HAVANA (Reuters) – A triathlete swims in a tiny above-ground pool on her rooftop, her waist attached to the wall with resistance bands, while a baseball player bats into a car tire and a boxer throws his punches into a bag of rice hanging from a mango tree.
In cash-strapped Cuba, famed for its resourcefulness as well as its sporting prowess, professional athletes are inventing ways to work out and practice despite the closure of common training grounds due to the coronavirus pandemic.
With most on state salaries of less than $40 per month, they cannot afford professional equipment at home. Nor would that be easy to acquire in a country subject to a U.S. trade embargo where the state has a monopoly on imports.
“I’ve had to invent,” said triathlete Leslie Amat, 27, sweating profusely after a full workout on her Havana home’s rooftop that is lined with potted plants.
In one corner is the 3-meter long above-ground pool that her trainer’s 9-year old daughter lent her when authorities closed down the Olympic-sized pools she usually trains in last month as the virus started to spread in the Caribbean country.
Using bands attached to the wall, she swims in it every day for thirty minutes. Then she runs on the spot using the same method, before hopping onto her road bike made stationary with a stand that is her one piece of professional equipment.
Amat also created a separate contraption, a wooden board tilted at a 45 degree angle on tubes, to allow her to build up strength in the upper body. She leans against it and pulls herself up and down with straps.
A video of her improvised workouts, accompanied by the hashtag #quedateencasa (stay at home), went viral on social media this week.
Baseball player Santiago Torres meanwhile has taken to hitting a car tire with a bat to keep up his strength now that he cannot use the automated pitching machines at the training facility of his team, Santiago de Cuba.
“I’ve been keeping active at home, doing defense exercises with rubber balls, and also swinging the bat,” he said in a state television report.
For such athletes, suspending training until Cuba ends its lockdown is out of the question.
“My dream is to get the Tokyo Olympic Games,” said Amat of the games that were postponed from this July/August to next year due to the pandemic. To qualify for the Cuban team, she still needs to score well in a few races.
Meanwhile, this Sunday she is one of the star participants in a “race at home” created by the organizers of the Varadero half marathon. Participants are being asked to run one to three kilometers at home, whether around their garden or on the spot, and to post photos and videos on its Facebook page.
“In these difficult times we need to be very creative,” said Amat, “always remember this will pass and continue with our personal goals.”
(Reporting by Nelson Acosta and Sarah Marsh; Editing by Daniel Wallis)