Oonagh Cousins: Nice Britain rower compelled to retire with lengthy Covid, however at peace with resolution

Oonagh Cousins is accepting of the playing cards life dealt her however the feelings round what might need been stay uncooked.

Pre-selected for the Tokyo Olympics, her largest ambition was on the verge of being ticked off when in March 2020, she contracted Covid.

Three years on, such have been the lasting results of her prognosis of lengthy Covid, she has been compelled to retire from rowing.

Sure, there’s grief for the sporting life and experiences she may have had. However there’s peace too.

She feels “fortunate” she had the chance to offer all the things to her likelihood of a comeback. She’s grateful British Rowing supported her – medically and financially – all through her sickness. She can also be grateful she had the welcome help of a buddy going via the identical factor.

But, understandably, there’ll all the time be that query of ‘what if?’.

“If there hadn’t been a world pandemic, I in all probability would have gone to the Olympics,” Cousins tells BBC Sport. “I in all probability would nonetheless be a full-time athlete.

“That is one thing that I’ve to deal with for the remainder of my life.”

BBC Sport first spoke to Cousins in November 2020, when the dialog round lengthy Covid was nonetheless in its infancy. As we speak, the 28-year-old is considered one of an estimated 1.9m folks within the UK residing with the situation.

She took a yr and a half off coaching, a time frame during which her signs – primarily fatigue, although it is a phrase she feels underplays its severity – meant she may do little greater than 4 hours of “fundamental duties” a day like cooking or showering, a brief stroll at an absolute push.

However come September 2021, she felt she had “turned a nook” and began a sluggish, regular return, capable of improve her load to the purpose at which her docs gave her the all-clear and she or he was coaching 10-11 occasions every week.

“For most individuals with lengthy Covid, that is like 1,000,000 miles away,” she notes. In late summer time 2022, she felt it was time to return to the British Rowing programme.

“It was large,” she says. “It was such a victory however at the moment, I believe it was truly additionally my emotional blind spot, I used to be truly getting extra unwell at that time and I used to be ignoring the warning indicators.

“I believed I used to be coming to the tip of my lengthy Covid journey and I might made it again. I used to be simply so determined for normality.

“I missed being a rower a lot, and truly what was taking place was my rowing profession was coming to an finish.”

Oonagh Cousins competing for the University of London Boat Club
Cousins (entrance) returned to membership rowing throughout her restoration earlier than re-joining the British Rowing programme in late summer time 2022

Two months after her return, Cousins suffered an enormous relapse, and she or he made the choice to retire over Christmas.

She feels she has “paid the worth” in pushing herself for too lengthy. Her signs of dysautonomia – a dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system – worsened considerably, whereas she has additionally been identified with reactive hypoglycaemia (poor blood sugar regulation), histamine intolerance (an impaired means to metabolize ingested histamine) and oestrogen dominance, which causes issues together with her hormones.

These circumstances all fall beneath the umbrella of lengthy Covid, and whereas every section of Cousins’ sickness has differed, all have turned her life “the other way up”.

Lacking out on Tokyo was “devastating” and Cousins acknowledges that subsequent summer time shall be tough, when she may have been on the beginning line on the Paris 2024 Olympics.

“There’s lots of grief,” she provides. “I used to be new to the group, I felt like I used to be simply beginning my worldwide profession.

“I actually did assume I used to be planning my life to go in direction of Paris and Los Angeles [in 2028]. I do assume that is the place my life would have gone. And so there’s this large lack of the life that you just envisioned not being there anymore.

“However there’s additionally lots of peace. I believe way back I did settle for that I contracted this virus and it developed into a very extreme illness. I totally gave myself to the method of attempting to return, I did all the things I may.

“Nonetheless, that implies that now I can stroll away and know I attempted my greatest and there was nothing else I may have executed.”

‘We have to speak about lengthy Covid’

Oonagh Cousins and her team-mates sat on a jetty
Cousins (fourth from left) together with her GB team-mates

In keeping with the World Well being Organisation (WHO), research have proven that between 10-20% of individuals contaminated with Covid will go on to develop signs that may be identified as lengthy Covid.

It’s estimated that greater than 17m folks throughout the WHO’s European area skilled lengthy Covid throughout the first two years of the pandemic – and but there’s nonetheless a lot unknown in regards to the situation.

Collective forgetting could have set in for individuals who need to transfer on from Covid, however Cousins – on behalf of all these nonetheless struggling – is eager to maintain the dialog going.

“I, as a lot as anybody, would like to not be speaking about Covid anymore, I am sick of it,” she says.

“Nevertheless it [long Covid] is a large difficulty and it is affecting so many individuals, and it is a particularly debilitating sickness. In order a lot as I perceive that folks do not need to discuss anymore, we have to speak about it and we have to deal with it.”

She provides: “Large funding went into the vaccines and how one can handle the acute section of Covid, however that sort of consideration has simply not been given to lengthy Covid and we want that, we want the analysis.

“We have to discover out what is going on on as a result of though I used to be properly supported and properly understood, there’s nothing anyone can actually do to assist me.”

So what comes subsequent for Cousins? Restoration, greater than something, is the precedence, and she or he is assured she is going to someday return to a “superb degree” of well being.

“I attempt to not reside life an excessive amount of with a plan as a result of lengthy Covid has taught me that there are issues out of your management, and if you happen to turn into too invested in a single plan, it might probably make it very tough when one thing occurs to change on to one thing else,” she says.

“It was out of my management. I can select to let that go or I can select to hold that round. And I am selecting to let it go.”

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