I am fascinated when I analyze the teams and environments that Alex and Avalon are in. The running and rowing teams at UVic are both national powers, and so the training and psychological environments should be extremely well monitored and fostered by the coaches. Since Alex and Avalon are both in their first year with these new teams, and self-described as being; “the slowest guy on the team,” by Alex and “completely new to the sport,” by Avalon, it was very eye-opening to see what sort of treatment they were receiving from their teams. I was interested in answering the question: “What about the team is going to transform these two athletes from ‘good’ to ‘great’ in these sports like many athletes before them? What is the most valuable aspect of the team?”
Alex is in the engineering program at the University of Victoria, but he wants to spend as much time as he can running. Normally his program involves taking 6 courses at once. But, because 6 courses is overwhelming for any student, never mind a student athlete, he decided to take only 4 courses, a decision which was supported by school councilors as soon as he told them he was a varsity athlete. The decision has paid off, Alex is able to manage the 4 courses with his training schedule. On a regular day Alex will wake up at 7:00, go for a 20-40 minute run, go to classes for the day, go for a run with his team in the afternoon, and then go home for dinner and homework. He has time to power through his hardest workouts on weekends, complete his homework, and occasionally show up at a party to decompress. While drinking would be detrimental to his cause, it is a nice change of pace for Alex to at least get out and socialize after a long day, and it is one of the perks of living on-campus. A few nights Alex has been stuck doing homework past midnight, but he is happy to say it hasn’t been common, he has found good balance in his lifestyle.
Alex says his experience in Victoria has been very positive. The only drawbacks he can find are the rowdy parties and lack of vegetables in campus food. He loves training and racing in a social environment. He has the support of many of his professors when he misses class and a strong school-athletics program to look after him.
I was able to attend a training session with Alex’s running team. The whole team treated me very well. I met the senior athletes who were training for national medals and I was impressed by how well they led the team despite being focused on their personal training. For example, the oldest runner there had an entirely different workout than us but he spent as much time as he could with the team, socializing with everyone and asking me how I liked my skiing and if I was considering running at UVic. This year I’d be too slow to make the team for distance running, but the team was very friendly to me while they ran my pants off. I was truly a spoiled guest for not being left in the dust by them. Because everyone on the team was on different schedules for the week, what I got to witness was a group of very collaborative athletes who supported each other in our warmup, long run, and intensity workout while being attentive to their own needs. I was impressed by how they managed to stick together as a team and how friendly they were to myself and each other. I met no snobs, something which I have experienced a lot of in other running circles, and everyone seemed to be great friends.
The second athlete I interviewed was Avalon Wasteneys. Avalon is a Vancouver Island native from the Campbell River area and has found national success as a cross-country skier. This summer she made the difficult decision to switch sports from skiing to rowing. A decision she said was motivated by her desire for a new training and racing experience. She got what she was looking for, Avalon is loving the massive change in schedule, sport, and large team she is surrounded by in Victoria. She knows now that she wants to stay in rowing throughout University.
When I spoke with her she was drinking a Frappuccino and had just finished a nap. Her schedule involves waking up at 4:50 in the morning, leaving campus at 5:20 to be on the water by 6:00, and returning to campus by 8:15. If she has an 8:30 class she has to sprint to it. Her training is as rigorous as skiing or running. At this point in her season, she normally completes a myriad of intervals ranging between half an hour in length at a steady pace to minute-or-less blasts of power. Intervals are either timed sets or distance repeats up to 12 kilometres. She has found this intensity training especially difficult to do in a new sport.
Avalon often naps in between class because she needs to catch up on sleep before she can focus at night and do her homework. She was enrolled in 5 courses initially, but has made a “healthier” decision to take 4. On Thursdays and Mondays her schedule is lighter, which has been important for keeping up with homework. If Avalon were to make senior varsity in the coming years she would need to take 3 or 4 courses and train 12 times per week.
“We are literally all in the same boat, if we are fighting with each other we won’t be fast… we can’t nag each other about poor technique, because it might be ourselves that is the reason for the boat being slow, there are so many factors, it is hard to pin a slow boat on one mistake”.
Avalon’s attitude perfectly captures the ideology of having a big team, where many diverse individuals can work together to make a successful performance. It is evident that the coaches at UVic teach their athletes to work together, which is crucial for success with any training partner in any sport.
Avalon has found no fatal flaws in her new sport other than having constantly blistered hands from hours of training. She supposes “I could ask a Senior Varsity athlete and I’m sure they could give you a list. But for now I am the wrong person to ask.” After a few minutes of consideration she says that there is a higher chance of injury when compared with skiing. “The coach isn’t always focused on you individually when you are making technique mistakes, and I am using my muscles in a new way, so I have to be careful and listen to my body when I feel a pain that I haven’t encountered in skiing”. Unfortunately, she has yet to get access to free physio through the team, which will come with moving up the skill levels. Avalon recognizes over the next few years that she will have to shift to “being a 24/7” athlete and the training will start to wear on her more, but for now she is enjoying her new experience without regrets.
It is clear that Alex and Avalon have found a great university to support their sports, and they are obviously enjoying themselves a lot. Varsity Sports are a good program to support athletes, especially at the University of Victoria. Their stories make me wish that I had taken 3 courses this year, and skied with school full-time. I realize now that skiing could easily have university Varsity teams as well. That will be addressed in my next post…