With access to gyms and team trainings gone, athletes get creative in building their own training environments
By Huy Nguyen
When Corey DiLoreto, redshirt sophomore and 2019-2020 CAA All-Rookie baseball infielder, was sent home due to COVID-19, he had started every game for a team that had a hot 10-5 start.
“We started off really really good,” DiLoreto reminisced. “And we had just started getting rolling around the time that the season ended up being canceled. It was pretty crushing.”
With the gyms closed and in-person practices canceled, every dedicated collegiate athlete scrambled to maintain and improve their athletic skills over quarantine in every way they could. But without the professionals, tools, and fields or rinks by their side, it became difficult for some athletes to succeed at the same level as when they were at school. This meant that several athletes had to get creative to find ways to improve.
While DiLoreto’s basement was already equipped with a power rack, it wasn’t enough, as he was still forced to improvise on some of the workouts. Although a power rack can go far with compound lifts, there are some exercises that are imperative for improving upper body strength, like a pull-up. And for that, DiLoreto got to woodworking.
“I made a makeshift chin-up bar off of a doorframe. We got a couple of pieces of wood and the elements of the walls to make that work,” DiLoreto said.
For Alli Meehan, sophomore and 2019-2020 CAA All-Rookie field hockey forward, her practice continues far away from Northeastern, as she decided to stay at home for the fall semester. Like DiLoreto, she also started out the pandemic with a home gym, but pure strength work wasn’t enough for Meehan. While she needed a ball and stick in her hand, she ran into problems when she needed to practice her stick, defensive and shooting skills.
“I had all the tools to get stronger and faster,” Meehan said. “But I didn’t have the skills stuff, and all the turf fields were closed. And my ultimate goal is to be the best field hockey player I can be.”
For the rest of the team, Zoom practices were put on hold in the beginning of the pandemic, with the coaches prioritizing mental health and organization before jumping into the practice. So as a hungry athlete striving to improve, Meehan had to try everything.
“At the beginning of quarantine, I actually tried to sneak onto the Northeastern turf with a ball of bags by myself.” Meehan laughed. “I got kicked off every time I went.”
So she went for the next best thing, which was to build the field herself.
“I started by finding a five-by-five piece of turf that I borrowed from my neighbors, and my old, rusty, broken down ice hockey net from when I was a kid,” Meehan said.
But that still wasn’t enough for Meehan. She wasn’t ready to stop at 25 square feet.
“Me and my mom drove to Home Depot and bought enough yards of turf to turn my driveway into a mini field,” Meehan said. “We looked up the exact measurements and bought all the supplies needed to make a regulation size field hockey net, which is 12 feet high and seven yards wide. Me and my dad aren’t builders by any stretch, so we worked on measuring, assembling, and painting the net for days and weeks. And when it was complete, I had a real-sized field hockey net and plenty of turf to play on in my driveway to train and refine my skills.”
With an entire mini field to herself, Meehan was finally able to hone her skills on her own. But not everyone had the chance to build a field. Athen Ardila, senior and All-CAA First Team volleyball outside hitter, couldn’t build an entire volleyball court, but with a team leading 265 kills last fall, she decided something needed to be done to keep her hitting as effective as possible.
“I don’t think any of us at Northeastern, or at the D1 level, has ever had that much time away from your team or even being on the court,” Ardila said.
The volleyball team continued to stay in contact, with Zoom practices and virtual presentations going over defensive and offensive systems. As a team, they stayed in contact over the summer to provide moral support and build camaraderie. The one thing that was missing was a secure way for Ardila to practice her ball skills. There weren’t any contraptions her or her dad could find online, until Ardila browsed Instagram and found what she was looking for.
“I saw one on Instagram; it was just like a wood board that someone was using against the wall. I was like, ‘Oh, this is perfect!'”
Her dad, Fabian Ardila, an assistant volleyball coach at Babson College, decided to build the contraption himself, using PVC pipes and netting. It was a board with netting over it, and would deflect any ball it made contact with.
“When I would hit the ball into it, it would come back to me in different directions and with different power. It helped me to get in some swings when we didn’t have access to any gyms, trainers, or courts,” Ardila said.
The contraption would help her work on contact points and difficult passes, helping her improve her reaction time and precision. It helped her stay in “volleyball shape,” as she was no longer deprived of touching the ball over quarantine.
These three athletes, despite playing wildly different sports, were able to create environments that allowed them to practice at home, even without access to the premium equipment provided by Northeastern. And though they got the chance to practice their skills in creative ways, their motivation and discipline was what pushed them to practice to become the best players in their respective sports in a time when their lives were scattered by COVID-19.
“I think the hardest thing for athletes during this time wasn’t the workouts and the skill work itself, but it was the struggle to find the why, why should we continue doing things when we don’t know when there’s going to be the season next,” Meehan said. “My personal motivation is what kept me going, towards the endgame, which is ultimately the season and being the best player I can be.”