Anais and Amanda: Far from home in the Pandemic

Anais and Amanda: Far from home in the Pandemic

When the BMW IBU World Cup biathlon abruptly season ended, Anais Bescond and Amanda Lightfoot headed to Canada and the UK, respectively, planning to spend some down time with friends and family. Neither had an inkling that when they started preparing for the new season they would still be there, far from their home bases and familiar surroundings.

Toilet Rolls and Pasta

Lightfoot commented, thinking about the last couple of days in Kontiolahti, “We live in this biathlon bubble and maybe did not realize how serious this was. It first hit home when my brother asked me to bring toilet rolls and pasta, because both were impossible to buy in the UK. I went to the shop around the corner from out hotel, bought all the pasta and toilet rolls and filled my travel bag. I left all of my clothes except for pajamas, one set of warm training clothes and one other outfit in the team bus since I was only going for two weeks…and if I needed something, I could buy it there.”

One-way Ticket to Canada

Bescond went home directly from Finland, realizing the seriousness of the situation after hearing a speech from French President Emmanuel Macron. “I went home and heard the President say there would be quarantine. My original ticket was from 10 April to 11 May, but after hearing that, I bought a one-way ticket and left the next day.”

Anais and Amanda: Far from home in the Pandemic

Longer than Two Weeks

Eleven weeks later, both women are still in “exile,” but in very different situations. Lightfoot with her pasta-filled bags is at her brother’s home in Stafford, about 110 km southeast of Liverpool. “He was the only family member with a spare bedroom, but has two small children. Once I got there and the lockdown began, he said, ‘I think this is going to be for much longer than two weeks.” She continued, “Initially, since I was in my rest period I was almost like a live-in nanny, helping and playing with my 4 year-old nephew…We had food delivered, trying to stay isolated but then they could not supply basics like milk and flour. A few weeks ago, things changed; one person goes out shopping once a week. The highlight is when they get home and we see what they were able to get at the shop!”

Anais and Amanda: Far from home in the Pandemic
Anais and Amanda: Far from home in the Pandemic

Rocky Mountain Winter: Crust Skiing, Bagels and Wildlife

The recently turned 33-year-old Bescond admitted she was lucky to be in Canmore, with her boyfriend where she could get outside, enjoy the late Rocky Mountain winter and have some new experiences. “It has been so nice being here…I really appreciate how the Canadian people handled this situation… I missed my family and wanted to be in France with them, but I knew that I could not see them if I was there and you could only go a very short distance from your house. The rest weeks here were very important for me, because I had a knee injury during the winter. Still it was important to stay active. We got out for a minimum 1 hour walk every day. I really enjoy the scenery and the mountains. We went crust skiing, something I have never done before in the spring under these conditions. I also made bagels which I really love, all by myself.”

Anais and Amanda: Far from home in the Pandemic

The UK Lockdown and the voluntary stay-at-home order in Canada gave both women a reason or two to smile. Bescond said, “I am almost like a kid here. Every day I am surprised by big and small animals, from chipmunks which we do not have in France to elk. At one point, almost every day, they came to eat the grass in front of the house. And it was not just one, but a bunch which was amazing. I really enjoy this because it is so different.”

Rollerblade Saga: Stunts, Barbie and Strange Looks

For Lightfoot, some of the funniest moments came courtesy of online shopping. “I came here with absolutely nothing for training. Everything, my rifle, bike, rollerskis and clothes are all in Italy or Ruhpolding. When I realized I would need to start real training, I tried to buy rollerskis which were prohibitively expensive, so I decided to get some rollerblades. I found a good price and this huge box came, they ended up being stunt (aggressive) rollerblades that weighed about 10 pounds and were really good for staying on curbs and doing flips!.’ Then I found another pair of regular ones; I opened the box and they were size 8 children’s Barbie rollerblades, bright pink tiny rollerblades! Finally, after that I get a correct pair from Decathlon and found some Salomon ski poles.”

Anais and Amanda: Far from home in the Pandemic

Now on the road with the rollerblades and ski poles, she is a source of amazement and amusement for the locals who are not used to a sight like her on the streets. “I am rollerblading around Stafford and get the weirdest looks from people. My brother thinks I am a lunatic, ‘Amanda, you are 33 and rollerblading around the street.’ Yeah, I know…it is training. Luckily with my helmet and glasses, I am a little anonymous.”

Anais and Amanda: Far from home in the Pandemic

Out and Back

The two diverge from there in their preparations for the new season. The British biathlete who hopes to qualify for her third Olympic winter Games in 2022 is making do in a less than perfect situation. “I can run, rollerblade, and go cycling. There are no hills or mountains; it is very flat. I am using my sister-in-law’s mountain bike for cycling, not perfect but it works. There is literally one road that I go out to run, 12 miles out and 12 miles back, one straight road. Then there is one place to rollerblade, Doxey Road which is about 10 km out and back so I have to do that twice. Every time a car comes past, I have to step off the road, unlike in Germany where they move to the side…I cannot go the gym where I would do fitness sessions three times a week now. It has been challenging, definitely different.”

Anais and Amanda: Far from home in the Pandemic

Family Growing Up

Then there are the family distractions to training. “Sometimes my four-year-old nephew wants me to play before I go out to train or I get back and then play, so my schedule is not always optimal. Still, it has been an amazing experience to see him and his little sister grow up right before my eyes I have never had this opportunity before…this is the longest I have been in the UK in 16 years, other than for military duty.”

Anais and Amanda: Far from home in the Pandemic

Running, Mountain Biking in Canmore

Canmore has again proved to be training paradise for Bescond. “It is so easy to train here…My training has for sure been different. I started in the middle of April, which is early but we ended the season early. I started with skiing because at the Nordic Center it was still nice even if it was not groomed. The snow conditions were really nice. I was super motivated to go ski. I have done some road biking and running which is nice because last year I could not run because of my knee.” Otherwise, “I am a good student. I follow the coach’s plan, but I adapt it: to like yesterday go mountain biking with (former Canadian head Coach) Mattias Ahrens. We are good friends, knowing each other for 15 years. This place is a paradise for mountain biking. I follow the plan but am flexible to do what I feel is best.”

Anais and Amanda: Far from home in the Pandemic

New Rifle Stock

She has also started shooting. “My rifle was in the French ski truck; it arrived after I left for Canada. When I got here, I had no idea how long I would stay. I realized after a week, I need to do something; I might need a rifle. Three years ago, the university in Annecy scanned my stock. I got those files and Dave at Craft Collective in Quebec made a copy in maple. The size is perfect, now I am just checking to make sure it fits well. If it does, I will keep it. If not, it will be a very nice souvenir…”

Anais and Amanda: Far from home in the Pandemic

Uncertainty

As spring rapidly transforms into summer, both women look forward to the getting back to familiar territory. The situation remains complicated, especially for Lightfoot. “I am looking at this as just a bump in the road to my goal of getting back to the Olympics. The hardest part is the uncertainty, not knowing. We first had three weeks of lockdown then three more. Now at the end of the month, there will be a new announcement, and maybe more lockdown. We hoped to have a camp with the British team in Scotland in June, but do not know if that will happen since Scotland, Ireland and the UK all have different laws now…I have looked at flights back to central Europe and it looks like there will be some at the beginning of July. So that is my aim now to get back and have some camps.”

Anais and Amanda: Far from home in the Pandemic

Returning to France with Mixed Feelings

Bescond’s plans are more set. She now has a ticket and will head back to France in early June. Still, there are some mixed feelings. “I must say on one hand I am excited, and on the other not so, because of the Covid…It is difficult to leave my boyfriend because I do not know when I will see him again. That is the sad part. The nice part is to go home again, meet my family and friends and go back to training with my coach and friends. That is my life!” Still, the French veteran has some reservations about what the training world will look like when she is back with her team. “We do not know what is next. I think it will not be fun at all to be in training camp and not be allowed to be close. It will be so strange. I will not like it. I like people and kiss them. I do not like to stay away from people.”

Anais and Amanda: Far from home in the Pandemic

Natural Beauty and Optimism

Questions still abound for these two women about their sports careers and life in the coming months and years. Lightfoot realized “that I really do not need all of the stuff I’ve got and now I just look around and appreciate the natural beauty around me that I have; something I probably have not done before.”

The always smiling Bescond is optimistic. “I think deeply that even in this terrible period, I want to believe that some good things will be a consequence of that.”

Photos: Amanda Lightfoot, Anais Bescond, IBU/ Evgeny Tumashov, Jerry Kokesh

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