Kim Daybell was planning to take extended leave from his job as a junior doctor next week to focus full-time on preparations for his third Paralympic Games.
Instead the para-table tennis player from Sheffield has found himself thrust onto the front-line of the UK’s coronavirus fight, working 12-hour shifts which leave him too weary to queue for food.
Reaching the now-delayed Games in 2021 is currently the last thing on the mind of 27-year-old Daybell as he prepares the wards at Whittington Hospital in north London for the expected surge in coronavirus cases in the weeks ahead.
Daybell represented Great Britain at the 2012 and 2016 Paralympics, where he reached the quarter-finals, and won a silver medal for England at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.
He told the PA news agency: “My original plan was to finish work next week then be off for three or four months to train up for Tokyo.
“Instead, I’m moving onto 12-hour shifts. I work at one of the smaller hospitals in north London, and every single bed is being prepared to be a potential corona bed.
“Our capacity is filling up and we are waiting to be hit by the big wave. We are cancelling elective surgeries and clearing out the surgery department to open up as many extra beds as possible.”
Daybell studied for a degree in medicine at Leeds University and subsequently balanced his duties as a junior doctor with his burgeoning sporting career, which enabled him to take a year off from his studies in 2015 to focus on reaching the Rio Games.
There are no such luxuries available this year, as instead Daybell finds himself isolating off from friends and family and struggling to face the prospect of shopping for essential provisions at the end of his long shifts.
“I’m lucky because there are lots of small shops near where I live in London, but sometimes I see people queuing to get in and I just can’t be bothered to join them because I’m so knackered,” added Daybell.
“As a health care professional it is very tough to deal with. Emotionally it’s not easy, but at the same time this is why we all signed up to it in the first place.
“I have a short commute to work but it annoys me when I see so many people stopping to chat in the street. A lot of them might feel invincible but it is the knock-on effect, when they go home to their friends and family, that is going to count.”
Understandably table tennis, and this week’s inevitable announcement of the postponement of the Paralympics until next year, is way down Daybell’s current list of priorities.
But with no time to emulate other Olympians and Paralympians in setting up rudimentary training facilities in their homes and garages, Daybell, who started playing at age of nine, admitted he missed the “big release” his sport can provide.
“I was preparing to play in to Tokyo this year and having that swept away is not easy,” added Daybell.
“At least I know I am going to work and helping others, but I really miss playing because it is such a big release.
“I love all sport, and even clicking on websites and seeing that nothing is going on really brings it home.
“It is easy to forget how much sport brings people together and gives them something to talk about. I’ve even had messages from other doctors saying they are really sorry to hear about the Paralympics.”
The exact date of the delayed Tokyo Games is yet to be announced, with some optimistic suggestions that the two events could be re-scheduled for as early as next Easter in the Japanese capital.
Daybell, who was born with Poland’s Syndrome, which means he has an under-developed chest muscle on one side of his body, is acutely aware of the additional issues facing the Paralympics moving forward, and in particular those athletes who are immuno-compromised.
“I can’t see myself back playing for the foreseeable future, and I just have to deal with that,” added Daybell. “My concern is what is going to happen when they do finally lift the ban.
“It cold be different for those us working in hospitals, and personally if I was still at work, I would find it very hard mixing with some other Paralympians, when there might still be a risk of transmitting the infection further down the line.”
Daybell’s longer term hope is that the coronavirus crisis puts the eventual resumption of sport firmly back in perspective, both as a necessary escape and a positive pursuit whose high-level pressures remain strictly relative.
“I’m hoping that when I do play in tournaments in the future, I will be able to look back and say, just being here is a really positive thing,” he added.
“That sense of perspective after what you’ve been through will really help with the nerves and remind you why you play sport and why it is so important, rather than something scary.”
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