How long does COVID affect the careers of top athletes | health

Marie-Sophie Zeidler’s training is intense and she has her sights set on the 2024 Paris Olympics. However, Germany’s top rower has yet to face an opponent who is difficult to rate. (Also read: Prolonged Covid can cause facial blindness; what are its symptoms)

German rower Marie-Sophie Zeidler is preparing for the qualifying events for the Paris 2024 Olympics, but Long has had to deal with two bouts of COVID in the past three years. (Public Address/Eibner/IMAGO)

The 24-year-old younger sister of two-time world champion Oliver Zeidler contracted COVID-19 for the second time just over a month ago. At that time his lung capacity was reduced to 60 percent. It is currently facing a loss of just over 25 percent. “It’s very scary to see how quickly the body can break down, even if you’re really fit,” Zeidler told DW.

For six months after his first infection in October 2020, COVIDLong Long struggled with symptoms of COVID, such as rapid physical fatigue, shortness of breath, and other discomforts before returning to his former state. “Yes, medicine has progressed now and there are medicines,” says Zeidler, who works as a police officer.

The anti-Covid medicine has helped and now everything is going faster, he says. Therefore, the elite rower hopes to find a way back to his old form faster and more permanently. “But it remains to be seen if there is enough time to have a realistic chance at the Olympics,” says Zeidler, who has yet to qualify for the summer show.

Treatment is challenging

“Although as a scientific community we are becoming more and more aware of this disease, there is not a single way to fight Long COVID. We are talking about 200 different symptoms that need to be distinguished,” head of Wilhelm Bloch. The Department of Molecular and Cellular Sports Medicine at the German Sports University Cologne, told DW.

However, he and his colleagues are moving closer to better approaches and treatment methods. Bloch, however, leaves no doubt about how serious Long COVID is. According to the sports scientist, around six percent of those affected are no longer able to practice sports: “There are individual cases after the COVID-19, they are just terrible.”

Physical fatigue is often detected in long-term COVID patients: persistent fatigue, profound lack of energy and lack of willpower, making it difficult to manage normal daily life. Marie-Sophie Zeidler also experienced this. “You always have to focus on the individual complaints of the patient in each case, that’s very important,” says Bloch. This is what often makes treatment so difficult and sometimes complicated.

From easy to difficult

At TSV Bayer 04 Leverkusen, rehabilitation coach Hans-Peter Gierden works on specially developed courses to help Long COVID patients gradually get back on their feet. “A lot of people can’t concentrate, some have balance problems. And there’s always fatigue,” says Gierden. “The trick is not to overpower the participant and to get the exercises right.”

He explained that each class hour is organized in a different way. “You might combine balance exercises with strength exercises. Or sometimes it’s a badminton lesson. All the exercises are always done from light to heavy. And if it’s too much, you can go back to the previous exercise,” says Gierden. After each exercise session, the 57-year-old uses the so-called “Borg scale” (named after the Swedish physiologist Gunnar Borg) to check how course participants felt about subjective strain.

“Since I’m involved in this, I feel much better,” Hermann-Josef Eigen told DW. In April 2021, a COVID-19 infection hit the previously active amateur athlete quite hard, and he was on the verge of entering intensive care. “I couldn’t breathe properly anymore. Nothing worked for me,” says the 61-year-old.

It took almost four months before he was able to take a few steps again. When his health began to improve, he entered Hans-Peter Gierden’s rehabilitation course. “That type of training made the shortness of breath disappear into oblivion,” says Eigen. Today, he practices the exercises at home, outside of classes, for at least an hour every day, he says. “I feel even better now than before I got sick.”

Zeidler: “A rare disease”

“In the months after the disease, athletes usually complain that they cannot reach their full potential. Especially in the first three months, it is easy to see how high resting heart rates affect athletes,” says sports scientist Bloch. “But it often takes a few more months to get everything back to its former performance level.”

After carefully increasing her workload, rower Marie-Sophie Zeidler is symptom-free after most physical exertion. During a recent training session, he was once again able to push himself to his physical limits. Only after the last day of training did he unexpectedly fall into a physical hole. “All of a sudden, nothing worked for me again,” said Zeidler, who is about to compete in her first competition after Long’s latest brush with COVID.

“That’s the strange thing about this disease: you can’t predict the body’s reaction. On a good day, anything is possible, on a bad day, nothing.” For now he’ll have to accept being surprised.

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