Sydney Barta raises the American flag after coming in first in the 200 meter sprint at the 2019 Parapan American Games in Lima, Peru.

Sydney Barta raises the American flag after coming in first in the 200 meter sprint at the 2019 Parapan American Games in Lima, Peru.

The 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo have been postponed until 2021, and now even the rescheduled dates could be in doubt. Local Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls are adjusting their expectations about when they’ll be able to compete on the international stage.

Since pools, tracks and gyms have closed throughout the region, they’ve had to get creative with their training. We’ll hear from local athletes about what it’s like preparing for the summer games on an uncertain timeline.

Produced by Cydney Grannan


  • Phoebe Bacon Swimmer, Nation's Capital Swim Club
  • Sydney Barta Athlete, 2020 U.S. Paralympics Track & Field National Team
  • Thaddeus Babiec Rower and 2020 Olympic hopeful for U.S. Men's Rowing; Founder, Goal Driven Habits


  • 12:00:04

    KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5. I'm broadcasting from home so welcome. Later in the broadcast observing Earth Day while social distancing and Esther Safran Foer on her remarkable quest to uncover her family's history, but first since the modern Olympic Games began in 1896 the international competition has been cancelled three times, once at the beginning of the First World War and twice during the Second.

  • 12:00:31

    KOJO NNAMDINow because of the Coronavirus the Olympic Games have been postponed forcing Olympic and Para Olympic hopefuls to adjust their expectations and their training schedules. Joining me now are three athletes, who had set their sights on Tokyo in 2020 and now have to wait another year. Sydney Barta is an Athlete on the 2020 U.S. Paralympics Track & Field National Team. Sydney, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:00:58

    SYDNEY BARTAThank you for having me.

  • 12:00:59

    NNAMDIAnd Phoebe Bacon is a Swimmer at Nation's Capital Swim Club. Phoebe, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:01:06

    PHOEBE BACONThank you so much for having me.

  • 12:01:08

    NNAMDIPhoebe, I'll start with you. You qualified for the Olympic trials back in 2016 when you were just 14 years old. You're now 17. What was it like being so close yet again then learning that you had to wait at least another year?

  • 12:01:25

    BACONAt first, it was a little disappointing because I had my mind set on a goal and a time sensitive goal. And then it just gets bumped back. It kind of leaves you at, what do I do? Where do I go? But I've now been able to look at it on the plus side of it just giving me another year to work hard.

  • 12:01:49

    NNAMDIYou've been swimming since you were three years old. And now you train at Nation's Capital Swim Club. A club that has a track record of producing world class swimmers, like Katie Ledecky. When did you make becoming an Olympic Athlete your goal?

  • 12:02:07

    BACONWhen I was about 12 years old going on 13, I made my first junior national cut, which that what it would be called. And it was two seconds off of what the Olympic trials cut was then. And that's kind of where I hit the point like, wow, this could really be a goal and this could be something I can really push for.

  • 12:02:31

    NNAMDII can cut off those two seconds, yes, indeed.

  • 12:02:35


  • 12:02:36

    NNAMDISydney, none of you has competed in the Olympics yet although you've all participated in Pan American Games. Sydney, last year you won the gold in the 200 meter race and the ParaPan American Games in Lima, Peru. You also broke the ParaPan record for that race by more than a half a second. What was it like breaking a record on the international stage?

  • 12:02:58

    BARTAOh, that moment is forever one of my favorite memories I have. I just felt like all of my training had finally come to fruition. And I was just so excited to be able to represent my country. That was my first senior debut actually. So it was really great for it to turn out so well the first time.

  • 12:03:15

    NNAMDIThis January you were named to the U.S. Paralympic Track & Field team for 2020. This doesn't necessarily mean you'll be competing in the Paralympics, but it does mean you're automatically invited to a few invitation only meets. What was your reaction when you found out that you'd made the team?

  • 12:03:31

    BARTAI was ecstatic, because I feel like being named to the national team is like the pinnacle of being on Team USA. Yes, I've made teams were I've been named to a Team USA team. But actually being named to the actual team just means so much to me especially being I think it was the second youngest athlete, the first youngest female athlete to be on that team. It meant so much.

  • 12:03:51

    NNAMDISydney, you lost part of your leg when you were six years old. Can you tell us what happened?

  • 12:03:56

    BARTAYes, so I was six. I was at a race for my school and I was waiting at the end of the finish line when a metal scaffolding, a metal structure fell and crushed my foot leaving me in the hospital for four months. Compartment syndrome, I went septic. The whole shebang and they just decided it would be best if I amputated it and since then the rest is history.

  • 12:04:15

    NNAMDIYeah. The rest, as they say, is history. But it's a history that is replete with the efforts that you had to make since you were running when -- you started running when you were like three years old, didn't you?

  • 12:04:28

    BARTAYes. I mean, I've been running forever. I definitely started with able-bodied sports as they call it. And as soon as I got into adaptive sports I found my love for representing a very underrepresented community.

  • 12:04:39

    NNAMDITrack & Field is not your only sport. You also play able-bodied basketball and volleyball and you've completed in able-bodied water polo and figure skating in the past. I guess the best question would be is there any sport you do not play, but, okay, I'll go past on that. When did you decide that track was the sport that you wanted to pursue competitively?

  • 12:05:01

    BARTAI guess track -- I found adaptive track when I was 12 and when I realized that there was a spot for me and a place where there could be equal playing field I really decided that was something that I needed to get the word out for other young athletes, other young girls with disabilities, because there is a spot for us to compete in that's made for us. And I think it's worth getting that message out there.

  • 12:05:25

    NNAMDISo what made you give up water polo?

  • 12:05:28

    BARTAI've always loved water polo and it was a very great activity. I just had to stop, because I was playing -- I am playing varsity basketball at my school as well as AIU basketball outside of school as well as varsity volleyball inside of school as well. So I just had too much on my plate.

  • 12:05:45

    NNAMDIWater polo was just a little too much traveling involved. Thaddeus Babiec is a Rower and Founder of Goal Driven Habits, a holistic health company. Thaddeus, I understand you are with us now. Thank you for joining us.

  • 12:05:58

    THADDEUS BABIECThank you for having me.

  • 12:06:00

    NNAMDIThaddeus, when did you set your sights on Olympic rowing?

  • 12:06:03

    BABIECThe idea to pursue that first kind of came to me in high school. It was kind of like, this would be a cool thing to do. Definitely like trying to hit the pinnacle of our sport. But I didn't really seriously start pursuing it kind of full time until after college. Ended up in a training situation up in Boston, Massachusetts actually that sort of lent itself to inhabit the environment that you need to be in to, you know, really push and develop your skills to that kind of level. So that was probably where the dream really first took hold like in earnest for me.

  • 12:06:53

    NNAMDIWhere did you go to high school?

  • 12:06:57

    BABIECI went to Bishop Ireton right in Alexandria.

  • 12:06:59

    NNAMDIOkay. You were a member of the U.S. Men's Rowing Team at last year's Pan American Games, but the race did not go as you had planned. What happened?

  • 12:07:12

    BABIECSo we were -- for the rowing events we were in a separate village about three hours north of Lima in Huacho, Peru. And our camp got hit with a Norovirus that ran through most of the teams. And our team, Team USA, got hit pretty hard as well. So when we actually were racing at least half of the boats -- I was on two different boats and half of my boats were -- either had been sick with Noro or were just recovering from it. So it was a little bit of a haggard race to say the least.

  • 12:08:05

    NNAMDIYeah, your strength and energy levels were not what you expected them to be.

  • 12:08:09

    BABIECNot at all.

  • 12:08:10

    NNAMDIBefore the Coronavirus pandemic postponed the games how confident were you, Thaddeus, that you were going to be selected on one of the boats for the Olympic team?

  • 12:08:20

    BABIECIt was going to be a challenge to say the least. The way that sculling and rowing in the U.S. works for selection is we have to go through a series of trials with a club. And if you win trials then you have to go another qualifying regatta overseas to actually like earn the Olympic bid for the United States. So the position I was in was about as good as I could have hoped it to be. So I would have had to have compete in a trials event in April, but unfortunately that got postponed. So I get to look forward to it all happening in another year.

  • 12:09:12

    NNAMDIWe'll see what happens then. Phoebe Bacon, with stay-at-home orders issued gyms, pools and tracks have been shuttered. So my guess is you've all had to be a bit creative with your training. Phoebe, pools have been shut down throughout the city. So how are you training?

  • 12:09:29

    BACONIt has been -- it's been tough to say the least, but I've been doing a lot of at home workouts with my family. I've got a younger brother that's always happy to workout with me along with my dad. And we really are getting creative using different things to just lift and work hard with. And then I've got a close family friend that's allowing me to swim in their pool every little bit. And that's been a big help too.

  • 12:10:04

    NNAMDIHow has the type of training you're doing changed since the Olympics and all meets have been postponed for the foreseeable future? Are you and your coaches setting any new goals, Phoebe?

  • 12:10:19

    BACONWe've definitely changed a little bit of the training style, because with all the meets canceled it's really hard to kind of keep the motivation to where I'm focused on something. So we've moved it just for this next month or so to just make sure my technique is there. Make sure I'm just like staying healthy and having fun with the sport. And I think that's helped me just kind of stay motivated and stay focused on why I'm swimming.

  • 12:10:53

    NNAMDIYeah. I was just about to ask about that. Staying motivated and staying focused at this time must be very difficult. How do you keep your attitude positive?

  • 12:11:02

    BACONI think it's a lot of help kind of from my family. And since we all are stuck at home with them all just kind of having fun with them is -- gives me the like down time where I don't have to be so stressed or so focused on something that's the Olympics that's now a year away. And then just having my coach kind of reassuring me like, this is a plus. This isn't a bad thing. That it's getting pushed for me.

  • 12:11:35

    NNAMDIYeah. At this point you're learning patience even as you continue to train. We're going to take a short break. When we come back we'll continue this conversation. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:12:01

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking with athletes who were training for the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics and inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. How will you get your sports fix this summer, since you can't watch the Olympics or Paralympics on TV? 800-433-8850. We're talking with Sydney Barta, who is an Athlete on the 2020 U.S. Paralympics Track & Field National Team. Phoebe Bacon is a Swimmer at Nation's Capital Swim Club. And Thaddeus Babiec is a Rower and Founder of Goal Driven Habits, which is a holistic health company. Thaddeus, how have you been training since the stay-at-home orders have been issued?

  • 12:12:40

    BABIECSo I managed to get an Erg, a rowing machine from my boat house, probably about three or four days after the stay-at-home order was -- seemed to be kind of coming. So (unintelligible) basement. And I've been able to use that pretty much every day, which has been nice. And I live with one of my teammates. So he has one of those here as well. So we've been able to, you know, kind of keep grinding it out together, but it has been lonely to say the least being separated from everyone.

  • 12:13:25

    NNAMDIMany athletes, Thaddeus, approach their training based on how close they are to the race or event. How do athletes like you have to shift their training now that you have all this much more lead time?

  • 12:13:37

    BABIECSo for us we're -- me and my teammates are approaching this as if we have just another year. So we bump our training back to the point where we would have been like last fall, for example. And we still aren't quite sure how selection or what races will even be available this summer or this coming fall for us to compete in. So, you know, we're looking at this could be a 10 month period of just training with no racing, no opportunity to really test the speed against other athletes until we actually are competing in a trials race.

  • 12:14:23

    NNAMDISydney Barta, what about you? Do you have access to any tracks nearby or are you finding other ways to train?

  • 12:14:31

    BARTAI don't have any access to tracks. And I think that proves especially hard for me considering my running prosthetic that I compete in has spikes on the bottom of it. So I can't use that one anymore. But I am doing longer distance running. Something I never thought I would ever do, but I am using it to stay in shape.

  • 12:14:50

    NNAMDISydney, for the Paralympics you compete on events based on your classification. What are the events that you could compete in and are you thinking that this extra year might make you more competitive for other events outside of the 100 and 200 sprint?

  • 12:15:05

    BARTAYeah, so the possibility for my classification is shot, is a discus, long jump, the 100 meter and 200 meter. And I definitely think another year for me, because I'm so young is actually very beneficial. And a lot of my coaches have been quick to tell me that. And I definitely can see the benefit in it, just because a lot of my competition will be, you know, 29 going on 30 and I'll be 16 going on 17.

  • 12:15:29

    NNAMDIWould you like to see more events added to the Paralympics in your category?

  • 12:15:33

    BARTAI would love to see it. I would love to see the 400. I think it's a really big opportunity and I know it's hard for the Paralympics with all these different classifications of disabilities for athletes to have so many events for each classification, but I definitely would love to see it. I think that's the next step. I mean, every year the Paralympics is growing in media coverage and size. So maybe next time.

  • 12:15:54

    NNAMDIDo you train for the 400, the longest sprint in sports?

  • 12:15:58

    BARTAI train with my track team at school, my varsity track team, I do train for the 400. I think it's a very good event in overall fitness and mental toughness. So I definitely do train for it.

  • 12:16:09

    NNAMDIHere's Michael in Bethesda, Maryland. Michael, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:16:13

    MICHAELHi, yes. When I was a kid, I remembered just the joy of running and sports. And I was wondering for the young ladies, they started so young, what was driving them? Was it just that exhilaration or was it also your parents' encouragement? And what keeps you going?

  • 12:16:32

    NNAMDIOkay. First you, Sydney.

  • 12:16:33

    BARTAWell, for me I'm definitely a very competitive person. So I love to be competitive and play sports, which is where I really find who I am as a person. And I think what's been, you know, the reason why I can continue to have so much motivation even though all the races are pushed off is that, you know, as a para athlete I spend months and months training just by myself for meets I don't know if I've made yet. Like last year my track season ended in May. And I trained all the way to November by myself for meets I hadn't known I had made yet. So that's really how I've been trained mentally and also physically to deal with these types of situations.

  • 12:17:10

    NNAMDIHow about you, Phoebe? Did your parents play any role?

  • 12:17:14

    BACONThey definitely played a role into getting me to start swimming. But a lot of it is because I have a lot of energy and I've always had a lot of energy. And it was a way to get me tired. And I kind of just loved it since I was younger. And I still have fun swimming and being active.

  • 12:17:35

    NNAMDIIt was a way for your parents to handle you, when you had too much energy.

  • 12:17:39

    BACONPretty much.

  • 12:17:40

    NNAMDIYou're a senior right now at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda. Next year you head off to the University of Wisconsin in Madison. How are you planning to navigate the new experience of college with training in an effort to be on the Olympic team?

  • 12:17:55

    BACONI think it will be maybe a little bit stressful at first, but I have to trust in my new teammates that will be up there and trust in the new coaches that I'll have. And kind of just stick with the same work ethic that I have now. And just to keep me motivated and keep me pushing.

  • 12:18:17

    NNAMDIDo you think your current coach will need to be coordinating with your coach at the University of Wisconsin?

  • 12:18:23

    BACONHe might be. I don't have -- I don't really know yet right now, but I think he will have a slight role in it.

  • 12:18:37

    NNAMDIA few words to say. While you will be benefiting, Phoebe, from this extra year of training, it could also give other up and coming athletes a chance to be more competitive too. Are you worried the additional year will bring even more competition?

  • 12:18:52

    BACONIt's definitely a possibility and it will happen. But I think it will just make the Olympic trials and then -- just more exciting for me and then some of the other athletes that will be there.

  • 12:19:06

    NNAMDIThaddeus, is that something that you're worried about?

  • 12:19:12

    BABIECYes and no. I think that given the extra year for everyone to, you know, continue to improve is only going to make trials and, you know, the Olympics like that much better. Everyone will have that extra year preparing, will have that extra year to get better. So the level of competition should be just that much higher, which, you know, for me like as an athlete like if you want to compete against the best in the world, you know, that's what you're looking for. You're looking for the best. You're looking for people who can give their best. So, you know, yeah for me personally it could be tough, but overall like I think it would be a lot of fun.

  • 12:19:55

    NNAMDIBring it on, he says. How about you, Sydney?

  • 12:19:58

    BARTAYeah. I definitely have thought about that before. But I think just in terms of para sport I would just love to see more girls especially involved in it. So I think the more people the better.

  • 12:20:09

    NNAMDIWell, Thaddeus, you are all -- you, Sydney and Phoebe are all at one end of the spectrum, young athletes who are just kind of at the beginning of their elite careers. But for some athletes this was going to be their last Olympic Games. Thaddeus, you're currently getting your master's in kinesiology and you're a personal trainer. What could this extra year mean for the athletes that might be nearing the end of their elite careers?

  • 12:20:35

    BABIECThat's a great question. And that's something that even with the guys I train with we've kind of been wondering, because there are one or two who feel like this could have been their last year. So another year isn't necessarily going to push, you know, someone (unintelligible) they are near the top of their game still or if they are still like very competitive in their sport. But for the -- definitely for those who are outliers or like, you know, they're hanging on, you know, in sort of the end of their prime years then, you know, yeah. Then this setback or this additional year could absolutely bump them out of contention.

  • 12:21:22

    NNAMDIYeah. And I'm afraid we're almost out of time at this point. Sydney, you're a sophomore in high school. I'm thinking college prep may be on the horizon for you. Is it? You only got about 20 seconds.

  • 12:21:35

    BARTAYes. Lots of college prep. I have an SAT prep open on my desk right now. That's the number thing my mom says to me is, why don't you go study for the SAT?

  • 12:21:43

    NNAMDIOkay. Sydney Barta, Phoebe Bacon and Thaddeus Babiec, thank you all for joining us. And good luck to you. We're going to take a short break. When we come back Esther Safran Foer on her remarkable quest to uncover her family history. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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