Returning to work

Cross country team details the challenges of training in the new normal

As new restrictions allow some sports to start training for the next season in 2021, the Ferris State cross country teams begin to adapt.    

(Left to right) Kyle Strong, Perry Robson and Ethan Hamilton prepare to train at Top Taggart Field. Photo by: Benjamin Totten | Torch Photographer

The Ferris cross country team has started their training for both men’s and women’s teams while adapting to wearing masks as they train. The hope to compete and show their skills off in front of the fans has driven the athletes to train. Both teams have used each day as an opportunity, working out to gauge their fitness while also improving. Once the team is given the green light to race, they will be ready.    

Head coach of track and cross country teams, Jared Kelsh, said that both programs are doing their best to stay motivated during these times. 

“Both teams have done a great job following protocols and social distancing, but also spending time together. They really missed running and working out together and are so happy to be back on campus,” Kelsh said. “Social interaction is crucial to building a team and welcoming new athletes, so we relied heavily on zoom meetings over the summer.”   

With Ferris athletics finding out that all GLIAC competition would be canceled until Jan. 1, 2021, Kelsh focused more on emphasizing the indoor/outdoor track seasons th0at are approaching. The cross country team missed the outdoor track season from last spring and cross-country season this fall which made training a challenge.   

According to Kelsh, it has been both mentally and physically challenging for training aspects. However, both teams have maximized their creativeness for training exercises. They’ve come together as a team and are making sure each teammate is on track and held accountable for their training.    

The team’s focus has been on their overall conditioning to be ready to start event-specific training when it is allowed. Strength is being worked on in the fall, even though there is no competition. Kelsh hopes this translates into impressive marks once the teams can compete. The strength and conditioning schedules were adjusted to help the athletes get solid bases for the fall season while making the team stronger. It will allow smooth transitions into track event exercises.    

Wearing masks while training has certainly been an adjustment for everyone. Kelsh emphasized that his athletes have adapted well and can use masks designed by Under Armor for exercising. Junior runner Hannah Loucks talked about the added challenge of training with these new masks. 

“Wearing a mask while running has been a challenge for our team this season, but like with any other challenge, our team adapts and is stronger because of it. I have witnessed all my teammates face this challenge with a positive attitude, and we hope we will be able to get back to running without masks when it is safe,” Loucks said. “It is easy to be negative about the current circumstances, but I try to find the positives even if they are little things like the nice fall running weather we have had lately.”   

Loucks said she feels safe with the protocols in place for the cross country and all of athletics. Since both high school and professional running teams have been able to compete during this pandemic, Loucks believes it will be safe for colleges to return to action. Fellow teammate, junior Paige Deitering, also believes that she is safe and looks forward to indoor track season because she knows Ferris and the GLIAC are doing everything they can to keep athletes in a safe, healthy environment.   

“It is definitely a challenge for us to get used to, but it’s given us the ability to practice again, which has strengthened us structurally in being able to work together as a group rather than training alone,” Deitering said. “The team has really come together this season in trying to stay positive and lift each other up since two of our seasons have now been canceled. Getting out the door and getting in the miles together has really been helping since returning to campus.”   

Two men’s cross country seniors Weston Rackley and Donis Harris feel that their competitions should be allowed back since there are more dangerous activities that could spread the virus than running, and many of those have returned. 

Rackley said wearing a mask is no issue and would gladly wear one to compete. Both men feel that all athletes are just eager to have their respective sport back and want to compete after everything that has happened. All the athletes strive for competition but understand that actions must be safe for everyone and adapt to have action back.    

“I would say it definitely provides more challenges. It messes with the structure of our training. Usually, we practice five days a week meeting with our coach the entire year, but this situation has made it so we can only meet 2 or 3 days a week. It can be difficult to keep up motivation if you aren’t able to meet and run or workout with a group. However, we are making the most of the situation, and are glad we can meet for the few days we are able to.”   

Harris and Rackley both said that it is upsetting that they lost this year of competition as they only get four years to compete at this level. All four members of the cross-country team said that training in a mask had been a new challenge, but the whole team has gotten used to it.   

Each runner talked about how important it was to stay connected to the team during this time and that everyone did their part to keep the sport alive. Over the summer, the team held Zoom meetings to catch up with each other and give out support. The team also made small running groups once they returned to campus.   

“Competing and participating in running at the collegiate level is one of the greatest privileges I’ve ever had,” Rackley said. “Jared and the team have been great to me, and I would never have thought I would be where I am now four or five years ago. Running and my team is two of the most important things in my life. Right now, I am just focusing on controlling what I can control and getting ready for indoor and outdoor track.” 

Soon, the team will join various Bulldog athletic programs in reaching the ultimate goal of competing at a high level once again.