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Kayaker Jo Brigden-Jones on coronavirus frontline as a paramedic after Olympic farewell delayed

Kayaker Jo Brigden-Jones first represented Australia in 2004 and she was looking to finish her career on an Olympic high in 2020.

Brigden-Jones was planning to retire after the Tokyo Games and had already begun ramping up her final preparations when the coronavirus outbreak spread to Australia.

While trying to balance her training requirements, which included up to four sessions a day, Brigden-Jones worked as a paramedic and transported one of Australia's first confirmed coronavirus cases to hospital.

She was off the road earlier this month, competing for final selection in the Australian Olympic team, when things took a turn and states started closing their borders because of coronavirus.

She was told to move to the Gold Coast so kayaking could operate in isolation during the final stages of preparation ahead of Tokyo.

The situation escalated again days later and Brigden-Jones was told to stay home instead, as the Games were likely to be postponed.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) finally made its decision last Tuesday to push the Games back to 2021.

"I spent all weekend packing my bags, I put my apartment up for rent on the internet and was all ready to go before I got the phone call to say, 'Don't come'," she said.

"I had to unpack and move back into my apartment, so it's been a massive rollercoaster of emotions."

Many athletes were already in peak physical condition when the IOC announced it was postponing the Games, as they entered the final stages of four years of preparation.

And for Brigden-Jones, the Tokyo dream has been alive even longer than that, after she missed out on selection for the Rio Games in 2016.

"Initially when it sunk in, I was really upset and heartbroken," she said.

"The shock of it getting postponed was pretty tough to take, especially because I planned to retire in August and was looking forward to just being a normal person and doing normal things.

"It's been so full-on and to think I've got to do all of that again this year for 2021 is a little bit overwhelming."

The official announcement of her selection on the Australian Olympic team on Friday brought a happy ending to last week, helping Brigden-Jones shift towards a more positive mindset.

As of Monday, she will be back on the frontline working full-time as a paramedic, trying to help critically ill people through this pandemic.

"When you put it into perspective, it's just a little blip in the radar and there's so much other stuff going on in the world with people's health, so I totally support the decision of the IOC to postpone it," she said.

"I guess when you look at what we do as athletes and how refined we make everything and how precise our training and planning is, that's what makes it difficult.

"Because we're so planned for the lead-up and you see the end goal [of the Olympics] is so close and [we] sacrifice so much along the way."

Paramedics across the country are dealing with the huge impact coronavirus is having on our healthcare system.

And Brigden-Jones says although they are using proper protective equipment to stay safe while they try to keep up with demand, it is important that people only call the emergency hotline when appropriate.

"The problem is that a lot people are calling because they think paramedics do at-home coronavirus testing or they have a simple cold and are scared they have it," she said.

"We really need to save triple-0 for emergencies and there's heaps of information online about what to do if you think you have coronavirus.

"Get in touch with your GP or call Health Direct because we definitely need to save our paramedics and our ambulances for life-threatening emergencies so we're not held up [while we're] trying to save people's lives."


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