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An inside-out season for Saranac Lake track

Churning up deep snow, in shorts no less, provides a tough sprint workout for Red Storm student-athletes. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

SARANAC LAKE — Out of all the strange and new ways humans have been adapting to deal with the coronavirus, a group of student-athletes and coaches at Saranac Lake have found a creative solution to a problem brought on by the pandemic.

Up until this winter, members of the Red Storm indoor track team have always had a place to train and compete — in a warm, dry environment with a roof above their heads. But with the school’s gym and weight room closed, and Section VII’s lone competition venue — the SUNY Plattsburgh Fieldhouse — also shuttered, Saranac Lake’s indoor track team was literally left out in the cold.

The way things turned out, being out in the cold hasn’t been an issue at all. This winter, Saranac Lake’s indoor track team has been practicing exclusively outside.

“We’re just trying to give these kids an opportunity to get in a workout. Some of them haven’t done anything since March,” track head coach Cy Ellsworth said. “We started the second week of December. Every workout has been outside, and the kids are really into it.”

With high-risk winter sports like basketball and hockey not currently taking place at Saranac Lake, indoor track and Nordic and alpine skiing are the only athletic activities available at the school. So in addition to those who normally participate in indoor track, some hockey and basketball players have also hopped on board to give the squad a roster of 35 boys and girls.

Girls on Saranac Lake’s indoor track team run through about 20 inches of snow during practice at the high school on Thursday. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

Instead of focusing on their normal track disciplines like distance running, sprints, hurdles and throwing, team members are involved in a well-rounded training program designed for overall fitness. Working in small groups, team members move from station to station under the guidance of the eight coaches helping out with the program. The team is making use of the tennis courts next to the track, which have been consistently cleared of snow by the custodial staff. There’s room to warm up and run in sections of the parking lot, and the track itself has also been put to use despite being covered by more than a foot of snow.

“We’ve actually set up a lot of stuff outside. We have six stations, and we just keep them rolling,” Ellsworth said. “We’ve been out there when it’s been 10, 15 degrees, and we keep the kids moving.”

The team has been working out four days per week with the season expected to run through the end of February. Ellsworth said many of the student-athletes will continue with training programs immediately after that as they gear up for hopeful spring sports seasons. All participants are involved in a variety of sessions including cardio, power, stretching and flexibility, mobility and athleticism. Ellsworth said a focus of the program this year is functional movements.

“For example, instead of doing heavy bench press and heavy squats, we’ve had kids splitting wood, flipping tires, working with kettlebells,” Ellsworth said. “The kids have carried logs, they’ve ran with snowshoes. We’ve even had some good old-fashioned sled pulls. I think we’ve all noticed a drastic improvement in their overall fitness.”

During November when it appeared a competitive indoor season may not take place, coaches on the track and cross country staffs and interested students first met virtually to figure out how to bring the team together and what practices might look like.

Tires, barbells and kettlebells are some of the equipment being used during the Red Storm indoor track team’s outdoor workouts. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

“It was great seeing all these coaches step up for the benefit of kids,” Ellsworth said. “We got together, we talked to the kids, and we presented a game plan how things were going to be organized. We all went along with the idea that exercise is not only good for physical health; it’s also good for mental health.

“It certainly was strange at first. As we moved along after the first week, the excuses got less and less,” he continued. “I just don’t think kids have ever lifted weights out in the snow before. They had to get used to things like that. I’ve found that with those 35, we have a group of kids dying for structure, dying for the ability to move, and really dying to be together with some of their friends. It’s been a great experience for the coaches as well. We love being back around the kids.”

Peter Fogarty and Mia Sanford are two-student athletes who qualified for the state indoor championships a season ago as first-year members of the team. Fogarty is a senior and two-time state cross country champion with the Red Storm, and Sanford is a junior who is Section VII’s defending indoor girls weight throwing champion. Both said they’re just happy to have the chance to train with their friends and coaches.

“I knew not a lot was going to be happening indoors,” said Fogarty, who plans to compete in distance running at the collegiate level. “It’s more about training rather than racing. This year, it’s less about what you specialize in and more about moving on to the next sport. I’ve been learning different lifting exercises. I’m definitely stronger.

“Running with logs, snowshoes, chucking medicine balls, it’s been fun right off the bat,” Fogarty added. “It has been different practicing outside. When we first started and I saw some of my teammates running in their shortest shorts in the snow, that was a sight to see. I’m happy to have this chance. It’s the best we can do with the current situation.”

“I’m so happy to be outside after being cooped up indoors for what seems like months on end,” Sanford said. “It’s been so hard to do any sports with COVID, and we’re fortunate to have this group of coaches out there with us. This year, we’re working our entire bodies. The lifters are running, the runners are lifting. We’re all doing the same things.

“I’m so lucky and grateful for this opportunity. A lot of schools aren’t doing anything,” Sanford added. “All day in school, I only get to see the few classmates in our cohort. Out here, I get to be with other friends. I’m so thankful for our coaches, the AD (athletic director), the school staff, that we’re able to do something like this. We’ve had some cold days, especially when the sun isn’t out and when it’s windy. But on those sunny days, I just turn my face toward the sun and smile.”

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