Double Paralympic medallist and multiple Grand Slam finalist, Lucy Shuker, shares her insight and experience from the recent Australian Open, which was subject to stringent COVID-19 protocols, including the need for athletes to quarantine on arrival into the country.
“I have just returned home from competing in the Wheelchair Tennis Australian Summer Series in Melbourne. Due to the global pandemic this was a very different experience this year, but it is potentially an experience we as athletes are going to have to get used to as the response to the pandemic continues.
“The first thing to highlight is that there are a lot more things to think about when travelling, and with rules changing every day, it can be quite confusing. For most destinations now you are required to obtain a negative PCR test less than 72 hours prior to travel, and this in itself can be a hurdle to navigate with turnaround times etc. For me, my flight out of England was on Tuesday and therefore this meant a test from Saturday onwards, however without post on Sunday I ended up driving my test up to London and hand delivering it to try and be certain of receiving the test result in time.
“With strict rules in place about who was actually able to enter Australia and numbers capped this year, Tennis Australia chartered flights for all players from various locations around the World; mine was from Dubai. On arrival in Melbourne we were disembarked in an aircraft hangar, where we were processed through immigration and all of our bags wiped down and checked before being transported to the designated quarantine hotels to begin our 14-day mandatory quarantine period.
“Tennis Australia had held numerous zoom calls prior to travel to try to give as much detail as possible about how the process would work, but until you are actually there it is difficult to really understand what this would feel like. I spent three complete days in quarantine with no fresh air, before being allowed to begin the special training exemption that Tennis Australia had in place.
“This involved a total of five hours a day outside of the hotel room, which included travel to the training venue, an hour-and-a-half of gym access and two hours court access followed by one hour of nutrition.
“I am incredibly grateful that I was one of the lucky athletes who was able to continue with this quarantine/ training set up, as there were around 50 athletes who found themselves in a hard quarantine (unable to leave the room at all) for 14 days following positive results on their flights.
“For me, I think the structure of each day really helped me deal with the situation. It was different and there were things out of your control each day, but I think one of the main lessons that I learnt during this 14-day quarantine period was how keeping a routine every day is really important – even the basic things such as a setting an alarm, making the bed and keeping the room tidy really helped me to stay focussed and present.
“I had actually planned ahead and packed resistance bands and some light weights, so I was able to do some strength and prehab training in the room. I think this is a really important thing to consider ahead of any quarantine period so that you feel you are able to do something, even if it is a stretching routine or using a foam roller. These small daily routines make a big difference.
“Food is a major part of quarantine. You live for the knocks on the door which signal breakfast, lunch and dinner! However it is important to be aware of what you are eating. Breakfast came with a pastry every day and lunch and dinner with deserts. It took some restraint not to eat the desert every day, but I think the biggest lesson learned if I am ever in quarantine again is to pack some proper cutlery; eating a steak with a wooden knife and fork is a little frustrating!
“Finally, I think we have all learnt this over the past year in lockdown, that it is so important to stay in touch with friends, family, in this case my coaching team as well. Take time to have conversations to look after your mental health and to stay positive, keeping the end in sight. For me, the ultimate prize was the opportunity to compete again.”