Coronavirus pauses Roxbury Olympic hopeful’s training
ROXBURY — Megan Henry has dealt with obstacles in her nine-year quest to reach the Winter Olympics as a world-class skeleton athlete, racing head first about 84 miles per hour on a flat sled down an icy runway.
The biggest obastacle was a courageous comeback after dealing with pulmonary embolism in 2013 when her lungs were filled with life-threatening blood clots.
There have also been typical obstacles like training each year to maintain that elite competitive edge, being a self-funded Olympic hopeful and coming up with creative ways to raise money to compete on the international stage.
Now, there is a new obstacle for the Roxbury resident. The coronavirus pandemic has presented unexpected obstacles for Henry, the daughter of Roxbury First Selectman Barbara Henry, including the emotional stress of the virus hitting close to home.
“Now, everyone has to adjust their training because every gym is closed,” Henry said. “It’s a new situation for everyone because it has impacted our training and mentiality. This virus has also been an impact emotionally.
“I had the misfortune of watching my grandmother suffer and die from coronavirus. She was 99 and could have lived until she was at least 101. For me, it was emotional and a huge stresser. I learned first-hand that this is not something everyone should take lightly.”
Henry’s grandmother, Marie Walker, recently passed away after battling COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coroanvirus, in an assisted living facility in Crowley, La.
The virus also came at a time when Henry’s hard work and dedication to the sport started paying off. On Jan. 17, she earned her first women’s skeleton IBSF World Cup medal (bronze) in Austria with a third-place finish in 1:47.70. She followed that up by finishing as the second American (18th overall) in the women’s skeleton at the World Championships in Germany in Feb. 28.
After the world championships were held, the national championships in March were cancelled due to coronavirus. Skeleton competitions moving forward are all tentative.
“It’s been a long time coming, and there have been lots of up and downs, but this was the first competitive season that was my strongest,” said Henry, a field hockey standout at both Shepaug Valley School and American University. “The Olympics are the ultimate goal, and my finishes at World Cup and World Championships give me confidence going into the next two seasons. Of course, it all depends what happens with the virus.
“The focus is to prepare for October 2021 when the U.S. Olympic team trials for skeleton take place. This success I’ve had gives me more confidence heading into those trials, the most stressful time in the sport because it determines your whole season.”
Henry said the impact of COVID-19 is being felt on many levels by Olympic athletes.
“None of us know what the future holds,” said Henry, a first lieutenant in the Army and member of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete program. “This is a challenge for all of us, more than the usual challenge of preparing to be your best. It’s who can stay focused in this time of adversity.”
Henry said the bottom line is all Olympic athletes “will control what they can control with own-time management.” She’s embracing that new element of preparation.
“In a strange way, I like it because it’s an opportunity to better yourself on the mental side of things,” Henry said. “It’s very hard to balance, taking the virus seriously (social distancing, washing hands) and trying to have a life. I tell family and friends there is the need to be vigilant, it’s not a normal cold or flu. Personally, as an athlete I look at it as an opportunity and challenge to strengthen your mindset.”
Henry thought the right decision was made to postpone the 2020 Summer Games in Japan. As fate would have it, the 2022 Winter Games are scheduled for China, where the COVID-19 virus originated from.
“I was relieved when the Summer Olympics were postponed. It was a huge stresser for the athletes. It was absolutely the right decision. It gives people the opportunity to train appropriately and feel safe,” she said. “... I’m hoping for the best, but I have no idea what to expect for the Winter Games in 2022. You can’t put people at risk. I don’t see it changing unless the virus is still causing problemes a year from now.”