Lessons for a Pandemic

Apr 21, 2020 1:08:00 PM / by Sue Reynolds


When I wrote The Athlete Inside, I hoped my story about losing 200 pounds and becoming a world-class triathlete would inspire others to begin their own transformation journey––whatever their journey might be. At the time, I had no idea that we’d all be on a journey together through a COVID-19 crisis. As I progress through uncertain days, I’m surprised by the degree to which the lessons I learned during my fitness journey now help me deal with the challenges that we all face in today’s coronavirus crisis.


The COVID-19 pandemic is more than a curveball. It’s a 100-mph pitch that hit us squarely in the head and threw us off our feet. To one extent or another, COVID-19 has impacted all of us. In The Athlete Inside, I talk about learning to handle curveballs early in my journey.

One curveball occurred at the start of an important race. As I stood on the beach waiting for the swim warm-up to begin, I learned that warm-up had been canceled. That little curveball disrupted my routine and knocked me silly. I sobbed to my coach, “My hair’s not even wet.” My coach took control. He told me to pull off my swim cap, which I did. Then before I knew what was happening, he poured his bottle of drinking water over my head and said, “There. Your hair is wet.” At first, I was shocked, but then I laughed. After the race, my coach explained that life sometimes throws us curveballs. Rather than being upset when things don’t go as expected, he encouraged me to accept the things I can’t control, discover what I can control, and then adjust. At future races when things didn’t go as planned, my mantra became “Accept and adjust.”

That’s a lesson I now carry into the COVID-19 crisis. We face many things that we can’t control. We can’t control that the coronavirus is so contagious. We can’t control that it makes people extremely sick. We can’t control how long the virus sticks around. But what can we control? What adjustments can we make to help the situation?

Taking Control

Thankfully, we have control in many areas. By adjusting the way we live every day, we can save lives and maintain our mental health.

PHYSICAL DISTANCE:  We can control how quickly the virus spreads. We can stay inside and wash our hands over and over. By slowing the coronavirus’s spread, we help our first responders, doctors and nurses manage the caseload, give manufacturers time to make more masks and ventilators, and provide researchers time to develop a vaccine. By practicing physical distancing, we make a difference.

CONNECTION:  We can control the degree to which physical distancing separates us from others. We can attend virtual church services, call friends we haven’t talked with in years, and invite couples to a virtual double date with us using videocalls. This past week, my husband and I had a double date with my son and his wife who live on the other side of the country. The four of us had a great conversation, munched (healthy) snacks, and enjoyed lots of laughs. We even played a virtual game of Quixx!

KINDNESS:  We can impact others’ lives by sharing kindness. In The Athlete Inside, I share stories about how acts of kindness from perfect strangers impacted my journey. We can send a note to someone on the “front line,” wave to a neighbor across the street, share a smile, make a donation. The children in my neighborhood posted smiley faces in their front windows. Every time I run by those smiley faces during a workout, I find my heart feeling a little more cheerful. Kindness makes a difference. I’m proof.

HEALTH:  We can decrease our COVID-19 risk factors. A recent study by researchers at the University of Bath suggests that regular, daily exercise has a positive influence on our immune system. We are in control here too. With the extra time we may have due to distancing, this is a perfect time to start a fitness journey.

How do you begin a fitness journey? I started with walking. Mayo Clinic states that “moderately physical activity such as brisk walking is safe for most people.” (Be sure to read Mayo Clinic’s recommendations for when to check with a doctor before exercising.)  At 335 pounds, my first walk wasn’t far––just to my neighbor’s driveway and back, about 100 yards. But, as I share in the book, I celebrated when I got home. I exercised! Woohoo! The next day, I walked to the second driveway, and then the third. I created a routine by walking at the same time every day and became accountable by texting my sons each day. I’d write something like, “Walked to the 7th driveway!!!!!” I loved when they wrote back, “Good job, Mom!” Why not be a healthier you? You have nothing to lose––except weight of course. But you have so much to gain in the face of this COVID-19 outbreak. Go for it!

COURAGE:  We can face our fears. Throughout The Athlete Inside, I share stories about being afraid.  In fact, the title of chapter 6 is “Facing Fear / Finding Courage.” In that chapter, I talk about my first international triathlon held in Chicago. As a virtual beginner in my second year of triathlon, I felt in over my head at a large international competition. Everything terrified me. But here’s what I learned. Fear doesn’t really exist. You can’t touch it, feel it, smell it, or taste it. It’s just something in our minds – and it doesn’t have to be there. I learned to firmly say, out loud, “GO AWAY, FEAR,” and then think about other things to force the fear out of my mind. During our COVID-19 crisis, when I’m scared by the virus’s statistics that bombard us nonstop on TV news programs, I tell my fear to go away, and I fill my mind with more positive thoughts by engaging in uplifting books, podcasts, and movies.

PRAYER:  We can pray. Toward the end of The Athlete Inside, I share the unexpected spiritual part of my journey, including the lessons I learned as I witnessed the strength of my coach’s faith when his young wife was diagnosed with cancer. Through my coach, I learned that God is good all the time even when we don’t understand God’s ways. I learned there’s wisdom in Scripture. And I learned the power of prayer. God instructs us to bring our prayers to God: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). In prayer, I find comfort and peace.

JOY:  We can be joyful. When I run, I often think about all the things that bring me joy: The yellow dandelions poking their heads toward the sun. The way all my body parts work together to move me forward. The food and water that support my life. The roof over my head. The freedom I have to make choices. The acts of kindness I see everywhere as people around the globe help each other face our health crisis. My friends. Especially, my family. I often look up and say, “I know this is you, God.”

In this COVID-19 crisis, some things are out of our control. Accept. But many things, like distancing, fitness, kindness, and prayer, are within our control. Adjust. Just like my coach adjusted on the beach when he poured water over my head, we can adjust to the coronavirus curveball. We can save lives. We can sustain mental health. We can make a difference.

To learn more about Sue’s journey and The Athlete Inside, click here.

Topics: Op-ed

Sue Reynolds

Written by Sue Reynolds

Sue Reynolds is a world-class triathlete who, only four years prior to placing sixth at the World Triathlon Championship, weighed 335 pounds and could not walk a block. A sought-after motivational speaker, she has been featured in several national periodicals and various television shows. She currently lives in Bloomington, Indiana.

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