Last month, Staffordshire slalom canoeist Adam Burgess was toying with the white waters of London 2012’s Lee Valley Centre, training for this summer’s Tokyo Olympics.
But, if there’s one thing we’ve all learnt recently, it’s that a lot can happen in the space of a few weeks.
Now, the 27-year-old medal hopeful is practicing chin-ups in his mum’s living room, training to be a yoga teacher, and recovering from home-workouts by ice-bathing in a wheelie bin.
One might say ‘how the mighty have fallen’, but the truth is far from it, as like many of us across the world, Burgess is adapting his usual routine to the constraints of lockdown.
And in the last hour, Team GB have officially announced that they will not be re-selecting the canoeing team for the Olympics in 2021 and that Burgess’ place is secure. His goal, therefore, remains the same.
“I was actually getting a bit upset already at how quick the build-up was going,” he admitted, in a Staffs Live exclusive. “We had nine months from when selection ended until the games’ original dates and it’s flown by.
“Now, we have just gained an extra 12 months, so it’s just more time to enjoy this build-up.
“Us canoeists are used to peaking [for competitions]multiple times during the calendar, so a postponement for us in weeks or a month is quite challenging, but not a year. The tricky thing is that we had every day mapped out, which is a lot of work.
“Now, like always, there’s an opportunity to do things better than the competition. With the ice bath, it’s easy to recover better than other athletes than it is to out train them, because everybody works hard.
“And I’m about halfway through my [yoga]teacher training at the moment. It’s a super strength, something I’ve got that a lot of my competitors don’t, and I could put a lot of my success in this Olympic cycle down to that.”
With all the paperwork and insurance checked off, Burgess occasionally leads Facebook Live yoga sessions for the canoeing community amidst these trying times.
Canoeing is a niche sport that thrives off success and publicity from events such as the Olympics – something the Stafford and Stone Canoe Club call the ‘Joe effect’ after Stokie Joe Clarke’s gold in Rio 2016 saw a huge uptake in the sport locally.
This was something that canoeing hoped for this year, but Burgess still expects a boost in participation, despite the 12-month delay until he can go for gold in front of the world.
“We will get out of this lockdown and everyone is going to be so keen to get outside and do something,” he said. “Canoeing is actually something that could really step forward: if you’ve not tried this before, come and get out on our waterways.
“In the last Olympic cycle, big steps have been made with how the sport is marketed, and things like paddle boarding have come into the fold with how accessible it is.
“It can take a little while to get used to the feeling of the boat in moving water – 16 tonnes of it goes down our white water course in Hertfordshire every second – and when you are harnessing that power, it’s pretty special.
“We’ll have a celebration of all sport at the end of this difficult year, before a big performance from me which will eventually help shine the light on it.”
The postponement of Tokyo 2020 is also impacting the Trentham Canoe Club, who, while running a vast range of activities on the lake for their 80-plus members, are major influencers in the area’s water sport uptake.
The club has an impressive disability representation, with Dan Hopwood and honorary member Ian Marsden making waves at Paralympic level – the latter winning bronze in the Men’s KL1 200m at Rio 2016.
The club’s chairperson Graeme Haigh, who is also a director for the Trentham Water Sports Association, looks back at the not-so-distant good times to help keep positive for the future.
“We had the whole Team GB paracanoe team down at Trentham to use the lake a few weeks ago,” Haigh added. “They’re venue in Nottingham flooded and they were desperate to keep preparing for the Paralympics.
“They are an affiliate member group now so they can come down and use the lake, as we are very disability friendly already.
“Usually, we experience a participation boom after big events; people often see the sport on TV and want to give it a go. We might lose a few members this year, but people might also want to try a new hobby.
“We are doing everything we can now to support people, as there are many who will be struggling with lost earnings.”
The Stafford and Stone Canoe Club are also doing their bit by offering refunds to their vulnerable members, if needed.
The club also has a very impressive record on the water, Burgess and Clarke both progressed from their setup, which has many members paddling at a very high level.
Secretary of the club, Adrian Croombe said their gym equipment has been shared to their top athletes, with considerations being made to help every paddler both young and old.
“It’s frustrating for a lot of our members,” he explained. “The big thing for us is the isolation part of it; we see each other a few times a week and your life revolves around canoeing, to suddenly doing absolutely nothing.
“We just had our 11 and 12-year-old group together on a video call having a chat and a laugh – that’s been really helpful. Moving forward we are going to start doing some online exercise classes.
“Hopefully Adam can get back on the water by the end of the summer, so he can really focus on what he has to do. He has as much chance in getting a medal as anybody.
“British Canoeing is supporting everyone superbly and next year will be very special.”
Clubs can also apply for a slice of Sport England’s £195 million grant as they and elite stars look out for friends and members.
Therefore, there’s almost no doubt that local waterways will be flooded with boats and paddles when better days return.