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From putting with a dog to a first pull-up, here are your best sports moments of the coronavirus pandemic

Biking to the beach, a marathon on roller blades and an in-home golf course with a ball-fetching mutt. Here are our favorite sports(ish) achievements of the last seven weeks.
Griff is one of the obstacles at the in-home golf course of University of Florida alumni Houston and Natalie Bailey.
Griff is one of the obstacles at the in-home golf course of University of Florida alumni Houston and Natalie Bailey. [ Courtesy Houston Bailey ]
Published May 5, 2020
Updated May 5, 2020

In normal times, these pages chronicle the extraordinary athletic achievements of men and women who can run faster, jump higher and hit harder than the rest of us.

But these are not normal times. So neither are our best sports stories.

Related: Community stages personal marathon for Lutz runner

With every major sports league shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic, we solicited readers for their best sports-related achievements.

We heard from everyone from the mother of a 7-year-old girl who’s creating an in-home Cirque du Soleil to an 87-year-old Tierra Verde man who’s just happy to get out of bed every morning. We heard memorable moments on sidewalks and streets, carpets and creeks that showed everything we love about sports — speed, strength, determination and a lot of creativity.

These stories, like the circumstances, are unconventional. But they’re still inspiring. This is what sports looks like during the pandemic:

The fitness first

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Even when Ryan Urquhart was receiving major-college attention as a lineman at Orlando Timber Creek, one athletic achievement eluded him: a pull-up.

“Used to get made fun of in middle school for not being able to do one,” the 23-year-old Riverview resident said.

Urquhart made that his new fitness goal before the pandemic and started weening off resistance aid in January. He knew he was close on April 6, so he set up his phone and hit record.

A few seconds later, Urquhart crossed his feet and pulled himself up as a door swung open in front of him. “Let’s go!” he shouted, clapping and pumping his fists after he hit the ground.

His triumph has been viewed on TikTok more than 113,000 times.

The putt-putters

The bathroom rug is a particularly challenging obstacle to the in-home golf game for University of Florida alumni Houston and Natalie Bailey.
The bathroom rug is a particularly challenging obstacle to the in-home golf game for University of Florida alumni Houston and Natalie Bailey. [ Courtesy Houston Bailey ]

When the PGA Tour canceled the Valero Texas Open near their home in San Antonio, Houston Bailey and wife Natalie needed something to do.

“We thought there should be some golf around these parts!” Houston said.

Why not at home?

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The University of Florida alumni turned their upstairs rooms (where there is carpeting) into a course. They used a real putter to hit a real golf ball at a cup, alternating who picks the room and tee location. Hazards on the front nine included couches, dumbbells and the staircase —“deadly,” Houston called it. The bathroom rug was a tricky island hole.

But the biggest challenge of all was Griff, their ever-lurking, excitable rescue mutt named after UF’s Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

“He will chase your shot and chew the ball if you are not careful,” Houston said.

The golfer

Sue Burket, a seasonal resident of The Villages, recorded her third hole-in-one during the best round of her life last month.
Sue Burket, a seasonal resident of The Villages, recorded her third hole-in-one during the best round of her life last month. [ Courtesy Linda Westervelt ]

The third hole-in-one of Sue Burket’s life was nothing like her previous two.

There was no curving with her 7-iron shot on the fourth hole at Tarpon Boil in The Villages last month. Just an 87-yard straight line that bounced before hitting the hole’s protruding cylinder.

“That’s the new way of playing golf now, with quarantining,” said Burket, 68.

It’s better than nothing. With no hole to reach into, Burket couldn’t spread germs to her friends. They kept their distance with separate carts.

“It was an excellent thing to have still ... just for mental and emotional health,” Burket said.

That’s why the part-time resident played three or four times a week before returning to Minnesota from The Villages at the end of April. Her hole-in-one was the highlight of the best round of her life — a 1-over 29 on the nine-hole executive course.

The bikers

With gyms closed, Apollo Beach resident Keith Murray has focused on cycling. He topped 200 miles in April.
With gyms closed, Apollo Beach resident Keith Murray has focused on cycling. He topped 200 miles in April. [ Courtesy: Keith Murray ]

The most impressive cycling accomplishment we heard was St. Petersburg resident David Shiner’s 100-mile ride from the Pinellas Trail to Starkey Park and back. But the most common stories were about using an old bicycle as a gym replacement.

That’s what Pinellas Point’s Tina Dyakon did. The 50-year-old could feel herself getting stronger since joining a gym in January, and she didn’t want to lose that progress after it closed in March. She dusted off the old bike in her garage and, last Sunday, conquered a monster bridge during her 14-mile ride to Pass-a-Grille and back. “In my mind,” Dyakon said, “that’s quarantine sports done right!”

Forrest White was concerned gym closures would cause him to gain back some of the 39 pounds he dropped since moving to South Tampa two years ago. His solution: A daily ride to Bayshore Boulevard to watch the sun rise, followed by however many miles he could tack on afterward.

A sunrise captured by South Tampa's Forrest White, who rides his bike to see it every morning during the pandemic.
A sunrise captured by South Tampa's Forrest White, who rides his bike to see it every morning during the pandemic. [ Courtesy Forrest White ]

It’s working; the 55-year-old is down 3 pounds during the pandemic.

Keith Murray figures he hasn’t been away from the gym this long in at least 35 years. Determined to keep doing something, the Apollo Beach resident doubled his goal of 10-mile rides from 10 to 20, finishing his 200th mile of April last Tuesday.

“Hardly earthshaking, but it does show you can avoid being a total sloth when you put your mind to it,” said Murray, 69. “Even when you’re old.”

The kayak fisher

Pam Wirth is fishing more during the pandemic and caught a 31-inch snook on the Nature Coast.
Pam Wirth is fishing more during the pandemic and caught a 31-inch snook on the Nature Coast. [ Courtesy Pam Wirth ]

When Pam Wirth was in the middle of her 38-year career as a mortgage banker, she needed something to relieve the stress. She settled on kayak fishing.

It has come in handy during the pandemic, especially after her hours were trimmed from her job at Tampa Fishing Outfitters. Wirth, 65, has more time to spend on the water, exploring new spots with socially distanced friends.

Her best catch so far is a 31-inch snook. She was trying for more Friday, under a cloudless blue sky across from the Courtney Campbell Causeway.

“Instead of watching TV,” Wirth said, “I’m out here enjoying what God gave us.”

The runners

Tampa Palms' Anthony Vito hit his pandemic goal of running 100 miles during April.
Tampa Palms' Anthony Vito hit his pandemic goal of running 100 miles during April. [ Courtesy Anthony Vito ]

Although Anthony Vito wasn’t a running rookie when the pandemic hit, he had never done it competitively or set major goals until he saw a friend post a 50/100-mile challenge on Instagram.

“I figured no better time than the present,” Vito said.

He settled on 100 miles for the month of April … and hit it with two days to spare. Vito even added 4 more miles on the 30th.

Related: Pandemic can’t stop this Pasco teacher from running

Before everything shut down, the 30-year-old Tampa Palms resident hoped to gain enough confidence to sign up for his first 5K. Now Vito is thinking about doing one virtually. And when organized races resume, Vito has a new goal in mind: a 10K.

Seffner's Tatjana Stojkovic saw this message of hope after finishing her marathon on rollerblades.
Seffner's Tatjana Stojkovic saw this message of hope after finishing her marathon on rollerblades. [ Courtesy Tatjana Stojkovic ]

Unlike Vito, Tatjana Stojkovic is a seasoned runner and marathoner who was training for the Belgrade Marathon until it got pushed from April 26 to October.

Instead of logging 26.2 miles by running, the 34-year-old Seffner resident did it differently on April 16, on a nice day with a little chill in the air from the rain. She strapped on the Viablade TX7s she bought at Big Top Flea Market and rollerbladed across Old Tampa Bay, from Rocky Point to Safety Harbor and back.

When Stojkovic got to her car at the end of the three-hour workout, she got emotional when she looked past the palm trees and saw a four-letter message on the Grand Hyatt, “lit up as if for me.”

Hope.

• • •

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