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Track and Field Athlete Plots Course To 1st Olympics

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, HOST:

If everything had gone according to schedule, we'd be well into Week 2 of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo right about now. But because of the coronavirus, pandemic the games have been postponed a year. We've been reaching out to some would-be Olympians to learn how they're coping with this change of plans and how they're managing to stay competition ready during the pandemic. Here's what we heard back from one Team USA member.

CHARI HAWKINS: Hi. My name is Chari Hawkins. I am a Team USA heptathlete. A heptathlon is in the sport of track and field, and it's seven different track and field events in two days. And I am training for next year's Tokyo 2021 Olympics.

FOLKENFLIK: For Hawkins, that means plotting her course to the U.S. Olympic Trials, now scheduled for June of next year, and then on to Tokyo for what would be her first Olympics. Oh, and if you're not familiar with the seven individual events that make up the heptathlon, you're in luck. Hawkins is happy to explain.

HAWKINS: So we start off Day 1 with the hurdles. And it's 100-meter hurdles. And after that, we move on to the high jump, then the shot put, then the 200-meter dash. And that wraps up Day 1. And then we come back the next day and we get ready to do the long jump, the javelin. And then we top the whole thing off by running an 800. So it's pretty intense, but it's such a fun event.

FOLKENFLIK: Good thing she thinks it's fun because it sounds pretty grueling. Hawkins had been struggling with a serious ankle injury in recent months, but she and her doctors had opted to forgo surgery because the Olympics were coming up. Now Hawkins says the postponement was a blessing in disguise.

HAWKINS: And as soon as the Olympics were postponed, you know, we gave my ankle a little bit more time to recover. And when I went back to practice, you know, it started getting swelled up. I did, like, a really crazy workout. And my ankle just wasn't holding up, so my doctors were like, you know, this is the perfect opportunity to get the stability back in your ankle that you wouldn't have had if you wouldn't have got - if you won't get the surgery. And there's no time like now because you actually have the time to recover. So I ended up getting the surgery. And now I'm just on my road to recovery. I'm going to be able to get that big, wide base in that comes with physical therapy and getting back to it, so that when I'm back to the track, I'm going to be stronger than ever, more stable than ever and ready to just get back to work, get back to the grind.

FOLKENFLIK: Hawkins says she's excited to be embarking on the journey again, and she has a go-to song to help her stay motivated.

HAWKINS: There's this song called - Jeremih, it's called Imma Star." And for some reason, that song just gets me going. Like, it makes me feel like the most confident human being in the world. And, you know, like, when you're - even when you're, like, training, you're - maybe you're not feeling good that day, you're off, or maybe when you're about to compete and you're not - you're feeling a little insecure or something like that, like, that is the song that reminds me, like, listen. No. You are a shining star. And you don't even have to worry about anything. So, I mean, it's been true in 2009, and it is still true 11 years later. I absolutely love that song.

FOLKENFLIK: That was Chari Hawkins, Team USA track and field heptathlon. She's aiming for a spot at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IMMA STAR")

JEREMIH: (Singing) Getting money's the only thing on my resume. I thought I told you. I'm a star. You see that ice? You see the cars? Flashy lights everywhere we are. Living life like there's no tomorrow. I thought I told you, I'm a star. You see the ice? You see the cars? Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.