Natalie Powell had hoped to be going for gold at the Olympic Games this summer. Instead, Wales’ leading judoka has turned her living room into a makeshift combat area and is trying to stay fit and healthy, as she tells Graham Thomas.
Natalie Powell has re-set her goals and adapted her training as she gets used to a delayed Olympic Games.
It’s a flexible approach that Wales’ top judo star believes can benefit everyone as they aim to stay fit and healthy during the restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Former world No.1 Powell had spent months shaping her regime towards the Tokyo Games this summer. The 29-year-old would have chased her dream of a gold medal, only for that ambition to be put on hold for 12 months.
Instead, she is having to train inside her Cardiff home and then make the most of her daily walk around Bute Park, like many of the rest of the city’s frustrated population.
But having accepted the new reality, she has some words of advice for others.
“I think it’s really important to set aside the time to exercise and keep fit, however hard that may seem at the moment,” says the 2017 world No.1.
“Look at your week and think, ‘when can I still fit in those exercise sessions I would normally do?’
🙌 There are simple things we can all do to help combat the spread of #COVID19.
— #JudoCymru (@Welsh_Judo) March 17, 2020
“Obviously, they’re probably going to be different to what you did before. But there’s so many videos on-line out there now.
“There are bodyweight circuits you can do if you want to focus on strength. Or, if you want to focus on conditioning, again, there are on-line yoga and Pilates classes.
“If you can get on-line and have a look at the sort of things you can do in your own home, then set aside some time and you can still be motivated.”
The current lockdown can be a real threat to emotional health – even for someone used to mental combat like a world-ranked elite judoka – which is why those walks are so vital.
Unlike some in her sport who use running to make their category weight, Powell tends not to run – meaning her current outdoor allowance is mainly for peace of mind.
“I have been getting out for a good hour or so every day in the park and I think that’s really important for keeping me sane at the moment.
“I’m not someone who tends to generally like walking. But it’s getting me out and allowing me to think things through. Everyone needs a structure to their day at the moment.
“I’m lucky to have a great support team, including a psychologist, and we’ve talked things through. But for everyone whose life has been disrupted, it’s about being realistic, setting new goals and timeframes and maybe discovering new things. I’ve found new parts of the park, I never even knew existed!”
Her other advice is self-taught. If you want to avoid too much worry and stress then restrict your time listening to the news and on social media.
“At first I was listening to everything, because it was all so uncertain. But it can be a bit overwhelming and I then ended up going off everything for a week, which was a help.
“Now, I limit what I see and read. There’s a certain time when I’ll catch up on things but I don’t think it’s healthy to be over-obsessing.”
Powell’s own world may have shrunk a little, but that’s not to say the wheels have stopped turning.
She and her training partner and housemate, Tom Hughes, were able to bring in a good deal of equipment from Sport Wales’ headquarters. Their planet may be smaller, but at least it’s still spinning.
Weights, mats, exercise bikes and a SkiErg nordic ski exercise machine have taken over the spaces in the living room.
“Thanks to the kind people at Sport Wales, we have basically been able to turn our house into a gym. It means I haven’t had to really change any of my programmes. There’s a whole load of stuff here and I’m dreading having to take it back!”
We’re in this together.
— #JudoCymru (@Welsh_Judo) April 3, 2020
The only thing Powell is unable to do is her Randori practice – the sparring routines for judo players – although she is able to practice on the mat with Hughes.
“It’s not too bad as I’m isolating with my regular training partner and my coach can contact us regularly on Skype. We’re luckier than some in that a lot of people train with different partners, whereas I tend to do a lot more one-on-one sessions with Tom, improving the skills I need to improve.
“At first, I was really disappointed that the Games had been postponed. But there was no other option and although it’s a bit unsettling not knowing how the new qualification will operate with dates and so on, the good thing for me is that I have been performing well lately.
“Since I moved back to Cardiff a few months ago, I have been getting better and I know there is still more to come.
“My last few last performances were so much better than they’ve been in a good 18 months. So I do know that I’m getting better again, which is great.”