Olympic champion rower Emily Regan decided to go public with what she is convinced was a coronavirus infection. Her message: If it can happen to me and my teammates, it can happen to you.
Regan and 11 more U.S. female rowers either tested positive for the virus or were presumed to have it due to symptoms in the spring. Three-time Olympian Megan Kalmoe also posted that she had the virus in March and was sick for two weeks.
All 12 rowers in the Olympic selection pool had trained, before showing symptoms, at the national team center in Princeton, N.J. All 12 recovered, said Matt Imes, U.S. Rowing high performance director.
The Princeton center is best known for producing the greatest American sports dynasty over the previous three Olympic cycles.
The U.S. women’s eight rowing team won all 11 Olympic or world titles between 2006 and 2016, a run that bettered the U.S. men’s and women’s basketball teams. The streak finally snapped in 2017. A key storyline over the next year will be whether the Americans can regain the top spot and extend their Olympic streak to four straight titles.
Now, it will also be about a program, which includes the eight and smaller boats, returning from a frightening spring.
Regan and coxswain Katelin Guregian are the only Americans who were in the eight boat for the Rio Olympics and all of the 2017, 2018 and 2019 World Championships.
Regan, in a lengthy Facebook post, wrote that she and teammates between ages 23 and 37 came down with coronavirus symptoms days after a U.S. national team staff member tested positive in late March.
“As most of my teammates started to recover from their acute COVID symptoms, I started noticing a fever on April 1st,” wrote the 32-year-old Regan, a four-time world champion dating to 2011. “That was Day 12 of my quarantine.”
On April 3, Regan woke from a 12-hour sleep with breathing pain and full-body aches.
“Like I had done something really wrong while I was practicing the day before,” wrote Regan, who, like her teammates, had been training on her own since New Jersey’s stay-at-home order on March 21. All 12 rowers began showing symptoms after leaving the Princeton training center due to the stay-at-home order, Imes said.
Regan’s fever intensified, ranging from 100.4 to 101.7.
“I couldn’t walk up a flight of stairs without needing to sit down and take a nap,” she wrote. “Not only did I sleep for 12 hours that night, but I also took a 3 hour nap. I was too weak to make myself food that entire day until I forced myself to make pancakes that night because I knew I had to eat something.”
After two days of the worst symptoms, it took Regan the rest of April to be able to train normally again.
She went through periods of rowing on a machine at the pace of an average high school girl. She felt like she carried an extra 50 pounds while working out.
“As of today, over 3 months after my symptoms went away, I am working on getting back into the shape I was in in early February and March before all of the setbacks,” she posted on July 7. “I have teammates who were dealing with complications from COVID for over 2 months.”
Regan did not take a coronavirus test, but a later antibody test came back positive.
Imes said Monday that three female rowers tested positive and nine others were presumed positive, confirming a Buffalo News report.
“We had reduced our group size and stopped rowing in team boats,” Imes said, according to the newspaper. “We stopped rowing in eights and fours. We reduced it down to two people or less. We were doing social distancing. We had taken our training outside. We weren’t utilizing the boat houses as much. We were doing what we thought was prudent and following all the guidelines and actually doing more than what was asked of us at the time.”
Regan considered herself a low-risk individual. She can’t remember her last time at a bar or other crowded place. For much of the last decade, she focused on being in the best possible shape to be selected for one of the strongest U.S. Olympic programs.
“If you don’t think the virus is that big of a deal because you are young, healthy, or fit,” she wrote, “please consider my story.”
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