When Jordan Wilimovsky leaves for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro next month, he won’t just have his swimming gear. He’ll also have bug spray, specially treated clothing and a library’s worth of information about the Zika virus.
The standout local athlete and his Team USA peers are being diligent about their health as they head to Brazil amid concerns over the much-publicized virus, which has spread throughout the Americas.
But Wilimovsky, a Malibu native who has trained with Team Santa Monica, isn’t about to miss out on his chance to compete in the world’s most heralded international athletic competition.
“The nice thing about being a part of the U.S. team is that you’ve got an army of M.D.s and Ph.D.s who are looking after us and who are getting us the best advice possible,” said Dave Kelsheimer, a Team Santa Monica coach who is part of this summer’s USA Swimming staff. “That’s all we can do — make sure we’re following the advice of experts and taking precautions.”
Wilimovsky, a qualifier in the open-water and 1,500-meter swimming events, could have chosen to sit out the 2016 Olympics altogether. It’s an option that other athletes, including elite golfer Jason Day, have selected or contemplated in recent weeks. Day, for one, will not be competing in Rio.
“The sole reason for my decision is my concerns about the possible transmission of the Zika virus and the potential risks that it may present,” he said in a statement last month.
Carried by mosquitoes and transmitted between humans through sexual contact, the Zika virus is not typically severe in terms of symptoms, but it has been linked to congenital defects in the babies of infected pregnant women. There is no known vaccination.
World Health Organization officials stated in late May that they had no reason to advocate for moving or postponing the Olympics, although they said they would continue monitoring the situation and tweak their advice as necessary.
“Based on the current assessment of Zika virus circulating in almost 60 countries globally and 39 countries in the Americas, there is no public health justification for postponing or cancelling the games,” a WHO statement reads.
Kate Grace, an Olympic track and field qualifier in the 800 meters, was expecting to receive more information this past weekend regarding the Zika virus and travel to Brazil.
Grace, who grew up in Santa Monica, said representatives from the sport’s national governing body and the United States Olympic Committee are keeping tabs on the virus and updating athletes as needed.
“I am not concerned about my health or safety in relation to Zika,” she said.
Mosquito counts have reportedly dropped since the outbreak in Brazil, where it’s wintertime, but the virus has still had an impact on U.S. swimmers ahead of the Olympics. Team USA cited Zika-related concerns in moving its training camp to Atlanta from Puerto Rico, which has also experienced an outbreak.
“We’re listening to the experts, following that advice and just being sensible,” Kelsheimer said. “We can’t control everything, but the factors we can control we’re going to make sure we’re following.”
Wilimovsky, Kelsheimer and other members of the U.S. swimming delegation are scheduled to leave Aug. 1 for Rio de Janeiro and arrive in the host city the next day.
It’s the opportunity of a lifetime, the coach said.
“It’s incredible,” he said. “It’s such an honor to be a part of this team. … Every day is another amazing experience. The receptions we’ve gotten from training camp in San Antonio and Atlanta are humbling. It’s like nothing else I have ever experienced and may ever experience again.”