In the spring, after my beloved, overpriced New York exercise studios closed, one grim “In these unprecedented times” email after another, I did what any aspiring workout enthusiast with a little cash to burn might do: I got out my credit card and I bought monthly subscriptions to three different online classes.
The era of kidding myself that I would actually exercise at home had begun.
I started with a virtual edition of a class I had attended in person. I pushed my bed into the farthest corner of the room, away from the dresser where I’d set up my laptop, freeing up the only six remaining inches of space in which I could move. I lit a candle. I shut the door. I lifted my arms to begin—well, first I paused to check if my neighbor could see me through the window—then I began. A few minutes later, my partner texted from the next room to tell me that I was stomping and breathing loudly enough to make an off-camera appearance on his Zoom call. Also, I was scaring the dog. That was the end of that experiment.
Fortunately for my checking account, my livelihood doesn’t hinge on my performance as an athlete. On January 16, a flight from Doha, Qatar, full of tennis players and their coaches touched down in Melbourne for the Australian Open, one of the four biggest tennis tournaments of the year. Soon after, all of the passengers received an email: Someone on the plane had tested positive for COVID-19. It was the third flight headed to the tournament on which this happened. All the players going to Australia knew that they would encounter a “modified” quarantine protocol, giving them just five hours outside their hotel room each day (strictly choreographed for the athletes to get to and from the practice courts and gym with as little contact as possible). But in light of the coronavirus cases, the Australian government would require everyone on the affected flights to “hard quarantine” for 14 days. No exceptions, including the freedom to leave their hotel room, would be made for the players. After all, Australia’s near elimination of the coronavirus didn’t happen by accident. Seventy-two athletes, 14 days of court-free-tennis fitness to maintain. No hitting partners, no physiotherapy visits, no kidding.