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‘My body is super weak:’ COVID-19 slows Ute gymnast MyKayla Skinner’s quest for Olympics

Coronavirus bout turned into pneumonia, which put her in the hospital

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) MyKayla Skinner waves to the crowd after scoring a 10 on the floor exercise, in the PAC-12 Gymnastics Championships at the Maverik Center, Saturday, March 23, 2019.

One reason MyKayla Skinner has been able to compete at an elite level for many years is the lack of injuries she has suffered.

But now Skinner, the Utah gymnast who left the program following her junior season to train for the Olympics, seems to have run out of luck when it comes to physical setbacks.

Skinner is training with her club coach Lisa Spini in Chandler, Ariz., with the goal of participating in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The Games were rescheduled to start July 23, 2021 due to the pandemic.

At the time of the postponement, Skinner had a positive attitude, believing another year of training would only help her add more skills. But now she finds herself behind schedule after being slowed by an Achilles injury in the fall, then a bout of COVID in December which led to pneumonia. She was hospitalized for the latter and is still recovering, Spini said.

“She is still weak and is just now doing some cardio like long walks and Peloton,” she said. “We are going to start back in the gym working with basic and flexibility.”

If it sounds like Skinner is a long ways away from being in Olympic shape, she is, Spini acknowledged.

“Obviously it is a setback,” she said. “The Olympics are a long ways off, but it just depends on how wiped out she is from all this.”

The first test of Skinner’s health is scheduled to be the Winter Cup, Feb. 26-28 in Indianapolis, but Spini isn’t positive Skinner can be ready.

“She might be able to compete in an event or two,” she said. “Some people don’t get affected by COVID-19 and others it kicks their butt. She can come back from it. She is tough and if anyone can do it she can, but we have to be smart and give her time to get over it.”

Skinner discussed her experience with COVID on her youtube channel, detailing how her husband first contracted it following a business trip. Then a week after Thanksgiving she tested positive and was sidelined for two weeks. She tried to return to the gym when she thought she was recovered but then came down with pneumonia, which is known as a serious complication for some COVID patients.

Skinner said she noticed her breathing was affected before she was diagnosed with pneumonia.

“I felt like I had a really bad flu without the throwing up part,” she said in her video.

Skinner is still recovering and physical exams have shown her lungs are now clear. However she will undergo tests to make sure she doesn’t have myocarditis, which can be another complication of COVID.

“This is serious stuff,” Spini said. “I know a lot of people are taking it lightly because some people are asymptomatic, but this shows healthy people can get this and be affected seriously. We want to make sure she doesn’t have any heart inflammation because that is a worry and she won’t be busting out any big stuff until we have those tests.”

Skinner, who plans to return to Utah for her senior year, acknowledged the time out of the gym will make it hard for her to reach her Olympic dreams. She decided to train for the 2020 Games after she was named an alternate to the 2016 Olympic team.

“Here we are in January and I haven’t gone into the gym for a month now,” she said in her video. “My body is super weak and it is really, really stressful. I know I have time to come back, but it is just hard not knowing if I will be able to do a bunch of my upgrades because we have to get me back into routine shape as fast as possible, so I’m just trying to take it one day at a time.”

Skinner’s experience seems to bolster the findings in a Northwestern Medicine study that showed COVID-19 pneumonia is different, attacking small areas of the lung over a longer period of time rather than infecting large regions of the lungs quickly.

She and Spini both cautioned people need to take the virus seriously.

“This is a person who didn’t have any underlying health conditions and she was really sick,” Spini said.

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