National record holder K T Irfan, the first Indian athlete to qualify for Tokyo Olympics, has shared his lockdown experiences and how the novel coronavirus has drastically changed his routine.
"I was planning to throw a grand Iftar party for my fellow trainees at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) centre in Bengaluru when I tested positive for COVID-19. I had to cancel all the plans and go into quarantine," said the 31-year-old Malappuram native.
Locked down with family
The first nationwide lockdown was declared soon after my wife Sahla and our two children reached Bengaluru. I was concerned about their wellbeing and wondered how they would cope with life in isolation and confinement. But what followed was the best phase in my life. It was an opportunity to strengthen family ties and I really enjoyed their company.
It was fun watching the kids cheering and imitating my postures from the sidelines while I practiced. The lockdown has definitely made life uncertain, but it has also brought families closer together, giving them time to bond like never before.
Last year, Ramadan fasting was amid COVID-19 fears. As my wife was with me, I could fast every day from dawn to sunset. In the evening I would enter the kitchen and give her a helping hand. We had tried out Indian, Chinese and Arabian cuisines and all of them came out good.
On the day of Eid-ul-Fitr, we prepared biriyani and chicken fry and invited about 30 members of the camp to the party. There were Keralites, including national hockey team goalkeeper P R Sreejesh who joined us. Although my wife and children had returned to Kerala in December, I was planning to celebrate Eid with the fellow campers this year as well.
This will be the second Olympics in my career. I finished tenth at the 2012 London Games in the 20km race walking and I'm hoping to do better in Tokyo. I had sealed the Olympic berth last March itself when I finished fourth at the Asian Race Walking Championships in Nomi, Japan. My timing of 1 hour 20 minutes and 57 seconds was inside the Olympic qualification mark of 1 hour 21 minutes.
It's a matter of immense pride for me to be the first Indian from athletics to qualify for the Tokyo Games. I'm preparing in earnest and working on minute details with the sole focus to put up a better show at the mega event.
As I mentioned, everything was going so well before I contracted the virus. There had been frequent tests among the campers, and each time my samples had returned negative. Later, we were subjected to an antigen test once a week.
Subsequently, some of the other race walkers in the camp and our coach were tested positive. I had received the first dose of the vaccine two weeks ago. But I tested positive the next week and is in quarantine now. Thankfully, I feel perfectly normal. I think the vaccine has reduced the severity of the infection.
We need to stay vigilant and remember that like all the good times and bad times, this too shall pass."