PHOTO: KAI SCHWOERER/GETTY IMAGES

PHOTO: KAI SCHWOERER/GETTY IMAGES

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High performance athletes are renowned for being fastidious planners.

For Olympians, the first eight months of 2020 would have been more regimented than most. The period would have been broken down into one-week blocks, outlining training camps, key build-up events, targets they’d need to be hitting in training and performance goals. 

There was no room built into their wall planner for disruptions.

The end goal was to be firing for a two and a half week period over July - August. 

This period - just over two months out from the start of the Tokyo Olympics - would have been crunch time for them all. 

In a sliding doors world, Black Sticks star Gemma McCaw would have already toured Australia and Europe this year, before going into a gut-busting heat camp. Around about now, she and the rest of the squad would be nervously waiting to hear if they’d made the final cut for Tokyo. Those selected would then be preparing for the last big push heading into the Games.  

“Now we’re in a position where we’re just waiting to hear what happens next. We have to take it as it comes, which is quite an unfamiliar position to be in.”

McCaw is among hundreds of Olympians and Olympic hopefuls now confined to a roller doors world - training in garages around the country, doing their best to maintain a performance edge.

As we approach the end of the lockdown period, Stuff caught up with eight athletes about their experiences training in isolation. Each spoke candidly about the mental, physical and emotional challenges they’ve faced over the past six weeks.

Their unique training settings have been captured by photographers from Getty Images.

The Gift of Time

/**span.lightHighlight**/For the past six months, Gemma McCaw’s life, and that of her family’s, has been all about two weeks on the calendar in July-August. The Olympic Games./*/*

/**span.lightHighlight**/When she first made the return to hockey four months after the birth of her first child, Tokyo wasn’t even on her mind. She was just doing it to get fit and feel part of a team again. She was doing it for her./*/*

/**span.lightHighlight**/But then the competitive instincts kicked back in. The Black Sticks’ selectors were asking about her availability and she thought “maybe I can do this”. And she could. By November last year, McCaw was in camp with the Black Sticks./*/*

/**span.lightHighlight**/Since the team re-assembled on January 5, her family has moved back and forth between their home in Christchurch and Auckland. Her husband, Richie, put his projects on hold, while mother Michelle took the year off teaching to help out./*/*

/**span.lightHighlight**/“There’s just so much that goes into it. I just look at my family and how much they have allowed me to do this, I’ll be forever grateful. We had that July-August date in mind, we knew we could keep going until then,” she says./*/*

/**span.lightHighlight**/Then it all changed./*/*

/**span.lightHighlight**/“The Olympic Games being pushed back a whole year really throws a spanner into the works. We went from being absolutely full-on, to nothing. I probably took a week or two to come to terms with the new situation. It’s been a period of readjustment and reflection.”/*/*

/**span.lightHighlight**/Early on, McCaw says she didn't put too much pressure on herself to follow her programme “to an absolute t”. Both she and Richie are exercise fanatics, so staying fit hasn’t been a problem. But again her competitive instincts soon kicked in. She’s back doing sprint sessions, has rediscovered watt bike hell, and is doing the odd bit of skill work in her backyard./*/*

/**span.lightHighlight**/But it’s the other challenges she is appreciating more - like learning to cook new dishes, and how to sew. Both her mother and grandmother were seamstresses. Now her mum is teaching her to make clothes for daughter Charlotte./*/*

/**span.lightHighlight**/She’s also been reading a lot. She made the rule that in those quiet moments rather than mindlessly scrolling through her phone, she’ll instead pick up a book. She’s mostly stuck to the rule./*/*

/**span.lightHighlight**/“I’m going through a couple of books a week. I love that you learn about new people, or a new country or a different period of time.”/*/*

/**span.lightHighlight**/Somewhere in amongst it all, McCaw has learned to let go of the calendar./*/*

/**span.darkHighlight**/Photos: Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images/*/*

The Big Bear Show

/**span.lightHighlight**/Down a quiet cul-de-sac in the rural Waikato town of Te Kauwhata, weightlifter David Liti has begun attracting an audience./*/*

/**span.lightHighlight**/Training in the garage isn’t really an option for Liti. At six-foot tall, he doesn’t even have to stretch to touch the ceiling. His coach, Tina Ball, who Liti lives with, is worried too that the powerful lifter will break the floor of her garage with the weights he can throw around./*/*

/**span.lightHighlight**/So, each day (weather permitting) the Commonwealth Games gold medallist sets up his mats at the end of the driveway - the only flat slab of concrete available to him - and gets to work./*/*

/**span.lightHighlight**/It’s become a bit of a spectacle for the local residents./*/*

/**span.lightHighlight**/“The first day we set up outside some of the kids from down the road came down and they were sitting on their bikes just watching for like 30 minutes. Now we’re four weeks into lockdown, a lot of people walking past will stop and watch. It’s pretty funny.”/*/*

/**span.lightHighlight**/Liti uses the audience as motivation for his training. Without his peers to train with as motivation, he figures this is the next best thing./*/*

/**span.lightHighlight**/The 165kg powerhouse, known to his coach as ‘Big Bear’, usually commutes the 70km from Te Kauwhata to Ball’s Ellersie gym each day for training. He doesn’t miss the driving, but he does miss seeing his family in Auckland./*/*

/**span.lightHighlight**/“I’m the second youngest of 11 kids, so there’s a lot of us. I usually try to see my family every week when I’m in the country so that part has been hard./*/*

/**span.lightHighlight**/“But I’m just one of five million people. I can’t complain. Everyone is doing it tough.”/*/*

/**span.darkHighlight**/Photos: Phil Walter/Getty Images/*/*

Screen time

/**span.lightHighlight**/There are days when the numbers on the screen taunt Lucy Spoors./*/*

/**span.lightHighlight**/Spoors, a member of the world champion women’s eight rowing crew, has been consigned to the ergometer in the garage for the past month./*/*

/**span.lightHighlight**/She misses being out on the water. She misses the therapeutic sound of the oars slicing through the water, and the gliding sensation that comes only when all eight rowers are working in perfect synchronicity./*/*

/**span.lightHighlight**/In the garage of her Cambridge flat there’s nothing but the whirring of the machine, and a small screen staring her in the face./*/*

/**span.lightHighlight**/“The erg can be mentally challenging, because you’re always seeing your own numbers,” says Spoors./*/*

/**span.lightHighlight**/“You’re consistently getting instant feedback on what you’re producing, so it can feel a little bit confronting especially if you’re having a bad day.”/*/*

/**span.lightHighlight**/It helps that she shares her flat with three other members of Rowing NZ’s elite team - her boyfriend Brook Robertson, a member of the men’s eight, sister Phoebe, a reserve for the women’s sweep boats, and Olivia Loe, one half of the world champion women’s double. They are all in the same boat, figuratively at least./*/*

/**span.lightHighlight**/Prior to lockdown, the New Zealand rowing team were in an intense period of training in preparation for the European season. Now confined to dry land, the training remains just as demanding with the flat logging some big kilometres on the erg./*/*

/**span.lightHighlight**/“Our days have been exactly as they would be at Karapiro. We’re still doing fulltime training, so we’re training twice a day, and sometimes three times a day when we have a weights session.”/*/*

/**span.lightHighlight**/“I don’t think any of us have ever spent this much time on an erg in our lives.”/*/*

/**span.darkHighlight**/Photos: Michael Bradley/Getty Images/*/*

Home again

/**span.lightHighlight**/In a quiet subdivision in Karaka, Olympic trampolinist Dylan Schmidt soars high above the rooflines./*/*

/**span.lightHighlight**/His body shaped like a projectile, he launches himself skyward, twisting and turning in the air with rigid precision. In the next sequence he opens his arms out. For a moment, he hangs in place like he is suspended in the air./*/*

/**span.lightHighlight**/In a sense the lockdown has taken Schmidt back to where it all began: the trampoline in the backyard./*/*

/**span.lightHighlight**/His childhood trampoline still sits at his parents’ home in Karaka, a once-rural pocket of south Auckland, which has become Schmidt’s training base for the past month. This trampoline isn’t like the ones you’d find in regular suburban homes. His parents bought the specialised equipment when Schmidt and his older siblings, Callum and Rachel, were beginning to show promise in the sport./*/*

/**span.lightHighlight**/Schmidt was just six when the tramp showed up at his Waihi home. Back then the Schmidt family travelled to Auckland three times a week for training, spending the other days training at home following a plan developed by their coach. Much like what he is doing now./*/*

/**span.lightHighlight**/A competition routine for Schmidt only lasts about 20 seconds. Athletes must link together 10 elements, and are judged on height, technique, execution, continuous rhythm, and body control, as well as the degree of difficulty of the skills./*/*

/**span.lightHighlight**/It takes an extraordinary amount of work to produce 20 seconds of perfection./*/*

/**span.lightHighlight**/Schmidt, who was one of the surprise packages of the Rio Olympics with his seventh place finish, usually spends six days a week at his training centre in Mangere, in addition to three weights sessions a week./*/*

/**span.lightHighlight**/He estimates at home he can only do about 15 per cent of what he can do on a proper Olympic tramp, so for now, he’s focusing on basic skills and technique. And appreciating the view./*/*

/**span.lightHighlight**/“It is kind of cool jumping up and seeing the whole neighbourhood. It’s quite freeing in a way,” says Schmidt./*/*

/**span.darkHighlight**/PHOTOS: HANNAH PETERS/GETTY IMAGES/*/*

Keeping the Peak