HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — COVID-19 has caused many sporting events to be put on hold, including the 2020 Olympics, but just because it’s pushed back, doesn’t mean the athletes can stop training.
One local athlete is continuing to race toward his dreams, even under difficult circumstances.
Zach Harting is a competitive swimmer who won bronze at 2018 Pan Pacific Swimming Championship, 7th at 2016 Olympic Trials, and 9th World ranking in the 200 fly, twice. He’s also known as “Swimming Batman.”
“He’s goofy and he does crazy things,” said Matt Webber, the Huntsville Swim Association Head Coach. “In the swimming world, he’s known as ‘Swimming Batman’ because of his crazy Batman costumes he wears.”
“I think the inner core of the onion has always been the same because my dream has always been to make the Olympic team, ever since I was seven,” said Harting. “My training was really starting about a year ago. It was really taking off, i was really proud of where that was going and then… got a little derailed.”
The COVID-19 pandemic put all things on pause. In March, it was officially announced that the 2020 Olympics would be postponed until 2021. Never before had the Olympic Games been postponed or canceled for something other than war.
Zach says he believes postponing the Olympic Games was the right call.
“Yeah, we don’t want to go to the Olympics having trained like this,” he said. “We want to do it right and compete for it and compete right and earn the spot.”
Zach is a part of University of Louisville’s Pro Swimming Group, but while most of the team is continuing training in Louisville, he came back home to North Alabama.
Training for the Olympics is one thing, and training for the Olympics in the middle of a pandemic is on a completely different level, and for Zach, he has to be extra careful because his dad is at an increased risk of severe illness if he catches COVID-19.
His father has Chronic Kidney Disease, or CKD, so he is working on getting a transplant, making him a high-level risk.
“It’s just natural to feel all those different kind of emotions and so I felt like if I came home, I could help take care of other things around the house that would alleviate some of the strain,” said Zach.
After he left for home, a couple people on Zach’s team tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. So, instead of returning to Louisville, now he’s training for the Olympics solo.
“With my situation here, I don’t know if it makes sense… It’s kind of like a high risk, low reward sort of thing to go there and kind of risk getting COVID,” said Zach “I guess the aspect I really miss is having my training partners to do the hard sets with, but my coaches have been sending me the stuff that they’ve been doing so I can stay up to date.”
While training in Huntsville, he’s getting to spend time with some old familiar faces like his swimming coach of ten years, Matt Webber, in his old stomping grounds at Huntsville Aquatic Center.
Webber says it’s pretty rare for Huntsville swimmer to head to the Olympics. “You talk about Huntsville swimming… You’ve had two people in a long history of swimming here that have ever made the Olympic team… So he is trying to accomplish something that is very rare.”
Rare or not, Zach says he doesn’t focus on others, he focuses on his own ability, accomplishments, and goals. “Really, what still stuck to the center of my onion is I still want to be an Olympian and that’s what’s been driving me and pushing me at practice.”
Webber said Zach is one-of-a-kind, always finding positive in a negative situation. “He’s figuring out how to not have bad days under the worst circumstances he’s probably faced as an athlete,” he said.
Like an onion, Zach continues to grow, even in harsh conditions.
“Ten year old Zach… I’d tell him not to give up because he’s going to make it,” he said.
The 2020 Summer Olympics are set to begin in Tokyo on July 23, 2021 and end on Aug. 8.