Kelsey-Lee and Mike Barber training at home under lockdown (© Mike Barber)
For world javelin champion Kelsey-Lee Barber and her husband and coach, Mike, life under a Covid-19 lockdown in Australia can best be described as the same but different.
The duo have long successfully juggled the two very different portions of their life with Kelsey telling World Athletics last year, “We are very conscious to leave our work day at the door and to try and enjoy our life together at home without any training or javelin distractions.”
The combination clearly works as Kelsey-Lee claimed a memorable gold medal at the World Championships in Doha last year. But has life living together under lockdown created an extra strain between the pair?
“I’ve found it a more helpful (being around Mike even more),” she explains. “Although initially, we had to make some changes. The most difficult thing was I had this blurry line between training and home time – because it was only a five metre walk to training! I had to make sure I kept that level of professionalism and put together a timetable for the week – it was a bit like going back to primary school.
“This has been really helpful because it distinguishes training from home. I spend so much time with Mike in the house together, it is important we spend some time for ourselves.”
For Mike it is a similar story. He gets to play the role of not only husband and coach but in the absence of Kelsey’s training partners during lockdown he has helped his athlete and wife by taking on the role as gym buddy. Meanwhile, he also stepped in as a part-time masseur by receiving manual therapy tips via telehealth from Kelsey’s regular physio, Ben Raysmith, who is unable to treat the 28-year-old javelinist because of Covid-19 restrictions.
“This period has not been harder or easier, it is just different,” says Mike. “The key thing for both us has been getting some downtime. For me it might be going out on the mountain bike and for Kelsey it has been about pursuing her passion for cooking.
“Personally, as a coach I’ve taken time to recharge the batteries. It has been good for my mental health as it also has been the same for some the other Australian coaches I’ve spoken to.”
2019 momentum hits a snag
The 2019 campaign was without question the Annus Mirabilis for Kelsey. During an unforgettable year she added more than three metres to her PB – firing the javelin to a best of 67.70m – claimed three Diamond League podiums and struck World Championship gold with a best of 66.56m.
After taking a period of rest at the end of last season with a shoulder injury she stepped up her preparations for the Tokyo Olympics and was all set to make her seasonal debut at the Queensland Track Classic in Brisbane until Covid-19 intervened forcing the cancellation of the meet.
“Within the space of about five days I went to having no access to the gym, limited access to the track and no treatment,” she says. “It all happened very quickly.”
Australia moved into a state of lockdown and shortly after it was announced the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games would be delayed by 12 months.
With rumours of a potential postponement or even cancellation, Kelsey-Lee was initially “relieved” it was the former but it took time to mentally adjust to the changing circumstances.
“For a couple of days that followed I was in a definite state of shock,” she explains. “The realisation started to hit me and I took four days off (training) to ride the emotions.”
Challenge to find focus and purpose
“And when I did return to training, it was knowing that I had a purpose for each session. That to me was a key point during that transition period. Yes, there was no Olympics in 2020 but I still had to train with a focus and purpose.”
Purpose was provided by Mike, who in the final days before lockdown had managed to borrow some gym equipment and a massage table from the Australian Institute of Sport and ACT Academy for Sport.
He took on his task with a positive attitude, believing the period in lockdown could glean some advantages for Kelsey.
“Finishing the Worlds so late in October the intention was not to change too much in training given the timeline into the Olympics,” he explains. “But given the timeframe had now changed we had six months to address those base level capacities that you don’t get an opportunity to work on when you are rolling from season to season. This is probably the first time since 2013 Kelsey has had a chance to put in 12 weeks working towards reaching her max strengths goals.
“We went into the year thinking if we can go into Tokyo as a 68-metre thrower we have a good chance of winning but right now the goal is to build an engine towards 2021 to be able to throw 70 metres.”
It was also Kelsey’s good fortune during lockdown she continued to have access twice a week to her regular training track at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra – each athlete who uses the track is on a roster with a maximum of one athlete and one coach allowed on the track at an allocated time.
Although Kelsey admits she has held back on the intensity of the throws sessions.
“Because we are not working towards any competitions at the moment the throwing is more about continuing the movement,” she says. “Rather than big changes in the throwing technique, which is a high risk area, we have instead decided to just tick over on the throwing and focused more on strength and general athleticism.”
Despite continuing to throw at her regular training track she has been forced to make training modifications.
Warm-ups are carried out by kicking a rugby ball around at a nearby park while running takes place at a local cricket pitch. Yoga is set up on the living room floor, spin classes has been replaced by mountain bike rides and the pair have adopted a “back to basics” approach to strength training involving squat racks, dumbbells, cable machines and kettle bells.
Yet the pair are both viewing the period as one where gains can be made and are confident Kelsey will emerge stronger from the experience.
“The real silver lining with all this (enforced competitive break caused by Covid-19) is it helps us make some changes we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to make,” explains Kelsey.
“The next four years are going to be very condensed with a major championship every year,” adds Mike. “One of the upsides of the break is she can potentially put in place a foundation to take her through the next four years of her career.”
Steve Landells for World Athletics