Extraordinary Patients

Q&A with Brandon Hudgins: Thoughts on Olympics Postponement and COVID-19

In our January/February newsletter, we featured professional distance runner Brandon Hudgins as he prepared for the 2020 US Olympic Team Trials in Track & Field in June. Hudgins, a vasculitis patient, VF Ambassador, and founder of the Victory over Vasculitis campaign, had been training hard in hopes of qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics. In March, the games were postponed due to COVID-19. In this interview, Brandon shares his feelings about the games being cancelled, how he is coping with the coronavirus crisis, and how he gives—and gets—inspiration every day.

Click here to watch Brandon talking about staying inspired.

VF: The Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics were postponed in March due to the coronavirus. How are you feeling about that?
BH: I was initially worried that they would try to forge ahead and host the games. So when they finally announced they would be postponed, it was a sigh of relief. For several weeks, as things with the coronavirus got more serious, I had to stop my intense training and put my season on hold. In talking with my team (my partner, doctors, family) it wasn’t worth the health risk. I’ve been in this sport since I was 10 and have had to put racing on the back burner for years at a time with my vasculitis, so waiting one more year doesn’t faze me at all. These problems all pale in comparison to the health issues that every high-risk person is dealing with right now. Because ultimately, being healthy and alive is far more important than any job or sport.

VF: How long have you been training for these Olympic games?
BH: I’ve been training for this moment since I was 13. It’s all I’ve dreamed about. But from a physical sense, I’ve been training hard since my last Rituxan® infusion in October 2018. A month or so after that infusion I was declared in remission. From that point on it’s been about building for this year. I’ve had some minor injuries, but before I shut it down in March, I was doing workouts on par with what I was doing in 2016. I know I was on track to be ready. If it’s 2021, then so be it.

VF: How is the coronavirus affecting your running and exercise regime now?
BH: I’ve reduced my training by about 20-30 percent. I’m still getting out and running every day—more for sanity and routine than for race training. By staying at 70-80 percent I can hang on to most of the fitness I’ve gathered over the last 18 months but not put myself at risk of infection.

VF: How are you coping with COVID-19?
BH: Luckily, life as a distance runner and vasculitis patient has prepared me for the isolation. I’ve been stressed and anxious, but that is more fear of getting sick than being down in the dumps. I’ve needed to get back on a regular routine of meditating and practicing mindfulness. With too many hours on social media and reading the news, my stress levels are at an all-time high. Relaxing and focusing on my breathing are incredibly helpful for reducing stress levels.

VF: What do you do to keep your spirits up?
BH: I’m enjoying more time with my partner, Ryanna. I’ve had more time to catch up on writing, playing music and doing things that I never have the time or energy to pursue. I learned long ago to pour my energy into things other than running. When I don’t, I fall into those dark depressions, so when I see things like this happen, I immediately start figuring out what’s next. And I’m constantly inspired by the stories I hear from other patients.

VF: You are such an inspirational voice, what would you say to encourage others during this time?
BH: I’ve learned it’s best to take things one day at a time. At some point things will return to normal. Best to find things to occupy your time that are productive: Get out and walk or exercise, read books that you’ve put aside, pick up the guitar that hasn’t been played, and develop a routine each day.

VF: As VF ambassador, what would you like to communicate to the vasculitis community?
BH: Right now we have a unique opportunity to help others. Most of us have been immunocompromised, so we know the wash-your-hands-and-cover-your-cough-drill. As patients, we’ve had to suffer in silence very often, and we developed skills to help ourselves in times of trouble. Those skills now can be used to help others.

Click here to watch Brandon talking about staying inspired!

Author: Sharon DeBusk
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2020 issue of the VF newsletter.