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Christian Howell
Carlsbad’s Christian Howell trains before the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo courtesy of Patrick Howell
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Carlsbad teen adapts to pandemic, sights set on Olympics

CARLSBAD — The pandemic has impacted all facets of life, including the hopes and dreams of budding athletes.

From lost months of training and competition, there are now opportunities for athletes, especially younger ones, to get back into the swing of training and modified competition.

One such athlete is Christian Howell, an eighth-grader at Tri-City Christian School in Vista, who is budding swimming and track star. The 14-year-old said now months into the COVID-19 pandemic, his schedule is somewhat back to normal.

While back in school, Howell can train on a limited basis once again, while official competitions are canceled for the time being. His mission is to get to the Olympics in both swimming and track, and time off during a crucial developmental stage is hardly holding him back.

“It’s a minor setback, but as long as we have mock meets, I think it’s OK,” Howell said. “The time we get in our mock meets counts for our official (rankings).”

His father, Patrick Howell, a Carlsbad author, dubbed his son “Shark Heart” several years ago as a testament to Christian Howell’s tenacity and self-determination to train. Patrick Howell instilled a diligent work ethic — in the classroom and in athletics — to help his son succeed.

Patrick Howell
The pandemic has forced Howell to adapt his routine and workouts, but not his goal of being a swimming and track Olympic athlete. Photo courtesy of Patrick Howell

Christian Howell runs middle distance and in the pool, he excels at the backstroke, freestyle and butterfly with his Carlsbad-based club North Coast Aquatics and is near the top of his age group. His typical day is packed with school, homework and training, usually ending around 9 p.m., before getting to bed and grinding out the next day.

Christian Howell set his sights as an Olympian thanks to Cullen Jones, who was only the second Black swimmer in U.S. history to win an Olympic gold medal. He was part of the 400-meter relay team in 2008.

COVID-19 is changing the way athletes train, forcing them to be more creative and use more at-home methodologies. However, the state has given the green light for athletes to resume some training schedules, schools, coaches, parents and students are taking the necessary precautions.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released its interim guidelines, while other professionals look at the situation in a more granular level. Dr. Sharon Nachman, the chief of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital in New York, told Healthline that parents need to look to their municipalities and other adults first when determining whether to let kids play.

Sports such as track and swimming can easily implement social distancing practices and other methods. Christian Howell said his club only allows two swimmers per lane, and each must start at opposite ends of the pool, thus reducing contact.

But the 14-year-old isn’t too worried about his plans; he’s confident in his abilities and will adapt to the new times as the world waits for a vaccine, which would allow more traditional methods of athletic training to resume.

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