Coronavirus Communiqués from Northern Italy

As of March 29, Italy has overtaken China as the country with the most deaths from the coronavirus – 10,729 - and it has 97,689 confirmed cases; more than China and second only to the fast-rising toll in the United States. Italy’s northern regions are hardest hit as its coronavirus cases comprise more than 80 percent of the total in the entire country.

We interviewed pro triathletes from Alessandro Degasperi, Martina Dogana and Daniel Fontana. All have been affected, but only Fontana lives in the hardest hit area of Lombardy near Milan.

Alessandro Degasperi

Degasperi is 39 years old and lives in the north of Italy in the region of Trentino Alto Adige, about 300 km from Milan and 300 km from Venice. Degasperi is married and has one child. He has siblings in a village 10 kilometers away.

Degasperi’s triathlon career highlights include wins at Ironman Lanzarote in 2015 and 2018. 2nd place at Ironman France in 2017, and 3rd places at 2015 Ironman Zurich and 2015 Ironman Mallorca.

Slowtwitch: How has this pandemic altered your sense of the fragility of life in your area, in your country, on the planet?

Alessandro Degasperi: Probably athletes and younger people with strong immune systems aren't so afraid about the virus. The real problem is for the old or sick people, - and this can happen in any family!

ST: How are you adapting to restrictions on living and travel during the pandemic?

Alessandro: Travel is now forbidden in all the country. Just people that still have to go at work can travel, and all the others can just go to the supermarket or for sanitary reasons. The first week was hard to accept, but now there is nobody around and this is very strange. It looks like a war movie.

ST: How are your family and friends doing?

Alessandro: Yes, the biggest problem, at the moment, is in Lombardy, the region of the city of Milan. In that area the virus infected many people especially at work, but they probably stopped the non-essential activities too late. Where I live the situation is still largely under control.

ST: How are you family, your training partners, your coach doing?

Alessandro: My sister works in a retirement home for old people, so that is not the best place to work at this time. But for the moment, looks like nobody there is infected. I have training partners nearby but we all train alone. My coach, Alberto Bucci, lives 200 km away and I see him once per week.

ST: How do you keep training? And how do you adapt to intense hygiene protection and social distancing?

Alessandro: Yes, I train the most at home. I'm lucky because I have a house with a big garage and a garden. I'm doing a lot of indoor bike, exercises for swim and run and, as professional athlete, I have access at the track and field 2 or 3 times a week, but always alone.

ST: How do you feel about this devastation to your country?

Alessandro: I'm very sad about the situation, about so many people dead, and I'm pretty worried about the situation in the hospitals. I have many friends working in the healthcare environment, and the situation is at the limit.

ST: How long do you suppose this will continue before life goes back to normal?

Alessandro: I think that in Italy it will probably be better in about one month, but much longer before life will be back to normal. But now the virus is growing fast in Europe and everywhere in the world - in these last days especially in Spain and in the USA. But so far they are already a month behind Italy. So I think it will take a longer time to go back to normality all around the world.

ST: What has been most shocking to you about the pandemic?

Alessandro: The most shocking thing about coronavirus is that we don't know from where it comes and if it's something 'natural' or created in a laboratory.

ST: Do you know any of the many physicians and nurses in your area who have contracted the coronavirus?

Alessandro: I know many people that work in the hospitals, but, fortunately, most of them are fine. Most of the ones that were infected now are OK, and they told that they felt like a normal 'heavy' flu. Probably many of them were also infected but in an asymptomatic way.

ST: How do you survive economically?

Alessandro: I just have to spend money for food. In Italy we don't have to pay for the health care. So no problem. The problems will come later, when the entire economy will have to restart.

ST: What does all this mean?

Alessandro: This means that we have to be resilient and, for the moment, train alone and find some objectives to maintain a decent shape

ST: What would you like people outside Italy to know about how Italy is doing

Alessandro: The most important thing is that all the countries adopt the restrictions we have in Italy sooner that we did, in order to stop the infection before it reaches big numbers.

Martina Dogana

Dogana, 40, lives in Veneto, Italy, about 60 kilometers west of Venice. She is a 6-time Italian long distance triathlon champion who won Ironman France in 2008 and 2012 Challenge Vichy and won the 2015 edition of Israman 227.

Slowtwitch: How are you adapting to the pandemic?

Martina Dogana: I try to respect the rules and I stay at home, training indoor on my smart trainer and doing some core strength exercises. In the first days it was hard to accept, but you know, triathletes are used to adapting to new situations and facing different scenarios, so at the end I just had to adapt to this new context, find out what I could do and not complaining about what I could not do.

ST: How are your family and friends doing?

Martina: A hopefully me and my family, as well my closest friends and team mates are well at the moment.

ST: What are the restrictions on people in your area?

Martina: Since March 9, all northern Italy is a “red zone.” That means that all the public building, gyms, swimming-pools, track & field stadiums as well as bars, restaurants, theaters, cinemas and stores that are deemed not necessary and are closed. All the group activities are suspended and sport events were the first to be cancelled. Now, people can only go out to work or to buy fundamental necessities. Otherwise, we are urged to stay home.

ST: How do you keep fit?

Martina: As I told you before, I’m training at home. If I could, I would train running around my house, but I’m not. For me, the primary need is to stay healthy and not get injured. Training is not at the top of the do-do-list at the moment. I’m try to stay fit and I’m taking the time to do different things, from cleaning home (that I can honestly say is very strenuous) to cooking, baking and, of course, relax!

ST: How do you feel about this devastation to your country?

Martina:There are no words to express how we are living, not only in my beautiful country but all around our wonderful planet.

ST: How long before life goes back to normal?

Martina: I have no ideas. Where I live, in Veneto, it all started on February 22. We don’t know when we are expecting the peak of this virus will be over. It is a nightmare.

ST: What has been most shocking to you?

Martina: At the beginning I underestimated the seriousness of this “flu.” But day after day, looking at the news on TV, we can understand that this was a real problem. The most shocking image was the line of military trucks carrying the coffins from the hospital at Bergamo to other cities because they have no more room in the crematory, nor in the cemetery. I’m not used to praying to God, but all my thoughts are with the people who are suffering and also to their families who can’t even assist their beloved or say goodbye for the last time.

ST: Do you know any physicians and or nurses who have been infected?

Martina: At the moment all my friend are OK. Fingers crossed!

ST: How have you been able to survive economically?

Martina: For the moment we have to think day by day. The Italian government is working for economic measures to help those who are at home or who will lose their job. I hope that sport will also be included in this action.

ST: When did you realize this was a life altering pandemic?

Martina: When we were asked to stay at home and avoid the contact with other people. As an Italian, we are used to shake hands, kiss, hug, to have family lunch and to take coffee and aperitif with friends after work. Now we can’t. A piece of our “Italianity” is blocked, we hope, for a short time.

Daniel Fontana

Daniel Fontana, 44, is a 2004 and 2008 Olympic triathlete and a silver medalist at the 2009 Ironman 70.3 World Championship. He also won 2014 Ironman Los Cabos. He lives in Settimo on the outskirts of Milan, which is in Lombardy in northern Italy.

Slowtwitch: When did you realize this was a life altering pandemic?

Daniel Fontana: When the contagion grew out of control and when companies were asked to close. The virus is much more aggressive than we thought. And for those who get it, it could mean death.

ST: What are the restrictions on people in your area?

Daniel: It is forbidden to leave more than 2 blocks from home. You can only do purchases of first necessity in your own town. If you go outside, movement with your cell phone is detected. The police are everywhere and you have to have a certification to confirm the extreme necessity of your travel. No physical activity over 200 meters from home, and always by yourself.

ST: How are your family and friends doing?

I live near Como, in the Lombardy region, the hardest hit region. My wife (ex-national runner), my one year old son, my lovely dog Coker (a runner also) and me are locked in our home. My mother-in-law has some heart disease so we haven’t seen her for 2 weeks to protect her.

ST: Do you know anyone who has contracted the virus?

Daniel: Everybody in our family is OK. But I know many people who have been infected. The National cross-country coach passed away, and one of the coaches of the national athletic team got infected. One of my closest friends got a light infection but is still recovering.

ST: How do you feel about this devastation of your country?

Daniel: In the beginning everybody underestimated the virus. I was worried about training and races. Then a lot of people got infected, the health system collapsed and many people started to die. Then I was very worried for my mother-in-law and for my son, because if my wife and I got sick, nobody could take care of him. So I spend all the day watching the news, thinking about this threat to my son. I was filled with anguish and anxiety and I couldn't sleep.

ST: How do you keep training?

Daniel: I’m lucky because I have a treadmill (thanks Technogym) at home and a Tacx smart trainer. So I do a lot of bike and run training, and functional training with bands and some weights. No contact with other people. We try to socialize through Zwift and thus create a small digital community.

ST: Do some people object to your status as a professional athlete?

Daniel: Some people are angry with athletes doing sport outside, Their reactions are sometimes violent.

ST:How long do you think this will continue?

Daniel: Every day the scenery changes, but it seems that the increasing numbers of the infected have started to slow down a little, so we can see some light at the end of the tunnel. I expect in 4 to 5 weeks conditions may slowly start to improve and step by step we may begin to resume normal life.

ST: What has been most surprising about this pandemic?

Daniel: The first escalation was shocking - in a couple of days things rose from 10 cases to 10,000 and hundreds died. And it was also surprising how well the Italian people came together- even the politicians. And it was surprising to realize with the quarantine, my life had been so immersed in work and how sharply things turned into chaos.

ST: What do you think of the health workers who have contracted the coronavirus?

Daniel: They are the heroes of the virus war, fighting on the front lines. Many of them are still dying. The government asked to recruit 300 retired doctors and nurses, and 3000 answered the call.

ST: How do you survive economically?

Daniel: Nobody knows the ultimate economic consequences. For sure everybody will lose a big part of their income. And athletes are in a very precarious category. The whole sports industry is going to crack. It is not the first time that I have faced difficult situations. I had a long career, from the beginning in the 1990s in Argentina, through the Olympics and last year I was the oldest pro at Kona. I trust all the training I did for many years to build fitness will reward me when I race again.