I am a competitive rower. I am also a doctor.
So I’ve been watching with fascination the news about the Zika outbreak — and the health concerns it has raised in Brazil, where I hope to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics.
My bottom line? The Zika news hasn’t changed my training or my Olympic ambitions. My focus is squarely on my practice-to-practice, stroke-to-stroke goal of getting faster. My worries are centered on what I can control, which is my speed and my preparations for the upcoming Olympic trials.
Right now, I’m more worried about getting sick in the short term, with a cold or the flu, than I am about dealing with Zika. I’m washing my hands often, eating healthy, staying hydrated, getting enough sleep, and taking vitamin C as insurance.
From my perspective as a medical student, the Zika outbreak is interesting. Information about the possible connection between the virus and microcephaly seems to be changing rapidly. It is making me realize the power of social media in the health space, and how health professionals need to be increasing careful what they say.
What we know about Zika will certainly evolve in the next few months. Judging from how much our understanding has changed in the few weeks since the virus broke into mainstream media coverage, it is hard to imagine what the knowledge base — and the official recommendations for Olympic athletes and spectators — will be when the Summer Games open on August 5th.
The US Olympic Committee has done a good job keeping athletes informed and working to keep the games safe. I’m also grateful that many experts at the World Health Organization are devoting time and energy to helping us figure out what we should worry about — and how much we should worry. One thing I know: August in Rio means winter, with less mosquito activity than there is now. And I can take precautions to protect myself from mosquito bites.
I’ll continue to follow the Zika situation and keep myself educated enough to make a good decision. But I also know that it will be hard to be impartial and thoughtful about something I’ve spent four years training for. I’ve heard similar sentiments from other athletes hoping to compete in the Olympic games.
If I am invited to be part of the US Olympic team, right now I can’t imagine saying anything other than “Yes” — though I would definitely have to think about it.
Genevra Stone competed in the single sculls race at the 2012 Summer Olympics and is a six-time winner of the women’s championship singles race at the Head of the Charles Regatta. She graduated from Tufts University School of Medicine in 2014 and is currently doing research in orthopedic surgery.