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Olympic dream delayed

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Former Los Alamos High School shot putter Chase Ealey was set to compete in the Olympic Games in Tokyo this summer. But the event has been postponed until 2021 due to the coronavirus outbreak. (Sergei Grits/Associated Press)

When Los Alamos High School grad Chase Ealey won the shot put at the USA Track & Field Championships in Albuquerque in February, it was supposed to be the first step in a climb to the top of the Olympic podium.

Coming off an outdoor national championship and an appearance in the World Championships in 2019, Ealey was rising faster than one of her shot put heaves.

“I’d just be a little old girl from New Mexico getting the gold,” Ealey said in a telephone interview. “That would be tight. I’d be the (Brian) Urlacher of track and field.”

Well, as it did for everyone else, the coronavirus put an abrupt halt to all of that.

“When it first started happening, nobody really thought about it going this far, so it was no big deal,” she said. “But training got weird and it was already affecting my motivation. When news came out that (the Olympics) were postponed, panic set in.”

It was a feeling that can’t really be described, Ealey said.

“That helplessness, the dread that I was feeling,” she said. “I’m at the age (25), where I could go to two. And that it (cancelling the Olympics) might have meant I could only go to one, my stomach sank.”

The Olympics in Japan have now been rescheduled for July 23-Aug. 8, 2021.

“It meant a lot,” Ealey said. “Finding out about 2021 definitely helped a lot. It gave me something to train toward, but it’s still so far way. It put the pressure of the Olympics off, but the thing is, I know it’s not just affecting me, it’s all of us.”

Athletes who had already qualified will retain that eligibility, but Ealey will still need to defend – or at least finish in the top three of – the next U.S. championships to earn her way into the Olympic ring.

“It’s good that it’s still happening,” she said. “But it’s really hard to work for something your whole life and been planning for, and it felt like it was right there and to see it ripped away, it was really rough on me. The first couple of weeks were a tough of couple of weeks.”

Ealey says she’s slowly working her way out of the mental fog that had consumed her, and is back focusing on her training and physical well-being.

“We all know how hard it is for all of us (athletes) emotionally to deal with it,” she said. “Some people have cut their season, which I refuse to do. But it’s hard to when we wonder, ‘Are we going to have a season? What I am training for?’ But we want the younger athletes who look up to us to have hope, so put on brave faces on social media, but it’s scary. It’s sad.”

Plus, there is the aspect of staying solvent financially, Ealey said.

While she has a sponsorship with Nike, it’s not a front-loaded deal to deliver millions. She gets paid based on performances in meets.

“It’s like a reward for doing well,” Ealey said.

But without meets, there is no cash flow. And getting a job would drastically hinder her training regimen, which is essentially a full-time enterprise between lifting weights, taking required breaks, throwing, and eating properly.

“A lot of people don’t realize what goes into it,” Ealey said. “I have to think about that, supporting myself through now an entire year and a half until the next one. I need to do something. People don’t realize, this is my job. I’m an athlete. It’s not like I have another job. People don’t understand how difficult that is.”

Luckily, Ealey is coming off a strong 2019 season and was able to put away some savings and USATF also is trying to help out its athletes.

And she has access to a weight rack and a shot put ring, so she’s able to continue throwing on a regular basis.

“Mainly, we’re all just trying to stay motivated,” Ealey said. “I can’t imagine what it would be like if I didn’t have the equipment. We’re really fortunate. The first couple of weeks, everybody was running around like their heads were cut off, trying to figure out what to do. We’re still physically doing everything we’re supposed to do. It’s just what are we doing it for?”

World Athletics (formerly the International Amateur Athletic Federation) has tentatively set August as a time when countries can start thinking about holding championships events again, and that’s also been a boon, she said.

“Having a date on something is important,” Ealey said. “It’s not official, but any date right now is something to look forward to. When all this starting happening, it all started affecting my day. I don’t want to say I was depressed, but I was kind of in the dumps. In a slump.

“I’m a lot better now. But it was rough,” Ealey continued. “At first, it was so rough, especially after (the success) that happened to me last season. I was so ready for the snowball to keep rolling down the hill.”