Swimming Program Launches 'Wellness Initiative'

May 12, 2010

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IOWA CITY, IA – University of Iowa Head Swimming Coach Marc Long has launched a “Wellness Initiative” that promotes improved lifestyle habits intended to benefit student-athletes both in and out of the pool. Long and the swimming program have partnered with Associate Director of Athletic Training Mike Lawler and the UI’s outstanding athletic training department to address wellness issues and body compositions. Lawler sat down with a member of Iowa’s Sports Information Department to answer questions regarding Iowa’s student-athletes and shed some light on Coach Long’s “Wellness Initiative.”

Sports Information: What was your reaction when Coach Long approached you about the Wellness Initiative?
Mike Lawler: “I was very excited when the plan was put forth because I think what Marc, Kirk, Nate and Frannie are trying to do is improve our swimming and diving program. Developing this idea of focusing on wellness can only make us better. In addition to everything else I do with the team, I wanted to be a part of this new development. I was very excited about being involved.”

SI: How is this different from what was expected of the student-athletes before?
ML: “I don’t know if the expectations are any different, but we are placing a greater emphasis on it now and really making it part of their program. Before you might say, `hey our program should have these five points of emphasis and maybe we have been focusing on one, or two, or three of them,’ now we are going to focus on all five. Maybe before we left it up to the student-athlete to handle it on their own, but now we are taking a more active role as athletic trainers.”

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SI: How will this complement the Strength and Conditioning Program?
ML: “As we’ve always done, we will work with (Strength and Conditioning Coach) Bill Maxwell. Bill is very knowledgeable, so this is a complement to what he does. I think when most people think of wellness issues and body composition the first thing that comes to mind is the athletic trainer and the connections they have. I think that is why (Marc Long) addressed me. But again, we are going to work very closely with Coach Maxwell and the strength and conditioning staff.”

SI: You can’t possibly be with every student-athlete as often as you’d like, is the Wellness Initiative intended to guide them when they’re away from the pool or away from campus?
ML: “Absolutely. We are going to be giving them a plan and basic handouts. Its’ amazing how many questions they all have; What types of foods should I eat? Is this food better than this food? When I go to the grocery store what should I buy? They want very specific answers and we are going to give them guidance. It’s a handout that I have collected and that Amy (A’Hearn, B.S., RD, LD) has distributed to the team in the past. Amy and I will be working together closely. We give out handouts and Amy will come over and give lectures 2-3 times a semester. We did this once before last semester but we’re putting a new emphasis on it now.”

SI: What are some of the Wellness Initiative’s expectations?
ML: “In the past coaches will recruit swimmers and make them faster through training, but that’s not the only thing that’s going to make them fast. We are going to focus on all the other things that can make an athlete have an optimal performance, like nutrition and diet. What do you eat? When do you eat it? How much do you eat? The athletes have been very receptive and want to do whatever it takes to improve. Along with nutrition, we are going to focus on sleep and rest because sometimes that gets neglected. We aren’t going to call every athlete every night and tell them to go to bed, but we will emphasize it more than we have in the past. We are going to talk about sleeping habits to make sure they understand sleep is very important. We want them to keep it in the front of their mind versus dismissing it to the back. We are also dealing with body composition and the makeup of our athletes. We’re measuring that and giving them guidelines of where they are and if they have improvements to make. “

SI: Does this program reach beyond nutrition and performance?
ML: “Yes, we are also focusing on the emotional and social aspect. Our student-athletes have practice and classes every day. Many of them have to attend study sessions at the Gerdin Learning Center, and take time to eat, take time to sleep. It’s nice to have a little socializing time in there too. It all adds up, so they can get very stressed and very warn out. We are going to address that at certain times of the year, for example, during finals or before a big competition.”

SI: Will there be an added focus on injury prevention?
ML: “We will look at their bone density, how they’re developing injuries and so forth. There are some sports, like runners or people who are on their feet all the time, where the body responds and builds strong bones by putting stress on those bones. Swimmers and cyclists are not getting that pounding. Some studies have shown that their bone density does decrease so are they more prone to stress fractures. Our swimming and diving team does do some running and conditioning, so if we start to see a problem we might get some bone density testing done. If we find people that might be prone to that we may be able to prevent injuries.”

SI: How long has the Wellness Initiative been in the works?
ML: “It has been talked about all year as the new wellness center was coming on board. We really want to make a fresh start next year as we move into the new pool. We said as soon as the Big Ten Championships were over we would take a big sigh of relief before preparing for 2010-11. So far this year, I have already done some body composition measuring on the team. I will be giving them a few more workouts to do over the summer to make sure they stay strong and don’t come back with shoulder injuries.”

SI: What would you like to see when the student-athletes return in 2010-11?
ML: “That they really have taken to heart making some behavior modifications in how they eat and what they eat. That they really are emphasizing nutrition in their diets like a world-class athlete does and that they are stronger healthier student-athletes ready to swim and live healthier lifestyles. Marc has been emphasizing wellness and when you look at the new Campus Recreation and Wellness Center you see the word, wellness. The University of Iowa will have a footprint in that building. We are going to do everything we can and take advantage of their services to benefit the student-athletes before and after they graduate. Again, that is the concept that these are Hawkeye student-athletes for 4-5 years, but then they are going to become individuals that are former athletes for the rest of their lives. So if we can start establishing healthy lifestyles now, we can do them a great service when they graduate. That is the thought behind teaching them how to eat properly and continue to view swimming and diving not just as a sport that I’m doing to earn a scholarship and get my college education, but it’s an activity that I can do to stay healthy the rest of my life.”

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