The possibility of long-term effects from catching coronavirus has to be a concern for all elite athletes, according to German canoe slalom paddler Ricarda Funk.

Funk, who has already qualified for the Tokyo Olympics, told the latest edition of the International Canoe Federation’s podcast “How Sport Stars Cope in Covid-19 Lockdown” that athletes are taking every recommend precaution to avoid contracting Covid-19.

She said athletes are used to protecting themselves and staying healthy, but the coronavirus has presented new challenges.

“Of course it is a little bit scary, because it’s new. And we don’t know yet the impact on athletes,” Funk said.

“If you get it, maybe there is a remaining impact, I don’t know. So yes, I am a little bit scared, but I just try to stick to the rules, and I think if you keep this in mind we should be safe. We never really know, you could be infected and you don’t know.”

Three-time Paralympian Kaitlyn Verfuerth is trying to get to her first Games in paracanoe, after representing USA in tennis at the 2004, 2008 and 2016 Paralympics. She has been locked down in Arizona for several months, which has brought with it a roller-coaster of emotions.

Of course it is a little bit scary, because it’s new. And we don’t know yet the impact on athletes

“It’s very confusing, some days you feel really good, and some days you ask yourself why you even want to get out of bed,” Verfuerth said.

“I keep trying to find things to motivate me, and staying fit is one of them. Back in March I was in a lull when everyone was still debating if some of our activities and competitions were still going to happen.

“I felt really in this limbo, do I continue to train, am I supposed to train because I’m not supposed to be around anybody, what’s the point of training if I’m not going to compete?”

But Verfuerth, who still has to qualify for Tokyo, found strength in putting into perspective her current situation compared to previous life challenges she has faced.

“I had to dig deep. Every time I was in a slump and didn’t really want to do anything, I reminded myself I had been to three Paralympics before, I’d dealt with a lot of challenges and dealt with a lot of adversity, so I wasn’t going to let the coronavirus stop me from what I wanted to do, and the dreams I wanted to achieve,” she said.

I felt really in this limbo, do I continue to train, am I supposed to train because I’m not supposed to be around anybody

“It’s my life. I’m in a wheelchair because I have a spinal cord injury, and every day I’m trying to adapt, trying to find out new ways of doing things so that I can enjoy my life. I took those same principles and I applied them to this.”

Ricarda Funk was one of the first canoe slalom athletes to confirm her ticket for the next Olympics, which came as a great relief after she narrowly missed selection for Rio 2016. She headed to Australia for the European winter to prepare for her Olympic campaign, but then the world suddenly turned on its head.

“It was the week I came back from Australia, and everything had changed. I was expecting it somehow, it was the right decision and I’m fine with this because the health of the public is much more important than the Olympic Games,” Funk said.

“But on the other side, I was really sad about it because it will be my first Olympic Games, so it was hard to accept it. But we all have to get through this, and I think we will find a good way. I hope we will find a good way.

“It’s crazy, because in 2016 my selections were s***, I have no other word for this. I was in good form, but I just couldn’t bring it down. Now I finally made it, I trained really really hard since 2016, after failing, I had this goal in my head and I wanted to go there, and then I finally made it, and now for the first time in history this has happened.”

Both Funk and Verfuerth remain hopeful they will get back into competition later this year, but stress that the public’s health should always be the top priority. They are also optimistic the Olympics will happen next year.

But until then, they will continue to do everything possible to remain safe.

“This thing doesn’t seem to discriminate, so I am a little bit hesitant,” Verfuerth said.

“I’m nervous about travelling, about getting on a plane with a bunch of people. I have a spinal cord injury, so being in a chair, there could be some secondary complex issues that could come up, so of course that makes me nervous.

“But I’m still trying to find somewhere in the middle where I can still live my life and not let this thing control me.”

You can listen to the full “How Sport Stars Cope in Covid-19 Lockdown” podcast here.

Canoe Slalom