Back at home after his harrowing month in the hospital, O’Donnell has set his sights on competing in an Ironman race in Arizona this fall. He acknowledged it was a lofty goal.
“They’re not sure if I’ll ever get full lung capacity back,” he said. “I may or may not.”
Had he not contracted the virus, O’Donnell, an executive at a chemical company, would be doing three runs, three swims and three bicycle workouts per week at this point in his training cycle. But the virus derailed his life plans.
After returning home, he needed a walker just to go out to the mailbox at the end of the driveway. In his first attempt to exercise, two days after he left the hospital, he walked for seven minutes at a speed of 1.2 miles per hour using supplemental oxygen. He has been trying to add a minute of time, and a bit of speed, each day.
O’Donnell said he was struggling with “a fair amount of doubt” about his ability to get back in shape for the race. But he has motivated himself with the secondary goal of raising money for coronavirus relief, and he has been repeating the same mantra ever since he was struggling in his hospital bed: “Don’t stop. Don’t quit. Keep moving forward.”
This mentality has helped other athletes who have been hit with serious symptoms.
The 29 days Tsang Yee-ting spent in the hospital were the most she had been away from a karate mat since being introduced to the sport at age 6. A member of the Hong Kong national team, Tsang, 27, contracted the coronavirus in March while preparing to qualify for the Summer Olympics.
For the next month, she battled a range of symptoms, the worst a searing pain that engulfed the lower half of her body. Walking was a struggle. Lying down offered no relief. As she fought a virus that doctors were still learning about, “all sorts of thoughts” about her body and about her future spiraled through her mind, she said.
“Of course I was worried,” Tsang said. “Karate is my life.”
But even as the virus and isolation from her family levied an “emotional toll” on her, Tsang resolved to stay as active as possible to keep herself sane. She acquired elastic bands and, on days when her body felt strong enough, completed mini-workouts in the tight confines of her hospital room.