Haley Scott breathes in the cool, crisp air of the rink as she glides on the ice at AdventHealth Center Ice in her white skates. Gearing up, she makes three rotations in the air — a perfect triple loop. Her excitement to be back at the rink outweighs the muscle and lung aches, reminders of her two years off the ice due to complications of long Covid-19.
The 16-year-old Wesley Chapel resident has been skating since she was five years old; however in November 2020, she was forced to stop when Covid prevented her from walking, talking and skating. The virus, which usually leaves the body in two weeks, persisted for Haley for over two years.
Doctors told Haley she may never be able to skate again. However, six specialists later, she is back on the ice and ready to perfect her form.
“It was definitely a hard journey coming back,” Haley says. “Trying to get used to jumping again, spinning again… just even being on the ice.”
Scott is a 2015-19 Sunshine State Games gold medal-winning ice skater. She was awarded the 2016 Betty Stark Award for the highest combined score in the Juvenile Girls Free Skate and Short Program and the 2017 Dorothy Dodson Award winner as the top skater in the two programs for the Intermediate Ladies divisions.
Midway through the pandemic, Haley began suffering from the usual dizzy spells and headaches associated with Covid-19.
She felt fine two weeks later.
But, the third week, her speech slurred and she could barely stand.
“I was definitely a whole different person than I used to be,” she says.
Her mother, Julie Scott, took her to the emergency room but got turned away due to her daughter’s Covid-19 test coming back negative. Julie took Haley to cardiology, neurology, immunology and hematology appointments before scouring the internet for some cures. After ten months in pain, Haley was recommended to IncellDx, a research group in California.
“They were just a godsend to us,” Julie says. “They listened. Many doctors will turn you away with no answers and that’s it. They listened and at least tried things.”
In December 2021, Haley started to see results. She could walk again, talk again, and in January, she actually began to skate again.
The 16-year-old also is completing her high school credits through Florida Virtual School, while also taking college-level classes at Pasco-Hernando State College.
“I feel thankful,” Julie says. “I’m very proud of her and I just want her to enjoy the journey, wherever it may take her.”
Before her battle with long Covid, Haley was practicing at the rink 4-5 hours a day. In January, her mission to get back on the ice started slowly, with just 30 minutes of free skating. But now, she has worked her way back to practicing with her coach, Silvia Fontana, five days a week.
Haley has trained under her coach for four years. When Silvia learned of the news of Haley having long Covid, she was devastated. Everything needed to become a professional ice skater was taken away by the illness, she says.
“At one point I just wanted her to have a regular life and just to be happy again,” Silvia says. “For us as coaches, the skating and athleticism are important. But, we care about them as people first. So, that was the main concern.”
Silvia says Haley is one in a million. Even through the hardships, her coach has seen Haley fight back and excel. And, she still believes that Haley can represent the U.S. in the Winter Olympics in four or eight years.
“I want her to always remember where she came from,” Silvia says. “When you get to the higher level, it gets more stressful and she needs to know the strength and resilience she had during that really difficult time.”
Haley is training for the qualifying season in July. For athletes struggling with long Covid, Haley says, “it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.”
“Don’t lose hope,” she says. “You just have to stay positive and remind yourself who you are.”