18 month project thus far, but glad to have extra time to hopefully get it done by the end of the year. Lastly, I recently started Tik Tok and have enjoyed making funny short videos…it’s addictive!

HK – I’m currently doing a bit of study through a local uni, so each day I try and get a bit of that done. Other than that, I’ve mainly been playing games with my brother and going for walks with my parents.


7. Have you managed to find some positives in isolation?

EE – Yes, I have my faith and believe that everything will go back to normal. But for now, I am enjoying spending more time with my son and being able to do things like helping him with his homework and being with my family. I realise I haven’t had a lot of time to do that.

TW – Yes, of course. It’s all about perspective and gratitude. In Australia, despite the lockdowns, we are very, very privileged. I think, for the most part, there are more positives than negatives in this situation. I personally have gone through many hardships in my own life, and this has taught me resilience, to always look for positives and do what you can with what you have.

HK – Being with my family as I’ve mentioned been a massive positive. This is the longest I’ve been at home since I moved out in 2015. I’ve also done a lot of work on my values and identity while I’ve been here with my athlete support team, which I recommend strongly to anyone reading this; knowing what I stand for and what’s important to me has made this uncertain time just that much easier.


8. What is the thing you miss most with the lockdowns?

EV – Maybe training on the track and competitions.

EE – I have missed training with my training partner, socialising with friends and going to church, even being able to go to birthday parties and hugging my friends.

TW – I miss sitting in a cafe and working on my computer. I also miss the social part of training in the afternoons. It’s always nice to chat be around other people whilst at training.

HK – The people I would usually see on a day-to-day basis; my flatmates, Jimmy and Hannah, my girlfriend Georgia, and my training squad.