This is a snapshot in time of a thoughtful triathlete just as the novel coronavirus started to accelerate. Named for his legendary father, Rodolphe Von Berg was on time for a 2021 Ironman debut after a rising wave of significant performances in the past two years – in 2019 he posted 3rd at the 2019 Ironman 70.3 World Championship, a win at Ironman 70.3 St. George and 2nd at Ironman 70.3 Oceanside. In 2018, he scored a wins at Wildflower long course, the Ironman 70.3 South American Championship and the Ironman 70.3 European Championship to go with a 2nd at Ironman 70.3 Mont Tremblant.
It is to his credit that he feels the stop in his career momentum pales in importance to how the world must cope with the great pandemic. From the fast changing milestone of March 18, Rudy could see what must be done in the near future as he maintained a bit more optimism than fast-rising totals of infection and mortality would soon prove.
Slowtwitch: How are you adapting to the pandemic?
Rudy Von Berg: It is affecting me more and more. Every day it’s getting worse. They will be closing all the gyms soon. And the pools. I am still biking and running, As of now this is not directly affecting training. But we are not racing any more. So now I am more into base work rather than race specific work. It is tough not knowing when we will be able to race. And what the world will be in the next few months our whole lives are on hold. Not just for athletes – it is hard for everybody.
ST: What is most surprising about this?
Rudy: Some things about it are not so surprising – just the level of it. Obviously the irrationality of people. People buying mountains of toilet paper and stocking up on food which I think is extremely selfish. There is nothing left in many grocery stores. Some people buy eight cartons of a dozen eggs, something they will be incapable of eating. Or they buy all the Lysol in the store. That seems unethical to me. But we are humans. It seems mind boggling – just one week ago or two weeks ago, there was nothing going on in our lives. Now all races are canceled. And the ever growing quarantines. I've been reading more and more articles, they are closing bars and restaurants and limit all public gatherings. Now we wonder when races might resume. It could be summer or later we won’t be able to race. I hope for May or June. Obviously racing is not the most important thing. If we can resume racing the pandemic will be gone. It is just uncertain whether it happens next week or months away.
ST: What can you do now?
Rudy: For now we can do almost everything. The gym is open. The pool is open. But I will be surprised if the gyms and the pools stay open for long. We will continue to run and ride outside.
ST: When does the desire to train conflict with the duty to behave in a responsible manner?
Rudy: I have seen articles stating people should not ride outside. You risk an accident because hospitals are not taking in patients. The saturation of the health care system indicates overworked hospitals will not want people to be treated for bike accident injuries. Right now, that seems a little extreme. I think it is pretty rare that I crash on the bike – but even with slim chance of that happening, at worst that would aggravate saturation of the health care system. And at worst, they will have to prioritize who gets care.
ST: What about your relatives in Europe?
Rudy: My parents live in France. And another member of our family lives in Belgium. There everything is locked down. Restaurants are closed. People are scared to go outside. But my parents are really not super social people. They work from home and they work out riding on nearby roads. So they continue to work out. These days they are obviously more careful. They limit; they go out to the grocery store. Life is not changed much for them. Their entire lives are similar. But it affects everyone from every country in a different ways.
ST: We are all part of the problem and part of the solution?
Rudy: Best thing I can do now is stay at home and be careful not to spread infection.
ST: What precautions do you take?
Rudy: Like any athlete, I have pretty careful habits already. I clean my hands a lot. If I see someone is coughing, I stay away. I have fewer people around. I still go to gym but I just double down on the basics. I clean my hands. I clean off all the handles and surfaces with wipes.
ST: How much will change in your career?
Rudy: This has not affected my career as a whole. It will affect my earnings and performance bonuses for now. I will make a little less money. I do not think – it is hard to say if it will seriously affect my sponsorships.
ST: Looking ahead?
Rudy: Looking at history this virus probably won’t go on for years. I think at worst it will go on 6-8 months. It will be pretty bad but I think at most it will be half a season. There will still be 70.3 world champs. But the business world right now is at a halt. That is certainly not good. Stocks are plunging. I do have a few long term stocks but I am not super worried about massive decreases. The last two weeks have been scary to see how swift the losses have been and things will be very bad if there is no food in the grocery. Overall I am still an optimist. We have hard times but at most they last a few months. In the hardest times you see how strong and optimistic humans are.
ST: On the other side of the coin, statistics of the pandemic shows the opposite?
Rudy: Yes. It shows how fragile humans are. We are really little groups of atoms grown to become a big atom. It shows how small we are in this world. We do not own the world. It really shows how vulnerable we are and how powerful nature is. Some people think human technology is stronger and will counteract natural disasters.
We need to be kind to the world we live in. Nature is always greater than we are.