As colleges and universities close their campuses nationwide in response to the rapid spread of the coronavirus, students around the world are asked to upend their lives and stay home in the name of public safety. For college athletes, many of whom were just getting used to regimented weekly practice routines this spring, sheltering in place poses an additional question: how to stay in shape.
Many Panthers – robbed of a season of play – must now redefine what it means to be a college athlete in the age of a pandemic. With limited access to facilities, players are asked to improvise their workout programs, often substituting competition with more basic strength and endurance routines from home
“The hardest part for the players is the fact that they have trained for the past eight months preparing for the 2020 season and now that season is over so they are forced to switch back into an ‘off-season’ mindset,” said Mike Leonard, head coach of the baseball team.
Some Middlebury baseball players look forward to competing in a collegiate summer league composed mostly of Division I and Division II athletes. Others might not have the opportunity to compete over the summer, but Leonard there are still avenues for productivity.
“This will be a time for them to reflect on where they are physically and use the next several months to put themselves in a position to compete at a higher level for the 2021 season,” he said.
Other teams, like the women’s tennis team, will focus primarily on physical training throughout the coming months. Team member Emily Bian ’21 is from Austin, Texas, where the state’s governor just instituted a stay-at-home order.
“At home, I don’t really have easy access to courts or people to hit with,” Bian said. “So I’m going to focus more on just staying in shape, less on keeping up my technique, match skills or tennis endurance.”
Bian’s team was just gearing up for a week-long training trip in California when President Laurie Patton made the call to close the campus. Now practicing self-isolation from their homes around the globe, team members are exploring different avenues in order to maintain their physical condition, including online workout plans developed by their coaches and trainers.
Bian plans to adopt a workout routine of diverse activities to target different parts of the body. She has discovered various digital platforms to guide her workouts, including Volt, an interactive app used by many Middlebury sports coaches to monitor their players’ physical activity.
“There are so many online classes that live stream for free, especially during this turbulent time, so I’m going to take advantage of those and attend HIIT classes to maintain my strength and yoga to maintain my flexibility,” Bian said.
Meanwhile, fall and winter athletes are also adjusting their off-season training schedules to keep their bodies in shape during the long break.
While Middlebury’s swim teams finished their seasons a few weeks ago at the NESCAC Swimming & Diving Championships, Haley Hutchinson ’23 was anticipating returning to the pool in early March. Hutchinson, a native Californian who spends much of her day in the pool and at the gym, may be forced to find new habits.
“I won’t be competing until the fall so it doesn’t change that so much,” she said, “but definitely not being able to swim is very different than what I’m used to.”
While Hutchinson’s coaches encourage her team to follow the weekly fitness programs they curated on Volt, made up of body-weight exercises and stretches, they recognize that intense training may be difficult to implement during home quarantine.
“They’ve stressed that doing whatever you can is important,” Hutchinson noted, “and that may look different for everyone.”
Settling in for what seems like a few more months inside, coaches and players alike are reconnecting and preparing for the next season. Rachel Kahan, head coach of the women’s tennis team, noted that her group continues to grow through on-screen interaction and by pushing each other to stay in physical shape.
“Since we have a close-knit group,” she said, “they are checking in with each other and motivating each other to utilize this time to continue to grow and improve, so when we are back together and competing again we will be ready to go.”
Brinlea La Barge '23 is the senior news editor.
She previously served as news editor and sports editor. La Barge studies English and Linguistics at Middlebury and is a peer writing tutor and captain of the women's tennis team.
She spent the summer of 2022 as a communications intern for the Josh Shapiro for Governor campaign, and previously worked for Nantucket Magazine and WHYY, Philadelphia's local PBS and NPR affiliate.