When the coronavirus hit Australia, many of our Olympic athletes rushed to get training equipment — but Olympic rower Josh Booth instead joined the effort to fight the virus.
The medical graduate based in Canberra had deferred his internship to focus on the Tokyo Olympic Games, but the pandemic changed his plans.
“Most health services were putting out a call to arms for health practitioners or anyone that could help in hospitals. But in Canberra, there didn’t seem to be the need, and in Melbourne, there was,” Booth said.
He moved back home to Melbourne to take up an internship at the Royal Melbourne Hospital.
“I felt like I needed to, in the sense of what else are you going to do if everyone’s just sitting around their houses and there’s something going on and you know, that they need doctors,” he said.
“It seemed counterintuitive to not put my name forward.
“I definitely came in thinking ‘God this is going to be quite an experience’ and was definitely steeling myself to come into the battle stations.”
Thankfully Australia’s ability to limit the spread of the virus meant the hospitals did not experience the hardships seen in other countries, but the wards have started to get busy again.
“I’m on the general medical unit which sees a lot of sick patients come through and in my time, that’s really been picking up. It’s certainly a pretty busy time again now,” he said.
Booth has managed to balance work at the hospital with his training for the Olympics.
“In a way, it’s really helped with the structure of getting training done because I’m at work at 7:30am,” he said.
“The alarm goes off, you get out of bed, you get the training done, you get on with your day and then you get home at 6:00pm and you’ve just got to get on with it again.”
Worth ethic ‘second to none’
It is about to get a lot tougher.
The rest of the national squad will return to the National Training Centre in late June and ramp up training to five and a half days a week.
Booth will keep working at the hospital until the end of the year and will have to train when he can.
Rowing Australia coach Andrew Randell said it would impact on his chances to make a third Olympics.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that it’s going to make it more difficult for him,” Randell said.
“There’s a tendency that you can put in the training time, but you’re missing that 1 per cent or 2 per cent because you’re not surrounded by athletes that are chomping at the bit to knock you off.
“You miss that 1 per cent every now and again over a period of six or seven months and it becomes a big chunk.
“He’s got a couple of advantages going his way though — he knows what it’s all about it, he’s been there and done that before and his work ethic at training is second to none.”
Part of that experience is Booth’s rollercoaster journey at previous Olympics.
At London in 2012, he was expelled from the Australian Olympic team for smashing two shop windows while drunk.
Four years later, he won a silver medal alongside Will Lockwood, Josh Dunkley-Smith and Alexander Hill in the Coxless four at Rio de Janeiro.
Randell said the previous campaigns had only made Booth stronger and 2012 was a long time ago.
“Certainly things have moved on and he’s matured enormously and he’s been a very successful part of the teams in the past few years,” he said.
“So that for me is that part of the experience that he can draw on.”