Fredonia’s swimming and diving teams gathered in the Dods Hall student-athlete lounge last month to listen to a conversation with three senior athletes: Brittany Feldman (women’s track and field), Sam Wilbur (men’s hockey), and Rachel Williams (women’s track and field). The trio took questions from athletes and coaches to explain how they improved so much over their four-year athletic careers.
This is the edited transcript of that conversation. Where a student-athlete or a coach asked a question it is labeled “Athlete” or “Coach.”
Brittany Feldman is a two-time All-American sprinter and holds seven Fredonia school records.
Sam Wilbur is the leading scorer on the men’s hockey team and was a third-team All-Conference selection in 2016-2017.
Rachel Williams finished on the podium (top eight) in three events at the 2017 SUNYAC Outdoor Track & Field Championships. She is the author of the popular blog post “When Will Healthy Be A Size?” and the subject of my interview, “Healthy beats skinny: Fredonia thrower Rachel Williams on body positivity and her journey towards self-acceptance.”
Jon-Ryan Maloney: I’m going to start with you, Sammy: “How much should I be eating, and what should I be eating to put on muscle and be as fit as possible?”
Samuel Wilbur: Nutrition is everything if you’re trying to add body mass and get bigger — I try to get at least three meals a day, every day. Trying to get in the best shape of your life is like a job, but it’s tough. It comes down to how bad you want it; you either want to push yourself to your full potential or you don’t.
Maloney: Can you mention what we just talked about — if it runs, flies, or swims?
Wilbur: Yes. If it runs, swims, or flies I eat it. If it doesn’t, I don’t. A pizza can’t run, swim, or fly, so I don’t eat it. I’ll eat chicken, ground beef and a lot of greens. For carbs I’ll eat potatoes and rice.
Maloney: Rachel, I also want to follow up with you because we were just having this conversation a couple weeks ago.
Rachel Williams: We got a new coach last year and he’s adamant about nutrition. The throwers used to think, “Even if I put on fat, it’s mass, and I’m going to be bigger and I can throw farther.” But that doesn’t mean you’re going to be more athletic, and you can’t move as fast when you put on fat. He says you can have up to fifty grams of protein in each meal, and to make sure that your biggest source of protein comes directly after a lift, and that if you want to eat a lot of carbs to do that right before you lift because that’s when you’re going to burn the most energy. Then you eat the protein afterwards to rebuild the muscles that you’ve already broken down during your workout. Those are the things we talk about as throwers, because right now we’re in the process of shredding our muscles to rebuild them to be bigger. Strong and big are two different things, so that’s just something to keep in mind.
Maloney: This one came up a couple times: “How many calories should you eat per day?”
Brittany Feldman: I love this question, but I also hate it. A lot of people think that I need to count my calories, and track them, and use an app to make sure I’m not eating too much. But as athletes, I think if you’re putting the right things in your body the calories don’t matter. Every person is different with how many calories they need to put in their body, but I’ve found how many calories I need by what I’m eating and how I’m feeling. If you’re eating three small meals a day and you’re feeling really weak and light-headed, then you’re not eating enough. I don’t count calories, and I don’t think it’s smart to count calories. I think it can be very unhealthy for people to keep track of that and go crazy about it. Don’t count your calories; just do what feels good for you with healthy foods.
Williams: I’ve found that there’s a base number of calories that I’m eating depending on the day, but I also eat different things depending on my workout. Wednesday’s aren’t a lifting day for us — we do sprints and core exercises instead — so I don’t eat as heavy on days like that. On days where we have a heavy lifting session my calorie count is higher. So I don’t think it’s a, “I can only eat 1,500 calories per day,” type of thing. It’s more, “Okay, so I did this much with my body today, so I should fuel it with a little more food. On the days where I’m not doing much I can’t eat as much because my body didn’t work as hard to burn it off. But like Brittany said, if you’re eating healthy foods your body will do with it what it needs to do based on your training.
Wilbur: I’m in the same boat. Don’t count calories; if you’re eating the right stuff you shouldn’t have any issues.
Feldman: And another thing: a lot of people say, “I’m not a morning person; I don’t eat in the morning.” You need to eat breakfast — that is so crucial. I don’t care if it’s a piece of toast with peanut butter, you need to eat breakfast. If I have a 7 a.m. practice I can eat an English muffin with peanut butter.
Maloney: This is a similar question: “How do you make healthy food choices on campus while still eating the amount you need to recover from a hard practice?”
Feldman: There’s food on campus that is healthy if you look. A lot people say, “Oh, there’s only breadsticks and mozzarella sticks and chicken fingers,” but that’s not true. There’s always sandwiches, and you can always make a healthy stir-fry. There’s sushi, there’s so much stuff you can find that’s healthy. And off-campus . . .
Williams: Cook your own food.
Feldman: You need to cook your own food. I try not to eat anything that’s in a bag, if that makes sense. I don’t like to eat a lot of processed stuff in bags or cans.
Maloney: We have an exercise science professor on campus, Todd Backes, who opened my eyes to this. He said, “Healthy eating is obviously important, but when you’re talking to athletes you have to be careful not to emphasize it so much that they don’t eat enough.” So when you’re in-season and having hard practices, what he told me is that, “Eat enough, whatever it is.” Because the body weight that you’re at right now should be close to the body weight you’re at in February (for SUNYAC Championships). Your assistant coach was a very good swimmer here; towards SUNYAC’s she would have a lot more muscle, but she didn’t like how it looked. It’s a tricky balance, but she probably performed better because of it. She was eating enough and it helped her. Do any of you have anything to add?
Feldman: I feel like I’m going through that right now. In high school I was self-conscious about my legs being so big and right now they’re starting to get back to being as muscular as they were when I was a freshman. I just keep reminding myself about that. Right now I’m squatting more than I have since I’ve been here — I’m getting stronger. You just have to remind yourself that it’s okay.
Coach: How do you guys mix your social plans with your season?
Maloney: You’re all 21-years-old right? So you can speak freely about this.
Wilbur: In-season I keep it pretty “PG.” We have practice every day and you’ve got to perform or you’re not going to play. You can always tell the next day after a long night of boozing that you feel like shit — you’re going to be dying. If you just eliminate that and you come in and do your job you should be alright.
Williams: When I’m in season, which starts in October, I generally won’t go out more than once per week. And you can go out — and people don’t really talk about this — but you can go out and have fun without drinking. Drinking inhibits the way your muscles are going to perform. So typically I’m going out once per week. I don’t even have the chance to go out when we have meets because I’m really strict in abiding by the “48 Hour Rule,” which is that 48 hours before a competition you’re not supposed to have any alcohol. I know there’s a lot of athletes who don’t abide by that rule, but I think it’s important. So if we have a meet on Saturday, no drinking on Thursday or Friday. I also have a really busy school schedule, so going out during the week isn’t good for my grades, especially trying to maintain a high GPA. As a women’s track and field team we have a “dry period” three to four weeks before SUNYAC’s. We don’t drink at all during that time to make sure everyone has the best performance they can possibly have.
Feldman: And I know people are like, “Well, I don’t have a hard workout tomorrow so I can drink tonight.” But you’re not going to recover well tomorrow. I always tell my team that when you drink it takes away two good workouts; it brings you back so far. I go out and have fun, but I do it very limitedly; that’s something I sacrifice to be as successful as I can during my four years of being a collegiate athlete. I can drink the rest of my life if I want.
Athlete: Can you explain how drinking affects the workout?
Williams: Alcohol inhibits your muscles from growing and repairing themselves. So if you have a hard workout and drink alcohol after, your muscles aren’t going to repair. That means you’re going to feel more soreness, that you’re not getting any stronger, and that your next workout is really going to suck.
Athlete: It’s a depressant, so that means it slows everything down. It slows your entire central nervous system.
Feldman: And when you wake up the next day you’re going to be hung over — you’re going to feel tired and unmotivated. It’s a mental thing along with what it does to your body. It’s draining as an athlete.
Williams: I know we’re in college and want to have fun, but it’s about finding a balance. If you’re not performing as well as you want to think about how many times you’re going out and how much you’re drinking. Take the responsibility to change things like that.
Feldman: Think about how successful you want to be as an athlete, then pick parts of your life that you can adjust a little to make yourself better in your sport.
Maloney: None of you are vegetarian correct?
Maloney: I assumed you weren’t, so I asked an athlete on the volleyball team, Courtney Poirier, to text me an answer this question: “How do you get enough protein being a vegetarian?” Here’s her answer:
“Freshman year I would frequently go to El Diablo for dinner and add pinto beans to my burrito bowl to make sure I got protein. I also buy protein powder from Walmart or Tops and try to make a protein shake for breakfast every day. Off campus, I love to eat Yokoso, the Japanese hibachi restaurant across from Walmart where I get salmon hibachi (I eat fish so I guess that makes me a pescatarian). Yokoso is also a great place to make sure you’re getting enough vegetables, which is easy to forget to make a part of your diet when you’re on campus.”
Okay, next question: “What did you change to see results in your sport?
Wilbur: I changed my nutrition a lot. That’s what I noticed made me faster, stronger, and more muscular to beat the person standing in front of me.
Maloney: Can you tell me about some of the workouts you did over the summer?
Wilbur: This summer I started learning some Olympic lifts that I’ve never done before, like hang cleans and snatches. It was learning about that, and like these girls say, treating my body right.
Williams: In high school my throwing team didn’t really lift, so when I came to college and starting lifting I grew muscles. I became bigger than I had ever been before and I didn’t want to be that person anymore, so I spent a lot of time restricting what I was eating. I was always thinking about food and how I didn’t want to eat this and I didn’t want to eat that. Then I changed all of that; I really buckled down and started looking into what was going to make me healthy and what was going to make me a better athlete. And so I wrote that article about being healthy instead of trying to picture myself as the perfect person. So I really had to change my mindset to be more successful, and nutrition came along with that. With workouts, my coach always tells me to trust the process. I’m always questioning myself: “Why didn’t I do well this week? Well, you maxed out this week so your muscles aren’t very happy right now, are they?” So I spend a lot time with my coach working on the mental side of trusting that I’m going to be able to do what I want to do as long as I follow the routine. Your coach wouldn’t be the coach if he couldn’t provide you with the path to get to where you wanted to be. I also had to add a hefty stretching routine into my workout because I have the tightest hips in the world.
Athlete: What do you do to loosen them up? I have the same problem.
Williams: I went to the trainer’s last year three-days-a-week and they would pull my hips up and hold them for as long as possible. I try to do a dynamic warm-up before every workout I do, whether it’s lifting or throwing. I sometimes ride the bike to help loosen my hips, because running tends to make me feel tight. I also try to stretch before I go to sleep at night so that my muscles will be a little bit looser, but it’s something I’m still working on.
Feldman: I was a mess my freshman year, so I changed everything. I was partying a lot, eating campus food that’s not healthy, and I was confused as to why I wasn’t seeing the results I wanted. I changed my drinking habits, I changed my eating, and I started taking the weight room more seriously. I didn’t lift in high school; I didn’t think it was a big deal because I was a pretty decent athlete in high school, but I take it very seriously now.
Coach: Can you talk about your warm-ups before competition? How much time do you take to warm-up? What’s your protocol?
Feldman: For the sprinters the warm-up is different in the beginning of the year than at the end. So right now we’re doing a 40-minute warm-up. We run 800 meters, then we do hip flexibility exercises. We do A skips, B skips, leg swings . . .
Coach: Kind of similar to what you’d do before a practice?
Feldman: This is what we do for practice. But when you’re working your way towards competition season you start to know what your body needs to feel like before racing, so I shorten it to 20 minutes instead of 40 minutes — that’s just how I do best. Before a competition is a lot shorter than it is before a practice for me.
Williams: The throwers have the same warm-up. We run a lap or two around the track depending on whether we’re indoor or outdoor. Then we do a dynamic warm-up; we do a lot of stretching hamstrings, stretching quads. I add foam rolling out into my competition warm-up, which I don’t always do at practice because it takes a long time. I roll my quads and my hips out before a competition just to make sure I’m as loose as I can be. Drills are big in warm-ups for us because our events are very technique-focused.
Wilbur: For hockey we have a team static stretch, then a dynamic stretch where you get your high knees and butt kicks, then I break off to do some extra lunges, or I sit in a deep squat for two minutes, which really gets you loose.
Coach: I guess more specifically: are you in a pretty good sweat by the time you’re ready to compete?
Feldman: Yes. Our coach tells us to be in a good sweat and then take five minutes to sit. You stay loose but you’re done warming up.
Coach: The reason I ask is because our swimmers didn’t have a lot of time to warm-up when they were in high school, and they’re always feeling like they need to save their energy for competition, which is false.
Williams: It’s really hard to get into competition mode when your heart rate is low. If you’re just sitting here and you’re like, “I’m going to get in the pool and swim now,” where’s the energy? Getting your heart rate up releases the adrenaline that you need to swim faster. A warm-up isn’t going to deter all the energy in your body.
Feldman: Warming-up doesn’t waste energy at all; if you don’t warm-up you’re going to get injured.
Williams: Then all your energy will be gone and you’ll have to sit on the sidelines (laughs).
Maloney: I don’t think this next question is for you guys, but answer it if something strikes you: “Do we have a nutrition program for athletes on campus?” The answer is ‘no.’ That said, Todd Backes, an exercise science professor on campus, is very useful to athletes here. If you went over there and said, “I want to be tested for things that will help me,” he will do it instantly. You can get body fat percentages, resting energy expenditure, or whatever he thinks is going to help you. That’s not being utilized as much as it should be. There is an exercise science lab in the basement of the Science Center. If something I’m saying right now strikes you as interesting, I would send him an e-mail or walk over there: email@example.com. It’s for anyone, not only athletes.
Feldman: I’ve always been interested in that — one of my friends got tested to see how many calories she needs to eat in a day. I think it would be interesting to see how many calories you actually need to eat.
Maloney: Do you know what a Bod Pod is? It’s a giant egg-shaped machine. You strip down to something you’d wear in the pool and put a cap on. You get in and they close the door, so you’re sitting crunched up in this little egg. After a couple minutes it gives you body fat percentage and how much lean mass you have in your body. Back in March I listened to Doug McKenney speak–he was the strength and conditioning coach for the Buffalo Sabres for twenty years–Doug said something to the effect of, “I know how well you’re eating based on what your lean mass is doing. If that number is going down, you’re getting worse.” That’s a resource you all have access to if you want it, but you have to take some initiative.
Okay, I’m going to get into some miscellaneous questions: “At what point does it become difficult to choose between your sport and other extracurriculars you’re involved in, like clubs or work?”
Williams: I never chose; I’m super involved in everything. I do track, I have a job, and I’m on three e-boards: one in school, one on a regional level, and one on a national level. I didn’t want to choose because these are all parts of who I am and I don’t like one part more than the other. I’m also a music major which takes a huge amount of time. I think it’s possible to do everything you want to as long as you have the right time management and passion to do it. If you don’t have passion for something it’s just going to be a burden in your life.
Feldman: I chose not to work during school even though not having an income stresses me out. I work a lot over summer and save everything so that when I’m at school I can work to get good grades and reach my goals for my sport. I did choose: I chose not to work during school.
Athlete: I have a question for Rachel: you mentioned your e-board involvement; do you ever have to choose between track and participating in one of those?
Williams: My first two years I had to miss track meets for music-related events; music professors aren’t cool about letting you leave to go play a sport. When it comes to e-boards, yes, there are times when I have to miss a track meet for them. In the spring I have to be at the regional music therapy conference in Pittsburgh for a weekend because I’m going to be the new president of their e-board. I have 15-20 meets per year, but that conference is important to me so it’s going to come first that weekend. If you don’t want to miss a swim meet don’t be in a club that’s going to force you to miss a swim meet. It’s just about personal preference. I could say ‘no’ to that conference, but it’s something I want to do.
Feldman: Especially in your case, those are things that are going to make you more successful later on. That’s important–you shouldn’t always put your sport in front of everything. There are times where you should put your sport second.
Williams: I look at myself as three different people sometimes.
Athlete: Do you feel like your coaches and teammates get disappointed in you because of that?
Williams: Not my coaches, but my teammates don’t always understand why I’ve chosen to do so many things. I like to think of myself as three different people: one’s an athlete, one’s a music major, and the other one is a person with a social life. I consider those three people and think, “Who needs this the most?” So if I have a weekend where I need to be at this regional music therapy conference and I have a weekend where I need to be at a track meet, “Music Therapy Rachel” needs that weekend more than “Track Rachel,” so “Music Therapy Rachel” wins. That’s how I have to think about it, and it works for me.
Wilbur: I’m not working right now; I’m pretty blessed to only have to focus on hockey and school. I want to keep my schedule balanced and I find that if you get into a routine you should be alright.
Maloney: Since you mentioned routine, this question came up twice: “How do you manage your time?”
Wilbur: You’ve got to have your time scheduled and you’ve got to make sure you’re on time. I find that if you schedule a time to do something you feel better. It helps you focus on what you want to do that day.
Feldman: Don’t give into procrastination. For me, if it’s an “on your own” day, sometimes I’ll say to myself, “Well, I don’t feel like working out at the normal time I practice, so I’ll work out later.” And by 8 p.m. I still haven’t worked out. “Well, I guess I’m not working out today.”
Williams: Every day I have things that are the same: class times, practice times, club times, meetings, but I’m also the type of person that can’t have a written schedule for everything I do because I need some freedom to make choices. I have half of my week written down in my agenda before I start the week, but the times I don’t have anything written down is like, “Oh, I have a break from 5-7 p.m. From 5-6 I can make dinner, from 6-7 I can do homework.” I do it that way because I can’t do the same schedule every day–I’d go absolutely insane.
Maloney: I talked to Brenna Donovan a few weeks ago. She said she has three different journals: an agenda, a journal for athletic goals, and a journal for stress-relief. I thought that was pretty cool.
I have two more questions–the first one is for freshmen: “How much free time can I expect to have?”
Williams: It depends on your major. If you’re in one of the more demanding majors you’re probably not going to have much free time. It also depends on how much time you want to put into doing your homework. You can “BS” your homework and just hand it in — some teachers just go, “Oh, you completed that, here’s your points.” But you could also take the time to learn while you’re doing your homework. Free time for me is Sunday’s, and Saturday night maybe.
Feldman: I feel like you’re special.
Williams: Yeah, so maybe they should answer this (laughs).
Feldman: I don’t know how long your guys’ practices are, but I practice for three hours per day. You add in your classes, then you have the whole rest of your day. Some people think, “I’m booked until 5 p.m.,” but you don’t realize you have an hour block here, and an hour block there; use those blocks, and be productive during those. Get your homework done so that when you’re done at 5 you’re done at 5 and you can have free time. I feel like I have a decent amount of free time.
Maloney: Is there a junior or senior here who could take this question on?
Athlete: I’m an education major and I’m student-teaching in the spring. I’ll be brutally honest: during my spring semester I’ll leave my house at 6:15 a.m. to go teach from 7 until 2:30. I’ll come back to school to practice from 3-6, and then I’ll make my lesson plans for the next day and go to bed.
Feldman: Don’t forget to eat (laughs).
Athlete: Oh yeah, I’ve got to eat somewhere in there too. It’s difficult to find time; I have to have ten lessons with all my standards set by next Monday, I have a convention this weekend that I’m gone for, and I work all week long. It’s difficult, and sometimes you begin to stress out and shut down. After this meeting I have to do a three-page paper and a quiz that’s due tomorrow. It’s something that you need to set time aside for, and that’s one of the reasons that when we hold our study halls we like to have it quiet. Like we were talking about, it’s time management and figuring out where you can fit in that bit of breathing room that you need, but it’s also making sure you get everything done.
Feldman: If it’s Thursday night and your friends say, “Let’s go out,” and you think, “I have a five-page paper due tomorrow and I haven’t started it, but yeah I’ll go out.” Is it really worth the stress you’re going to feel tomorrow? At some point you have to say, “Going out really isn’t that important.”
Maloney: I’d like you each to answer this last question, but I also want to open it up to any upperclassmen who feels they can answer it: “What’s played the biggest role in your improvement over the past four years?”
Athlete: If you were on the team last year you know that I didn’t go on the training trip to Arizona with you guys. I had reached my limit–if I went on that trip I would have quit this sport for good. When I took that time off I was able to decide that I actually want to be here and that I’m doing it for a reason. For a year-and-a-half I felt like I was doing it just because it was expected of me. Now I have goals that I want to meet that really give me the motivation for this upcoming season. I’m going after a 32-year-old record. I’m determined.
Williams: The biggest reason for my improvement in four years has been from changes in my mentality. I was a pretty good thrower in high school, but college training got the best of me my freshman year and my shot put dropped eight feet; that’s a lot. I was so discouraged and I picked up all this competition anxiety and couldn’t throw in a meet without being a deer in the headlights. My freshman year I tanked everything. Sophomore year I came back and got a little better but I was still feeling competition anxiety. I talked to anybody I could about how I could change that. Last year our new coach helped me out of whatever rut I was in, and I had the best year I’ve ever had throwing. For me it was all about mentality – mentality about who I am, about the ability that I have, about believing I can do what I want, and knowing I have support behind me even when I don’t do as well as I want to. I changed my mentality about all those things and it helped me become a better athlete and person.
Feldman: My sophomore year was the first time I qualified for nationals, and I think that has had a huge impact on me. Looking at TFRRS (Track and Field Results Reporting System) and seeing my name 15th in the country for my event–which I have such a love-hate relationship with–really just changed my outlook on everything. It made me want new goals and it changed my outlook on what I wanted for the rest of college. It was huge.
Wilbur: For me it was my physical conditioning that played a big role in doing well in the last couple years. Having a good summer, eating the right stuff, and really dialing into athletics and the goals I want to achieve got me an All-Conference selection last year. I want to be an All-American this year.
Athlete: My freshman year I would look up other teams’ rosters to see who I’d be swimming against and I would freak out about how fast these kids were. It really started to take a toll on how I would swim because I would be like, “I’m in lane four, but the kid in lane three is 45 seconds faster than me in the mile, and I know he’s going to lap me by the 500 mark,” and that would really bring down my swimming because I’m going to say to myself, “I’m out of it at this point.” But working through this program you start to get more confidence; you start to say, “Okay, I can hold my own with this person, even if they’re going to be faster than me at the end, I can still swim my own race.” You put the blinders on and focus on yourself–it’s not about anyone else.
Feldman: I said something for athletics, but for academics there’s this award you get if you’re in the top 35 in the country in your event and have a certain GPA. I struggled my freshman year because I came in and thought school wasn’t for me—all I wanted to do was run. My sophomore year everything flipped: I found what I loved, I found my major, and I was so excited to receive that all-academic award. It really changed my mentality towards school.
Athlete: For me it was a combination of two different things. I never lifted in high school, so when we came into the weight room freshman year I just sat in the corner. I pretended that I was working hard but I wasn’t. In the pool I was thrown into a completely different event set: I never did backstroke in high school. It was overwhelming for me on top of the weight training, so I never did well. But sophomore year I took weight training more seriously and I started getting stronger, then I could see that my times were dropping dramatically. So that got in my head and I was like, “Oh my gosh, I’m improving,” so my mentality shot up and I wanted to do more; I wanted to see what times I could get going as hard as I can. Last year I kept up with the weight training, but my mentality was that I wanted these specific times and so I would psyche myself out before my race. I’d be going into my 200-freestyle event saying, “I want under 1:50,” then get a 1:54 and I’d be upset and it would ruin the rest of the meet. I learned that I can’t set a time in my head and get anxious about my times. Once I got over that mental block I ended up going 1:46 in the 200.
Athlete: For me it’s a little bit different. Long distance events overwhelmed me back in high school. I was fortunate to have a coach who trained me mentally to forget overwhelming odds in any situation and just smile and go after it. He built a mentality into me that it doesn’t matter if there’s a 10% chance of success, you always go after. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without him.
Athlete: I think my improvement came through my attitude. You can come into practice and say, “I’m going to ‘BS’ practice today and I’m not going to try,” but that’s not helping you. Same with swim meets: “Oh, (Coach) put me in the 200 fly again.” Yeah, that’s going to take a toll on you, but it’s just helping you in the long run. You can’t have a bad attitude, because it’s just going to ruin everything after that.
Williams: Track and swimming have similar mentalities, especially for people who do more than one event in a meet. I’ll throw shot put, hammer, and discus in one meet, and I know some of you probably swim at least that in a meet, if not more. I had to learn really quickly not to let the first event ruin the rest of the events that day. Just because you did poorly in one event doesn’t mean you’re going to do poorly in your next event.
Feldman: My freshman year at SUNYAC Championships I decided to do four events. I did bad in high jump, then I did bad in the 400, and then I just didn’t want to do the relay. It was awful. You can’t let yourself get overwhelmed and you have to control your mindset.
Coach: This is a three-part question: There’s a men’s team and a women’s team in both track and field and swimming and diving. How do you guys integrate at meets? Or do you not integrate?
Feldman: It’s more so event groups that our team struggles with. The distance team has cross country season so by the time they get to track they all know each other. The sprinters and the jumpers are separated, and the throwers–nobody sees the throwers.
Williams: At meets sometimes the throwers are miles away from the track. The throwers are on their own, but I’ve taken initiative myself to get to know everybody else on the team, because there definitely are throwers who don’t take that initiative. So it does get hard.
Coach: Nobody takes offense to it?
Feldman: A lot of people do.
Williams: During our SUNYAC meet last year I had to go to the bleachers where we were sitting and literally drag people over; I was pulling teeth to get them to come down and cheer for the guys that were throwing.
Feldman: I think that’s the hardest part of track and field.
Williams: Because everybody else gets to sit in the bleachers together, then the throwers have to walk to the throwing circle. That’s the biggest divide we have. It’s not men and women, it’s event groups. But we’ve gotten better.
Coach: How do you guys deal with negative attitudes?
Williams: I understand the whole, “I did poorly and I’m going to be upset about it,” thing. But I have my own rule where if I do poorly and I’m angry about it I get five minutes. Take five minutes and go away from everybody else to do what you need to do: cry, yell, scream, whatever. After those five minutes are over you’re not allowed to talk about it–you’re not allowed to do anything else except go back and cheer for your teammates. When you’re alone again you can reflect on what happened.
Feldman: I remember a freshman on our team last year did poorly in a hurdle race and was literally on the ground smacking the track and screaming. We tell them to go away at that point. Some athletes get like that, but you have eighty other teammates here–go cheer for them.
Williams: I also try not to acknowledge them if they’re being a real big downer. I can’t ruin my meet because you’re upset about yours, so I put the blinders on. I’ll help you figure out what went wrong when we’re not at a meet, but I don’t want to do it now.
Athlete: How do you deal with the stress of a big meet the day before?
Williams: This comes back to the competition anxiety I used to have. I would sit in my bed the night before a meet and think, “What if this happens, what if this happens,” and I wouldn’t sleep. By the time I woke up I had an hour of sleep and I’d be a zombie marching into SUNYAC’s. Now I distract myself completely from what’s going to happen the next day. I set a goal in my mind and go through my throws as if I had perfect form. After I get that into my mind I stop and I do something that has nothing to do with throwing or competition–just something that I like to do, because I don’t have the mental capacity to think and think and think about what’s going to happen the next day.
Feldman: I feel like mine’s the opposite. Before nationals this past season I was in a hotel room by myself. When I was in the hotel I was relaxed but I probably ran my race in my head 200 times, and I always visualized the best outcome possible. That’s how I control it so that I know I’m capable of it and that I deserve to be there. At nationals it’s not even about running a fast time, it’s about who messes up the least. People want to go out extra hard because it’s nationals, but it ends up hurting you. You just remember what you do and what you did to get there. If you do that you’ll be fine.
Wilbur: I usually just stay positive the night before and try to visualize what I’m going to do, then hopefully go out and do it. That’s my mindset–it’s just positivity.
Maloney: This is an interesting anecdote: Coach Crawford (former diving coach), told me that Kelly Sponholz, who won a national championship here in 2009, would do crossword puzzles between dives.
Williams: I bring coloring books to track meets with me because I can’t think about it that much. My technique falls apart when I’m trying to micromanage my mind.