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“A mixed bag:” athletes take their training off-campus for winter term

This Winter Term, approximately 600 Carleton students will be dispersed throughout the world, either logging onto classes from a remote location or taking the term off altogether. Among them are numerous athletes, who, faced with another term of stringent health guidelines and cumbersome practice protocols, decided to take their training and studies elsewhere. 

“Last term was challenging mentally,” explained sophomore football player Isaac Simons, who, like many of his peers on campus, grappled with COVID-19 protocols that limited social interaction and normal campus life. 

“I spent almost all of my time in my room studying and taking classes online, which simply wore me out. On top of that, at Carleton I was not able to cook or prepare my own meals, so when the opportunity to live and take classes in Florida arose, I took it.”

Sophomore Henry Bowman, a runner on both the Men’s Cross Country and Track teams, expressed similar frustrations with the online learning format. “Like many of us, I’m not a fan of online classes,” he said. “Despite the best efforts of our professors, taking classes over Zoom isn’t anywhere near as engaging or valuable as typical classes are. I felt pretty burnt out after online classes last spring, so I’ve been running away from them ever since.”’

During the fall, Bowman was among the 55 Carleton students who took advantage of an opportunity provided by the college in collaboration with the Danish Institute of Study Abroad (DIS) to live and take classes in Copenhagen, Denmark, where the pandemic conditions are much better.  

This term, Bowman will be living in Crested Butte, a small mountain town nestled in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, where he will work as an intern for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). 

Currently, Bowman is collaborating with a research mentor to study ozone emissions from human-based sources, and how these emissions have influenced changes in the seasonal cycle of ozone over the past 80 years. When he’s not conducting scientific research, Bowman will be taking time to enjoy one of the few silver linings the pandemic has provided: an opportunity to live, study and train in a disparate environment.

“Colorado has no shortage of great places to run, so that’s certainly an advantage of being off campus,” Bowman said. Due to a knee injury he recently suffered, Bowman decided to take some time off from running in order to experiment with new forms of exercise. “I’ve been biking a lot more recently, and while it’s not the same as running, I can’t complain much when I get to spend my afternoons riding through the mountain scenery.”

A handful of Bowman’s fellow track athletes, including distinguished distance-runner Clara Mayfield, are following the lead he set this fall and embarking on the winter version of the DIS program in Denmark. Mayfield is excited to explore her surroundings in a new country via running. “Even in just my first few days in Copenhagen, I’ve been able to find many places to run nearby. An advantage of being here as opposed to Northfield is that there should be less snow, and slipping around all winter historically has not agreed with my legs.”

Mayfield also mentioned that track coaches are providing her and her teammates with training plans, while communicating with them regularly to discuss the best way to prepare for the upcoming outdoor track season – if there manages to be one this spring. Of the three athletes interviewed for this article, none expressed optimism that full competition will return by the end of this academic year.

“I don’t think we’ll see any formal competition this spring, and that’s probably for the best, considering travelling for sports seems like an unnecessary risk in the middle of a pandemic,” said Bowman. 

Meanwhile, despite alluding to the frustrations of seeing competition continue within other divisions and conferences across the NCAA, Mayfield understands Carleton athletics being put on hold for public health purposes. “Sports hold an important place in the lives of all athletes no matter the level, but I don’t think they should be prioritized at the expense of the health of so many,” she explained. 

Regardless of whether full competition returns to campus this spring, Carleton athletes are entering a third academic term where they will be restricted from going about their athletic lives in a normal fashion. Last spring season was a wash due to Carleton’s complete shift to remote learning, while any sort of inter-school competition was completely absent in the fall. Athletic teams were permitted to practice in a modified format during the autumn months, no Carleton athlete will shy away from admitting that the experience just wasn’t the same. 

For almost every varsity athlete at Carleton, organized sports have been an ever-present and important part of their lives from a very young age; a source of pride and some degree of identity, not to mention close bonds and friendships. All of a sudden, programs like the football team are losing half of their students to remote studying for the Winter Term, making it a challenge to maintain contact with teammates and coaches and retain the same level of commitment to the sport. 

“It has definitely made it more challenging to stay committed. Even when I was on campus and we were having position group meetings on Zoom throughout the week, it was a challenge to stay there mentally when there was no game to actually play,” said Simons, a linebacker on the Knight’s defense who plans on training with three of his teammates at a gym in West Palm Beach this winter. 

Bowman struck a similar chord when he explained how his commitment to running has been altered by the pandemic, which stripped him of an outdoor track season (last spring), a cross country season (last fall), and an indoor track season (this winter). “Three competitive athletic seasons being wiped away has certainly taken a blow on the level of motivation I hold towards running. A lot of the commitment I display towards running comes from the opportunity to do well in races, and without races, it’s a lot harder to stay committed,” he explained. 

Nevertheless, Bowman is making the most out of his situation. “The pandemic has helped put my athletic ambitions into perspective: there are other things more important than sports, especially sports at the Division-III level. Without formal athletic seasons, I’m still a student, and I have a lot more free time to devote to school, my internship and other hobbies. In this way, I’ve become more well-rounded.”  

The pandemic has swept away eagerly anticipated athletic seasons that cannot be won back, but it has also created new opportunities for Carleton athletes to display their resilience and flexibility. 

For the likes of  Bowman, Simons and Mayfield, it presents an opportunity to explore and train in a unique part of the world, always a Zoom call away from their teammates and coaches.

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