Tag: exercise science

Engage U.S. ready to launch with trip to Olympic City USA

Brandon Male

Brandon Male

All of the world’s eyes – Brandon Male’s included – are on South Korea.

But the instructor in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education (KNPE) is looking at the Winter Olympics through a different lens, one that understands that the games are far more than athletes, medals, national anthems and must-watch TV.

Male is preparing to select and accompany a dozen NIU College of Education students this May to the U.S. Olympic Training Center, also known as Olympic City USA, in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Stop One on the trip, coming at the half-way point of the drive, is the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where the Engage U.S. students will visit the Nebraska Athletic Performance Laboratory.

It’s among the first ventures of Engage U.S., a new addition to the Educate and Engage Program and tailored for students who are not in teacher-licensure candidates. Thanks to generous funding from donors to the college and the department, students selected for the trip will pay almost nothing.

“This is a big opportunity for our Exercise Science and Sport Management students to gain a little insight and to get their own Olympic experience,” Male says. “This is going to be the start of something cool.”

team-usaHuskies chosen for the trip will engage with, and learn from, coaches and other practitioners and administrators who work at the U.S. Olympic headquarters. Male also hopes his travelers will meet current Olympic athletes.

USA Swimming and USA Shooting also house their national headquarters on the complex, which covers 35 acres and can provide housing, dining, training facilities, recreational facilities and other services for more than 500 athletes and coaches at one time.

NIU students will stay in the training center’s dormitories and enjoy use of the fitness facilities and swimming pools, he adds.

Field trips are planned to the Air Force Academy and the headquarters of the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

“Colorado Springs is kind of the fitness, strength and conditioning capitol of the United States,” Male says. “It’s kind of like Silicon Valley is for the technology industry.”

KNPE Chair Chad McEvoy was instrumental in bringing Male’s vision to life.

“Dr. McEvoy had a couple contacts there, including a former student who’s moved on to the USA Triathlon. He still knows some folks there, though, and did a little networking, made a few phone calls – business development is his title – and they ate it up,” Male says.

“Every once in a while, the Olympic Training Center has a university tour that comes out, but they’re trying to get more experience with more young people, with more up-and-coming professionals, and they’re really trying to push the Olympics to help grow and cultivate Team USA. They’re very on board. They love the idea.”

Chad McEvoy

Chad McEvoy

“Our Kinesiology program at NIU provides exceptional opportunities for students to pursue their passion for working in fitness and exercise related professions,” McEvoy says. “This Engage U.S. experience with the Olympic Training Center will allow our students to immerse themselves in sport performance at its peak.”

Past the invaluable lessons of the industry lie the kinds of experiences that are only available outside the classroom, Male says, including new skills, greater confidence and the inspiration to “better themselves to become the highest level of professional.”

“I hope these students realize that it’s a big world out there with a lot of really great opportunities. I hope they come back with a more global perspective, and that it’s important to reach out, to make contact with people and to take a chance,” Male says.

“I want them to think about those employers, those graduate schools and those jobs that might seem too good to be true, or too much of a big fish, and to go for it,” he adds. “At its core – at its root – what this is is a networking opportunity, to just go out there and meet people, and this is an opportunity to go out there and meet the best of the best. Who better to talk to you about that than Team USA?”



Exercise Science Club students shine at Abominable Snow Race

Caitlin Paxton (right) and Dave Benner work with a child in the Winners Circle.

Caitlin Paxton (right) and Dave Benner work
with a child in the Winners Circle.

Caitlin Paxton’s journey to the foot of a snowy Lake Geneva mountain drew her into the heart of the Abominable Snow Race.

But amid the frigid cold and friendly competition, the senior from Plano found affirmation of her dream to teach Physical Education to elementary school children.

“I helped with the ‘Little Yeti’ race, which was a kid’s version. It was so fun; they were so cute,” says Paxton, who will begin student-teaching in the fall.

More than 100 children from ages 4 to 12 participated in the Jan. 27 event, she says.

“We had six different obstacles. They had to go and run the obstacles, sled down one hill and run up another, sled down another and run across the finish line. They got medals, just like the adults did,” she says. “I was really surprised. It was cold and slippery, but they were determined to do it.”

Paxton joined a dozen classmates in NIU’s Exercise Science Club in making the trip to “The Midwest’s Premier Winter Obstacle Race,” which each year attracts up to 2,700 runners eager to tap into their “inner Yeti.”

Tony Calderala, an academic advisor in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, arranged for the dozen club members to volunteer along the course and in the “Base Camp” area.

exercise-science-club

After arriving Friday evening in Wisconsin and grabbing some dinner, the Huskies made their way to the Grand Geneva Ski Resort to begin assembling their pegboard obstacle, which challenged racers to go up and over in a test of their athleticism.

“Overall, it went pretty well,” Calderala says. “On Race Day, we got there about 6:30 in the morning, set up our last-minute items, helped in the volunteer tents and at the starting line. All of the students were course marshals for the competition heats; if racers failed an obstacle, we took away one of their three wristbands.”

For an hour after the race, he says, NIU’s pegboard proved a popular and favorite attraction. Many of the racers called it “a great way to practice,” he says.

Bill Wolfe tackles NIU’s pegboard.

Bill Wolfe tackles NIU’s pegboard.

“Racers coming off the course wanted to challenge themselves more,” he says. “We had a timing competition – how fast could they do it? Or how many times could they go up and down without touching the ground? Bill Wolfe, the owner of Abominable Snow Race, said, ‘I gotta try it.’ He went for it and did pretty well. We had kids and their parents.”

NIU’s students were able to do some teaching of good race technique – “It’s not all upper-body; it’s about core,” Calderala says – and get first-hand looks at some aspects of sport management.

Among the issues: up-and-down temperatures froze the course overnight from Friday to Saturday; bright sun Saturday morning melted the ice and turned parts of course into mud and slush, snagging ATVs and requiring the distribution of water by foot; some volunteers failed to show.

“We met gym owners and were able to discuss what goes designing these courses: ‘What did you think about when you put it together? Why did you put it together this way?’ They learned that in the construction of these obstacles, they actually think through what this is going to look like and how it’s going to affect an athlete.”

Students also saw some injuries – “ankle sprains, bumps, bruises, nothing serious” – and learned how to help athletes keep going if they need some medical attention.

basecampOwners of the Abominable Snow Race were impressed by NIU’s contributions, which including “filling the void” caused by missing volunteers.

“The feedback from ASR was great,” Calderala says. “They want to do more here at NIU, so we want to see what they looks like and see what we can offer.”