By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Friday, April 24, 2020
Before all the social distancing, shelter-in-place and quarantine dictates went into effect last month, Lia Neal could see what was coming.
She had just returned home to her small apartment in San Diego from the TYR Pro Swim Series in Des Moines and a trip to New York (her home state) for a speaking engagement that same week when she realized she had a very small window to make a decision about where to spend her COVID-19 time.
“I didn’t want to be isolated in a small apartment for multiple weeks, so I got on a red-eye flight back to New York City to spend the quarantine with my parents in Brooklyn,” said Neal, who fine-tuned her swimming chops as a child at Asphalt Green Unified Aquatics on the Upper Eastside of Manhattan. “Spending social distancing in a house with a yard and my parents has been so nice.
“I’ve been able to do family things with them that I haven’t done for years with going to school at Stanford and only being home for short stints over Christmas and in the summer. We’ve had a great time together.”
While she’s enjoying this “unplanned offseason” away from swimming, Neal said she’s making the most of her limited exercise options by meeting regularly with her Team Elite teammates for Zoom workouts, jumping rope and doing other dryland activities in the living room and backyard. She’s also using workouts posted to Instagram for a little variety and fun.
She’s also sleeping in more (no more early morning pool training sessions) and enjoying her mom’s healthy, excellent cooking.
She’s also realized how many bad “dad” jokes her father has and is not shy about telling.
All in all, she’s enjoyed her time back home, but she’s eager to get back into the pool and resume training for Olympic Trials and the Olympics postponed until next summer in Tokyo.
Suffice it to say, she’s disappointed the Games were delayed but knowing that everyone around the world is in the same situation, Neal said she’s dealing with her current circumstances quite well.
“Just like in swimming, you work on controlling the controllable and make the best of everything you can’t control. I don’t see a benefit to freaking out about it,” said Neal, a 400 freestyle relay medalist at the 2012 (bronze) and 2016 (silver) Olympics. “Right now, we can control how we’re spending our days during this weird time in our lives and our training, but we can’t control when things will return to normal or whatever normal looks like moving forward.
“So, I’m just riding this out, enjoying time with my parents and giving my body some much-needed rest.”
Prior to the U.S. shutdown back in March, Neal said she was in a good place physically in her swimming but was struggling with the mental part of it.
She’s welcoming the opportunity to reset – take a breather and reflect and evaluate about life, swimming, everything so when she does get back into the pool and resume regular training, she’s in a much better place.
“In swimming, you go from one season to the next with almost no break in between; it’s just go-go-go, head down and forward,” she said. “But now, we have the gift of time that we wouldn’t otherwise have.
“This is a collective pause for everyone, and I think it’s a great opportunity to recharge and refocus for what’s still to come.”
What’s still to come for Neal is unknown at this time as far as swimming is concerned.
Although she’s not currently on the U.S. National Team (meaning she’s not getting financial support), Neal has a few sponsorships to rely upon until competitions/meets resume hopefully later this year.
A member of the New York Breakers of the International Swimming League last year, she hasn’t been drafted by a team yet this year, so she’s unsure where she might be swimming when the league is expected to resume this fall.
Still, she said she’s ready to see her teammates and fellow U.S. swimmers and get back to competing wherever and whenever she can.
“We’re all hoping the TYR Pro Swim Series meets canceled this spring will be rescheduled for this fall, and we’ll have an opportunity to compete again this year,” she said. “Otherwise, it might not be until winter and/or next spring – and that doesn’t give us much competition prior to Trials.”
However things play out in the months post-COVID-19, Neal said she is still excited about doing all that she can (without or with limited access to a pool) to stay in shape and maintain a positive mindset moving forward.
She said she’s also eager to see her teammates and friends again in person, go to restaurants and enjoy face-to-face socializing with everyone.
And she said she sees some positive outcomes from all of this in terms of bringing families together and creating stronger connections with the people who are most important to us.
“I definitely try to see the positive in things, and I think the positive from all of this is that it has created a stronger bond between me and my parents, and I know that’s happening everywhere, even when we may be getting on one another’s nerves being confined so close together,” she said.
“I just hope once we get back to our normal lives, routines and commitments we don’t lose these connections. They are important.”