Kamali Thompson has spent the last four years training for the 2020 Olympics while being a medical student. An 18-hour schedule that included training as an orthopedic surgeon and then fencing practice was the norm.
Thompson nearly reached her goal in 2016, finishing sixth overall for the United States fencing team as a second alternate in Olympic qualifying. And she was in position to qualify for the 2020 squad headed to Tokyo. She’s entering her fourth year as a medical student at Rutgers and was planning on finishing her studies immediately after the Olympics.
But those plans came to a halt in March when the International Olympic Committee announced that it was postponing the Summer Games to 2021.
“I got really upset because there’s so much going on that I planned for,” Thompson said.
Thompson, who was a fencer at Temple from 2008-2012, is a precise planner. The next year was mapped out to perfection. She was going to compete in Tokyo and return home to finish her final six months of medical school.
Now it’s not as easy to make plans. No one knows when classes will resume. And the coronavirus pandemic has put medical students into action.
The IOC has scheduled the Olympics for July 23 through August 8 of 2021. It’s strange territory for Thompson, and she’s being forced to adjust.
“All I can do right now is take things day by day, and it’s killing me because I don’t know how to not have a schedule,” Thompson said.
Thompson, from Teaneck, N.J., was ranked fourth in Olympic qualifiers with three competitions remaining. The top four fencers qualify for Tokyo. Her brother, Khalil, was also ranked fourth in Olympic qualifiers.
One of the disappointing factors is a loss of momentum. Time off takes that away and opens the door for the competition to come on stronger than before.
“We had this momentum this season, and Lord knows how long this pause is,” Thompson said. “We’re going to have like three months, five months, six months before we start the competition season up again, and these competitions at the end are the most important.”
Other factors include the financial costs of fencing while balancing school. Thompson has six months left of medical school. She is planning to begin completing her rotations starting in July and finishing them based on how she has to plan for the Olympics in 2021. She’ll also have to squeeze in time to travel for orthopedic surgery residency interviews.
With gyms and fencing clubs closed, Thompson is having to find ways to practice. She’s still working out every day and hoping to be in the Olympics next year. She’s staying active with medical school, too, reading and keeping her brain fresh with information.
“All my decisions I made in school and life were to help me make the 2020 Olympics,” Thompson said. “There’s a lot of things that I have to get worked out right now. But everyone has been really supportive.”