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Trainer caught in Russian ringside of COVID-19



Little did acclaimed boxing trainer Colin Nathan ever imagine that the fight of his life would be spent in a sterile Russian hospital where he has been battling COVID-19 for more than a month.

Yet he has been overwhelmed by the support and love shown to him by locals, and the endless Jewish network of caring – in this case from the St Petersburg Chabad.

“There are some beautiful people in Russia. They might come across as hard, but the nurses and the doctors have been absolutely fantastic. Without the medication and the care, I don’t think I would have made it,” he says.

“Chabad have stayed in touch daily. They have sent food parcels twice a week. They have sent through tefillin. Anything and everything I have ever needed, they’ve sent. It has just been wonderful.”

Nathan first arrived in St Petersburg on 28 May along with South African boxer Ryno Liebenberg who would be fighting a match held as part of the Economic Russia Summit.

As per legal regulations, Nathan and his team had all taken COVID-19 tests before flying, and were all found to be negative. On arrival, a weigh-in ceremony was scheduled for 2 June, ahead of the actual match scheduled for 4 June. Prior to the ceremony, Nathan and Liebenberg had to undergo another mandatory COVID-19 test. Liebenberg tested negative, but Nathan came up positive. He did a second test that same day, which then came up negative.

Nathan said that although he felt a bit run down, this was his usual experience of travelling across extensive time zones.

The next day, he and his team had to take a third COVID-19 test, this time in preparation for their flight out shortly after the match.

The morning of the match, with the result of the test not yet released, “I woke up with terrible back pain. I thought, ‘I know I’ve walked a lot, but I’m a fit guy, I don’t smoke or drink and I train a lot. I’m always in the gym’. Something was just not right.”

Meanwhile, the co-ordinator of the summit contacted Nathan saying that there was a big problem as “national health authorities wanted to come and check me out at the hotel” owing to the fact that even though the second test was negative, the original result had been positive.

Nathan went into isolation in his hotel room as they waited for the most recent test results. “By then, I was scrambling for this third test to get me out of this – to have the fight and fly home.”

In the interim, a doctor and paramedics came to check up on him, and found his condition stable. He clung to the hope that the result would be negative, even going to shower and change ahead of the match.

However, it wasn’t to be. “An ambulance came and took me from my hotel room”. As they passed the corridor where the rest of his team were, he had to say goodbye to Liebenberg, for whom this was a final match before retirement. “I had to say, ‘Look I am not going to be with you. I can’t be in your corner.’”

Nathan was astonished when the hotel’s general manager, Oxana Menshikova, hopped into the ambulance with him. “I said, ‘Why are you coming with me?’ She said, ‘Colin, I know Russian hospitals: you are foreign and you can’t speak the language – I just want to make sure you are okay.”

A month later, Nathan said, “I thank her every day for what she has done for me.”

Arriving in the self-isolation section of the hospital, reality began to feel like a “horror movie”.

In the weeks that followed, he has gone through pneumonia, excruciating back pain, kidney problems, fever, headaches, being unable to swallow from the severity of the infection in his throat, and two sinus punctures – carried out on a chair under local anaesthetic.

“I have never been this sick in my life,” he said. Yet, the terrifying, twisted reality is that even with what he has gone through, he knows it could be worse after seeing others in hospital, even younger than himself, battling to breathe.

He has been buoyed by the support of loved ones back home, and longs to return. “Father’s Day was really hard on me; I did break down,” Nathan said.

Yet, he’s also astonished at the reach of love across continents. “When you are a Jewish person and you’ve got people in South Africa who love you and care, the network is incredible,” he said, referring to his connection with Chabad in South Africa.

At this point, Nathan has undergone 26 COVID-19 tests. Fifteen have been negative and 11 positive. Until he gets a consistently negative result, as a foreigner, he cannot be released even to isolate in a hotel room.

“It has just been a very humbling experience,” he muses.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Samuel

    Jul 1, 2021 at 11:59 am

    If certain folk are unaware of Russia’s COVID-19 pandemic then they only have themselves to blame
    for going there in the first instance.

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