Javier Acevedo at Canadian Olympic Trials

Georgia's Javier Acevedo celebrates after a race at the Canadian Olympic Trials at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre in Toronto, Ontario on April 6, 2016. (Courtesy Swimming Canada/Photo by Vaughn Ridley) 

Javier Acevedo made sacrifices to prepare for the 2020 Tokyo Games. 

The 2019-20 NCAA swimming season was set to be Acevedo’s last at Georgia, but he took a redshirt to train for the games and finish his collegiate career one year later. 

It wasn’t an easy decision. Acevedo couldn’t spend his senior season with friends he’d known for three years. Instead, he set his sights on making Team Canada for a second time. At the 2016 Rio Games, he finished 17th in the 100 backstroke, only one spot away from advancing.  

“I didn’t want to make it about me, but I think it’s important for myself to have my goals,” Acevedo said. “My goal was always to come to UGA and make an Olympic team as a member of the University of Georgia.” 

While his Georgia teammates competed in the 2019-20 regular season, Acevedo worked in Athens with UGA alumni and fellow Olympic hopefuls, including Chase Kalisz, Gunnar Bentz and Olivia Smoliga. Little did they know, the pandemic would defer their Olympic aspirations another year. 

Treading water

Acevedo was training with a club in North Carolina as the COVID-19 pandemic escalated in March 2020. When Canada announced it wouldn’t send teams to Tokyo later that month, Acevedo’s parents requested he return to Scarborough, Ontario, since he couldn’t afford to get sick in the United States without good health insurance. 

Two days after Canada’s announcement, the International Olympic Committee postponed the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to summer 2021. 

For three months, Acevedo saw his training space shrink from Olympic-sized pools across the Southeast U.S. to a backyard pool in suburban Toronto. Difficult sets in the water turned into occasional runs on a treadmill. Acevedo spent most of his time with his parents, Catherine and Aroldo, sisters Liliana and Catalina, and their three dogs, Hollister, Dexter and Tessa. 

“The mental toll was super, super tough,” Acevedo said. “I am so thankful for COVID, in a sense, because I got to learn how strong of a person I am with the support of my family.” 

Acevedo isn’t the only Georgia athlete who had dreams postponed. Katrin Koch, Georgia’s director of strength and conditioning for Olympic sports, said swimming and track and field typically have the highest number of Olympic hopefuls. 

“It was an initial shock, but I think everybody was still in this ‘I don’t want to catch the virus and die,’ [mentality]” Koch said. “It was such a bleak outlook that people were OK with it being pushed back for a year to keep everybody safe.” 

From March-June 2020, Koch helped come up with remote workouts for Georgia student-athletes living at home. She said some athletes left Athens with backpacks full of weights, and the athletic department came up with ideas to use household objects in exercises. 

Pushing ahead

Acevedo, Koch and other Georgia student-athletes and athletic staff returned to Athens in June. They were greeted by COVID-19 tests, social distancing and mask requirements. 

Koch said the most challenging part of restarting in-person activities was the looming fear of contracting COVID-19, and that anxiety continued throughout fall and spring competition. Because some cases of the virus can be asymptomatic, concerns about a positive test affecting Olympic athletes won’t be gone until the Tokyo Games conclude, Koch said. Acevedo shared her concern. 

“You are on edge all of the time that you might have asymptomatic COVID,” he said. 

Acevedo swam for Georgia in the 2020-21 season while training for the Olympics, and he’s qualified for this year’s NCAA championships in three events. He said being with his friends again has put him in the right mindset for the Canadian Olympic Swimming Trials, which will be held April 7-11. 

As for the sacrifices Acevedo made for his Olympic redshirt season? Though it may have ended up being a year early, he said it wasn’t for nothing. He said learning leadership qualities along with tough training helped him prepare for the NCAA season. He also knows exactly what he needs to do to get ready for trials. 

“Honestly, it’s been a tough year,” Acevedo said. “But I think right now, it’s definitely a lot better than it was. As we pass a year since this whole thing really started, it just feels really good to be in a much better place than we were last year.”