Editor's note: Recently one of our writers, Holly Smith M.D., was diagnosed with COVID-19. She has since recovered and is doing well. Here, she tells her story.
My COVID Comeback
So, a little background on me. About five or so years ago I found the sport of triathlon and was instantly hooked.
When I first started, I was just looking to finish a sprint triathlon.
Fast forward to five years later and I have now finished eight full ironman triathlons and 15 half ironmans, including two 70.3 world championships.
And this was the year I was hoping to qualify for the Ironman World Championship in Kona.
After missing it by just one spot in my last race of 2019 in Panama City Beach, I was hungry to start the racing season.
But COVID-19 had different plans.
When the coronavirus pandemic began stretching across the globe, it changed so much for everyone.
With lock-downs in place, many have lost their jobs, while others have lost loved ones.
I realize sports and fitness are not on as big of a scale as these things, but it is still a major part of people’s lives.
And for many, with gyms and pools shut down, this has caused a big change in how people are finding ways to stay fit.
For me, all of the major events I had planned so far have been postponed, including the 70.3 World Championships in New Zealand.
I was also supposed to run the Boston Marathon in April which is now canceled completely.
It has been tough to continue training with no races in sight, however, I got some great news at the beginning of June.
There was going to be a small Olympic length triathlon in Florida about four hours from where I lived!
There were going to be tons of social distancing and health parameters in place, so of course, I jumped at the opportunity and signed up right away.
COVID must have been watching though because two days later I came down with this nasty virus.
I had been doing everything right.
I am also a physician and have been doing telemedicine during this pandemic, so I basically have been reciting the CDC guideline to patients for the previous three months.
I wore a mask out everywhere, kept my distance, and only went out to the store when necessary.
Even with restaurants and bars reopening, I stayed at home, knowing that it wasn’t worth the risk.
But it just takes one sick contact to pick up this virus, and unfortunately, it happened to me.
At first, it seemed like I was going to fight it off.
The first five days or so felt like the typical bronchitis I get every year.
I had a low-grade fever of about 100.5 for one day that went away and a dry cough.
But on day 6, the bottom dropped out.
I woke up in the middle of the night burning up with my sheets drenched in sweat.
My whole body ached and I could barely walk down the stairs.
For the next seven days, I experienced these symptoms.
My temperature hovered around 101-102 degrees.
It would come down for a couple of hours with Tylenol and then shoot right back up again.
And the dry cough was absolutely brutal. I coughed for minutes at a time with no relief and severe chest discomfort.
It was a hopeless feeling not knowing when the symptoms would start to improve.
And it was mentally taxing as well.
I was used to getting up at 6 AM on the weekends to go for a 20-mile run. Now I couldn’t get out of bed before noon.
And even then, that was just to try to make myself eat. I checked my oxygen levels with a monitor every day and never had any issues with oxygenation.
However, I wondered if at some point I would need to go to the hospital because my symptoms were not showing any improvement.
Around day 12, my fever finally broke, however then I developed severe dizziness and nausea.
Some viruses, like the flu, can cause inflammation in the inner ear, called vestibular neuritis, that can have similar symptoms. I am assuming COVID was responsible for this as well.
I could barely lift my head up without the whole room spinning. Another hopeless feeling.
Finally, three days later, the dizziness subsided and the fevers had been gone for 72 hours.
I still had a cough but it was improving. And while it felt good to finally be able to move around somewhat, I was nowhere near back to “normal.”
The next week, I struggled to get back to “being active.” At this point, that just entailed getting outside and walking.
I slowly began running and biking again but was nowhere near the level of fitness I had been at before I was hit with COVID.
I would run a half mile and feel completely wiped out. It was extremely discouraging, and at times I just felt like giving up.
Then I remembered how much I loved being active and decided I couldn’t let this virus win.
I went ahead and decided to run the triathlon I had entered before COVID struck.
It was one of the toughest races I have ever done.
From the beginning of the race, I knew my body just hadn't fully recovered yet. But I managed to finish, and that gave me hope that I was going to eventually make a full comeback after COVID.
Since there was another race in two weeks, I would have a chance to prove this to myself. I was not going to let this virus beat me!
Over the next two weeks, I focused on easing my way back into my training. I knew I couldn’t rush things too much even though I was eager to get back to my pre-COVID fitness.
I slowly increased my workout intensities while incorporating smart recovery sessions. On top of this, I really focused on my nutrition, especially after tough workouts, knowing that this would enhance my muscle recovery.
Two weeks after that first race, on the exact same course, I was able to improve my time by nearly 10 minutes and finish second overall in the women’s division.
It was an amazing feeling to know that with hard work and determination I was starting to feel like my old self again!
While I’m still not back to 100%, I feel that I am almost to that point.
It has now been almost two months since I first came down with symptoms, and I still have a nagging cough that pops up every now and then.
However, my energy levels are nearly up to where I was pre-COVID, and that has been amazing. A month ago I didn’t think I would ever get back to that feeling.
COVID was, for me at least, pretty brutal. I am actually one of the lucky ones though.
I never had to be hospitalized and my breathing was never compromised. I think that leading a healthy lifestyle and being active likely helped in this regard.
My love for fitness gave me the drive and motivation to not give up when I felt like this virus was going to defeat me.
I know that following a healthy lifestyle and being part of a community like the Fit Father Project and Fit Mother Project is something that further inspired me to get past this speed bump in my life named COVID-19.
I realize that there are still some people out there that think this virus is a hoax, or that it’s just another flu.
While not everyone will have as severe symptoms as I did, my case was 50 times worse than any flu I have ever had.
This virus truly can affect anyone no matter how healthy you think you are.
And while we shouldn’t lock ourselves away and live in fear, we just need to practice safe, common-sense principles moving forward.
In doing so, we can continue to live full and healthy lives both physically, mentally, and emotionally.
As we continue through these uncertain times, my best advice is to continue to practice safe social distancing, wear a mask, and avoid crowded places.
And above all, be kind and considerate to others.
This craziness will pass with time and we will all be stronger and more appreciative of everything we have once that happens.
I know that I am, and I will never take my health or fitness for granted ever again because I saw how quickly it could be taken away.
*Please know that weight loss results & health changes/improvements vary from individual to individual; you may not achieve similar results. Always consult with your doctor before making health decisions. This is not medical advice – simply a story of a COVID comeback.