‘It’s been a roller coaster’: UH Olympic swimming hopefuls Peyton Kondis, Mykenzie Leehy come to grips with coronavirus pandemic
A screen flashes with a slide that reads “Flynn Rider is the hottest Disney character.”
People laugh. Senior Peyton Kondis and junior Mykenzie Leehy, along with some of the other members of the swimming and diving team, are taking a moment to enjoy each other’s company.
Everyone, however, is far from each other. They’re all in different locations.
The reigning American Athletic Conference champions are meeting together virtually via Zoom, a sobering reminder of what reality is for many people around the world due to the new coronavirus.
“It’s really been a roller coaster,” Kondis said.
Just a few weeks prior, the team was celebrating its fourth consecutive AAC championship at the Campus Recreation and Wellness Center Natatorium.
Now, the season has come to a halting end.
For seven members on the team, including Kondis and Leehy, the week of spring break, when the entire sports world came to a stop, began as a normal week.
The team was practicing every day in preparation to compete in the 2020 NCAA Swimming and Diving Championship at the University of Georgia.
On Thursday of that week, however, it became clear the competition wasn’t going to be held.
That same day, the AAC canceled the men’s postseason championship basketball tournament, and things moved quickly for the swimming and diving team as well.
“(Head coach Ryan Wochomurka) sat us down, and it really wasn’t even about it being canceled, it was just more so, things are being canceled, so anything can happen,” Leehy said. “And then literally two seconds later, it took a complete 180.
“You’re getting ready to walk out of the pool, and then he said it was canceled.”
Like all the athletes whose season was cut short by pandemic, the abrupt end left a bitter taste in the mouths of Leehy and Kondis.
“We’ve worked really hard for it, so it was (difficult),” Leehy said. “All that work, and then it was just kind of gone because we didn’t even have the NCAA to compete at anymore.”
Both Leehy and Kondis had aspirations beyond the NCAA competition as well.
The two swimmers posted Olympic Trial qualifying times in February 2019 and wanted the opportunity to compete at the games in the summer.
But not even one of the biggest competitions in the world was immune to the virus, leaving the 2020 Tokyo Olympics postponed until 2021.
For Kondis in particular, the postponement has likely ended any chances she had at participating in the Olympics, and her swimming career has likely come to an end.
“For me, it is definitely a big change,” Kondis said. “I have already moved on to things like grad school, so hearing that the trials are postponed, to me that was basically hearing I was done swimming because it doesn’t really make sense for me to continue to train through whenever they end up doing them.”
The realization her collegiate career was over has been a tough pill to swallow.
“It was a lot to take in just because it marks the end,” Kondis said. “I didn’t know that this past (AAC Championships) was my last event ever, so that quick mindset change, that we are really done, was a big transition to make.”
As for Leehy, who will be back next season for her senior year, training continues as best as she can, mostly by doing “land” workouts, as she called them, but she shares the pain with her senior teammates, whose careers have ended prematurely.
When it comes to the Olympic trials, she is not as concerned with them right now.
Leehy recognizes the main obstacle is beating the coronavirus.
“We obviously need to get it handled before any kind of Olympic thing goes on,” Leehy said. “I think we all just kind of need to get over this before we even think about doing something as big as that.”
For now, the team continues to stay in touch at least once a week through online meetings, and Wochomurka has even plans to begin a book club to maintain a sense of camaraderie.
The Cougars continue to navigate the waters as one.
For more of The Cougar’s coronavirus coverage, click here.