Ultimate Athletics head coach Lisa Campbell was open about the struggles of academies when they were first forced to close and lose income.
So after a testing period of closure, Campbell was as ecstatic as any when news came through academies could reopen. But although Ultimate Athletics could resume training, she said she was aware some families would still be concerned about the threat of COVID-19.
“Having been closed since March 12th – almost 3 months – I was relieved to get the notice from Dubai Sports Council to be able to resume athletics for (those aged)12+. My first thought was will they want to come?,” Campbell said.
“I put out a questionnaire to our members and listed the safety measures we could take which included temperature checks, gloves and masks worn by coaches, only five per group, two metre distancing using every other lane and sanitising equipment before and after each session, which is only handled by coaches. The sign-up soon showed that people were ready and after a nervous first session the parents began to write us reassuring messages that their child felt comfortable and relieved to be out of the house and doing what they love to do again.”
Athletes returned in their droves, eager to escape the confines of home with surroundings that long ago lost their novelty. Significantly, teenagers have missed out on major events including graduation and Campbell said the ability to return to sports training is a small consolation.
“It has been really hard on the youth, not going to school, missing their friends, missing some milestones in their life like exams, school prom, sports awards, even the Gothenburg Youth Games was cancelled which we had 20 elite teens entered into this July. So being able to train again comes as a small relief for them,” she said.
Although Ultimate Athletics has money again flowing into its bank account, Campbell said the struggle faced by academies and individuals due to COVID-19 will be felt for a long time to come.
“As a business 12+ athletes are only 30% of our members so long term this is not a sustainable model, not when costs remain the same. But as a parent, I understand the safety measures completely. It was wise to start with the teens as they can social distance easily and follow instructions. It is a learning curve for all of us and safety of the athletes and coaches is our number 1 priority,” she said.
“We will open the doors to U12 as soon as it is safe to do so. In the meantime, we continue to offer our online Zoom athletics fitness sessions as we have done since the start of this pandemic. We also have a weekly run challenge with prizes from New Balance t-shirts to Kibsons fruits and Monviso water.
“The reality is we are living in unprecedented times and we have already had a few families losing jobs and planning to leave the UAE. We will always be flexible with commitments to training and payments. We are currently offering session by session or monthly payments rather than a termly fee.”
A return pre-pandemic life will be gradual in every aspect. Ultimate Athletics have a plan for how they will progress as each level of restriction is eased.
“As an academy we are taking it slowly and cautiously. – not doing throws yet (and) not using shared equipment like resistance bands. However our sprints, middle distance, long jump, high jump and hurdles sessions have four to five people and means we can give a quality session,” Campbell said.
“Parents are not allowed to stay, they drop off only, so we make sure to send them photos and videos from the sessions. Obviously there are no competitions planned for the rest of the season, so this time is all about maintaining fitness and improving technical aspects.”
At Ultimate Athletics, coaches and athletes and hopeful to see a return of the famous Ultimate Racenight soon.
“We plan to keep going throughout the summer, so actually come September these athletes will be fitter than they have ever been at the start of a season!” Campbell said.
“We look forward to hosting Ultimate Racenights before 2020 is out!”