Femita Ayanbeku had been waiting for 2020 for four years. The Brockton High School graduate went to Rio de Janiero in 2016 as a member of the U.S. Paralympic Track and Field Team, placing sixth in the 200-meter T44 final.
Like many other American athletes, Ayanbeku, 27, has been training and competing since then with the goal of going to Tokyo this summer. But that all changed when the Olympics and Paralympics got pushed back a year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“There’s no relief in the idea that this one competition you’ve been preparing for this whole entire time is now pushed further away from you," said Ayanbeku, a Taunton, Mass., resident. "Again, with the buildup, you were waiting for this time. I’ve been saying '2020' for the last four years after 2016 was over.”
Other Olympic hopefuls in New England must still prepare for the delayed games, but for the time being, without the same access to all the training resources they would normally have. Another challenge is the loss of potential sponsorships that many Olympic and Paralympic athletes had been banking on.
Ayanbeku said she has to wait to again experience the thrill she had at the last staging of the world's biggest sports competition.
“Going to Rio definitely humbled me and made me realize, you put in a lot of work, but there’s a lot more work to do," she said.
Kate Hall, who is from Casco, Maine, hasn’t made it to the Olympics yet, but she’s come close. She qualified for the final in the long jump at the 2016 U.S. Olympic trials.
Hall, 23, said she was looking forward to going back to the trials this June for another shot at making it onto Team USA — until that competition was postponed, too.
“There are a lot of unknowns right now because I don’t even know if there’s gonna be a season this summer," Hall said. "So even though the Olympics are postponed, there might still be some competitions and I really want to compete if I can. So I don’t want to just stop training and just assume that there’s not going to be a season.”
But that’s difficult when gyms and other indoor facilities have shut down. "So I've been having to train in 30 degree or 40 degree weather until it warms up, which is really hard," she said.
Noelle Lambert, a former lacrosse player at UMass Lowell, said she was looking forward to going to the U.S. Paralympic Trials and a chance at making the Paralympic team as a sprinter. She set a U.S. record in the 100 meter T63 sprint at the World Para Athletics Championships in November with a time of 16.31 seconds.
She said she had a potential sponsorship deal with Lululemon, an athletic apparel company, that’s had to be put on hold.
"They were talking about [me] potentially ... becoming a running ambassador," Lambert said. "And then I had a meeting with their staff and everything. It was like that week when everything started canceling. ... It was bad timing ... but, obviously, I'm still in contact with them."
Lambert, 23, was eager for the opportunity, but she compared this to another challenge she faced not so long ago.
"I lost my leg a little over three and a half years ago and at the time I was a Division I athlete playing lacrosse," she said. "A lot of what came with that was patience and was getting that motivation to try to work my way back out onto the field with a prosthetic. So I'm kind of relating that and just thinking to myself, 'OK, I just need to keep getting myself better every single day just because you never know what's going to happen or when they're going to come out with a new meet or anything like that.'"
The Olympic and Paralympic Summer Games have been rescheduled to July 2021, a year after they were originally set to start.
They were something the whole world was looking forward to this year. But now, for Ayanbeku and other athletes, the prospect of competing in next year’s games may have even more significance.
"Especially thinking, you know, all of us coming out of this together and being able to come together again and do what we love," Ayanbeku said. "I think it's going to be even more exciting than this year because now the anticipation is higher. We were all ready and now it's like, you know, put it on hold again and I think the build up for next year will be even better."