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Olympian with long COVID shares the exercises that helped him recover

After a breakthrough COVID-19 infection, Gus Kenworthy struggled with lingering symptoms. He changed his training regimen to improve his performance.

While at ski training camp, Olympic freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy started feeling “off.” Then he spent a restless night consumed by fever and chills. When he woke, he couldn’t taste or smell anything and he suspected that he had a breakthrough COVID-19 infection, which a test later confirmed.

“I certainly was able to see how serious it was and that had I not been fully vaccinated how it probably could have taken me out — and maybe taken me to the hospital,” Kenworthy, 30, told TODAY. “I went to isolation in a hotel room by myself for nine days. It was actually pretty OK after that. That one night was really the worst of it.”

Kenworthy competed in the 2014 and 2018 Olympics for the United States, winning silver in 2014. For the 2022 Olympics he's competing for the United Kingdom, his mother’s home country, according to a GQ article. He added that this will be his last Olympics.

When Kenworthy flew home after his bout with COVID-19 and returned to the gym, he noticed he still struggled with symptoms what's called long COVID.

“I would be fine at the beginning then shortly before the end of the workout I would get super super lightheaded and nauseous to the point that I actually threw up a couple of times,” he explained. “I was just like dizzy and disoriented and just not feeling like myself.”

At first, he told himself to be patient. He had been sick for 10 days. So he decided to switch up his normal routines so he could train without feeling too overwhelmed.

“I lowered the amount of intensity I was doing,” Kenworthy said. “I was like, “OK I’m just giving myself a break and hopefully everything will be fine when I get on snow.’”

But last December he had to skip a few World Cup events because he was still struggling.

“It was incredibly frustrating,” he said. “I had a little bit of a bumpy road to this Olympics the whole way through, like I had a couple serious concussions and I had COVID and I had a knee surgery and I just feel like I haven’t been able to catch a break, so to speak.”

To combat the lingering symptoms he experienced, he mixed up his workouts, focusing on riding a spin bike and HIIT training. Some of the types of exercise and mindfulness that helped him as he recovered, including yoga, low-impact routines, meditation and breathing practices, can be found in his program on the Masters app, an exercise app that allows people to train with professional athletes.

“I would try and build up a tolerance to working out again and try and push myself to the point where I started to have symptoms and then pull back,” he said. “By continually doing that I was able to push that threshold further and further.”

While in the past Kenworthy might have done heavy lifting, he started doing more “bodyweight-focused workouts." He used exercises such as split squats, single leg calf raises, pushups, pull ups, dips, Russian twists and crunches, to bolster his strength. The great things about exercises such as these is that anyone can do it and they are featured in his Masters workout.

“(This) is not typically how I work out when I’m in the middle of the season or getting ready for the season,” he said. “But it’s what has allowed me to get back into it.”

At times, not feeling "100%" with training felt tough but he knows he’s moving in the right direction.

“I’m much much better than I was,” he said. “I’m feeling I’m on the road to recovery.”

After his experience with long COVID Kenworthy hopes that others with it treat themselves with patience and kindness, too.

“It’s real. I’m experiencing symptoms of it and I feel like I’m someone that’s young and really healthy and in good physical shape and it’s totally taken a toll on me,” he said. “I would just encourage anybody else that’s struggling with the same thing to just be easy on themselves and take time — and it does take time.”