During Wellesley’s Wintersession, four out of the 13 total Wellesley sports teams stay on campus to devote time to their training. Wintersession is a unique opportunity during the academic year because athletes can focus all of their time and attention to improving their athletic performance. The track and field, swim and dive, fencing and basketball teams all spend Wintersession on campus in order to prepare for the end of their seasons.
According to swimmer Patricia Chen ’18, she and her teammates practice twice a day and lift weights twice a week during Wintersession. The practices are aimed at improving both endurance and stroke technique.
“During Wintersession, we have the chance to focus solely on our dedication to our sport and work out and practice for four to five hours a day in order to reach our goals for the regular and championship season,” she said.
For the basketball team, however, the rigor of their practices is about the same over Wintersession as it is during the rest of the year. This year, the team will be traveling to participate in a two-game tournament in Florida from Dec. 27 to 31, and then they will return to Wellesley for the remainder of Wintersession.
“Because we are playing games during Wintersession, the practices are like they would be during the normal semester in regards to intensity. We do have a lot of extra time on our hands, though, so we do try to work on individual skills on our own,” said basketball player Zojajha Ayub ’19.
During their free time, athletes see each other in the dining halls and may take the rest of their busy days to relax. When she is not at practice for four hours a day or lifting weights, Fiona Harrigian ’20, a long-distance runner on the track team, plays games with her teammates and applies for summer internships and watches TV.
“It can, at times, be lonely, but there are a number of athletes here over Wintersession and many people taking Wintersession classes,” Harrigian said.
In general, athletes on these four teams are required to stay on campus for Wintersession, and their opportunities to participate in other activities during this time period are limited because of the substantial time commitment that being on an athletic team requires. However, coaches understand that a student may want to accomplish things besides training. For example, some members of the track and field team are participating in alternative breaks. Additionally, over the past few years, the swim and dive team recently learned they would be allowed to participate in the Albright Fellowship, though scheduling all of their potential responsibilities into one day would be difficult. They are also allowed to study abroad during the Fall or Spring semesters.
“One of the requirements for being a part of the team is attending Wintersession if you are not going abroad in the spring. [The swim and dive team] is lucky to have a coach who understands the value of studying abroad, and I was able to take advantage of that my junior year and go to Amsterdam in the fall,” Chen said.
For athletes on all teams, it is important to train as consistently as possible. If student athletes go away during Wintersession, they may struggle to return to their previous level of performance. Ayub, for example, notices a drop in her overall fitness when teammates miss wintersession training.
“If we don’t practice on a regular basis…I would get really out of shape and wouldn’t be able to keep up. It would take a couple of weeks, if not more, for me to get back to where I was before,” she said.
For instance, since fencers rely heavily on their legs, their strength in that area may suffer when they stop practicing regularly.
“Not working out for an extended period of time dramatically influences a fencer’s point control. Fencing also requires strong legs because we are constantly moving back and forth in a squat-like position,” said Taylor Hood ’18, a member of the fencing team. “If a fencer were to not fence or work out their legs for an extended period of time, this large muscle mass would diminish quickly.”
Harrigian also notices a difference in the strength of her legs after she takes a break from running, but she says it doesn’t take long to get back to where she had been previously.
“If you do not run over winter break before you come back, it is harder to keep up on runs with the team because you will be out of shape. However, after about two to four weeks of consistent training, you should be able to feel better when you run with the team,” she said.
Both fencing and swimming are unique in that they require specific training for an athlete to maintain their skill level. Working out by running on a treadmill, for example, isn’t enough.
“Something unique about swimming is that you cannot simply workout on dry land to practice. You must also stay ‘in touch’ with the water and ‘keep your feel’ for the water,” explained Chen. “‘Keeping your ‘feel’ for the water is a very subtle feeling, but it makes all the difference.”
Hood finds herself having a similar experience if she doesn’t work on her fencing techniques.
“The changes in our point control can occur much faster than the loss of muscle mass. Our point control can be thrown off by not practicing for a few weeks. It takes about a month or two for differences to be noticed in leg strength,” she said.
During the summer months, student athletes are strongly urged to keep training for their sport if they can, or to at least exercise regularly in order to retain the strength they built up during the year.
“The general idea is to stay fit and keep the muscle mass that you end with at the end of the season,” Chen said.