Pandemic Turns San Diegan's Olympic Dream Into Olympic Dilemma

Sam Barlow was a top-ranked Team USA athlete prior to COVID-19 but chose to get on with life over following the Olympic dream to Tokyo

NBC Universal, Inc.

When the coronavirus pandemic postponed the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, thousands of athletes around the world were forced to take a momentary pause on their training, but for some, like San Diego's Sam Barlow, it meant the end of their Olympic dreams.

Sam grew up in a kayak on Mission Bay after her father, a 1992 Olympian in the same sport, introduced her to the sport at an early age.

"At 18 months old there's a photo of me being held by my dad and he's holding my hands onto the paddle" said Barlow.

Sam Barlow and her dad, Chris Barlow, in Mission Bay.

Her father, Chris Barlow, started the San Diego Canoe Kayak Team more than 20 years ago and has coached his fair share of national team members and Olympians.

But, his daughter Sam would become his ultimate apprentice, making the national team and ranking number one in the U.S... until the pandemic.

"I had always said that 2020 would be my last full time commitment to the Olympics and 2020 came and went" said Barlow.

Sam, who is a junior at San Diego State University, no longer wanted to delay her education and the job training which she'd sacrificed for kayaking.

Sprint kayaking was her life for the past 7 years as she woke up before dawn to train on the water and spent 20 to 30 hours a week working out off the water.

"It was tough" said Sam about the decision to step away from the sport, but it's not one she regrets.

Sam still paddles out on Mission Bay in her kayak, but it's no longer the grind required to compete at an elite level.

She did however leave the door open for a return to the sport in the 2024 Olympics in Paris and the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles.

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