UCLA donors have given nearly $160,000 to help athletes train remotely
Kinsley Washington had the perfect home gym for life under confinement. Free weight racks, dumbbells, leg press, yoga and core meditation space, elliptical machine, treadmill — everything she needed was in one place.
She had it all until heading to UCLA to play softball and her parents, realizing nobody was using all that equipment, sold everything.
So when the COVID-19 pandemic forced Washington to return to her Whittier home recently for an indefinite period of uncertainty, she had essentially nothing that could help her stay in shape.
“I came back,” Washington said Wednesday by telephone, “and really didn’t have anything but like body-weight exercises.”
About 60 UCLA athletics donors have helped fill that void for Washington and scores of other Bruins athletes by contributing nearly $160,000 for essential training equipment and subscriptions to fitness and mindfulness apps. Under Armour, the school’s apparel supplier, also contributed to the fitness app subscription fees.
UCLA guard Japreece Dean was hoping a strong NCAA tournament would boost her chances of being drafted in the WNBA. She hopes her body of work is enough to convince a team.
Washington was among those who received an at-home performance training kit that included jump rope, resistance bands and a foam roller, allowing her to complete customized workouts. Athletes were also provided with a $150 reimbursement for academic technology supplies needed for remote learning such as a Chromebook, headphones and mobile hotspot.
“I’m so, so appreciative because by using these apps and connecting with our coaches on a daily basis, it’s created a sense of normalcy during these times,” Washington said. “That’s something that when I went home I was kind of lost because I’m used to being at my apartment, waking up, going to weights, going to class, and when I got home it was just like I was just kind of sitting here, so being able to create that sense of normalcy was really important.”
Americo Cascella, a UCLA alumnus who works in the leverage finance business, contributed $25,000 on top of the nearly $1 million he has given the school’s athletic department over the years because he wanted to provide additional help to athletes during the crisis.
“Something like this that’s so unprecedented, needs arise all over the place, everywhere in society, and this was something where when I heard about it, it made a lot of sense to me to help,” Cascella said. “I said, well, these athletes need this support to be able to continue their learning outside the classroom and continue as athletes and so that, to me, was an opportunity to react and be helpful where I could.”
Washington set her new equipment up in the same space where she once had the home gym. She has her workouts downloaded to apps on her phone and iPad for easy access. Workouts are customized based on the equipment each athlete has access to, and videos of strength coaches performing exercises with proper form are available within the apps.
Progress is monitored through surveys that track an athlete’s level of soreness, eating habits and sleep patterns, allowing coaches to make adjustments to workout routines as needed. Washington said coaches were also distributing recipes and daily challenges while providing encouragement live on Instagram.
“It was really cool to see how much effort they were putting in,” Washington said of the coaches.
Washington said she’s stayed connected with her teammates through Zoom meetings that include fun themes such as wearing a crazy hat. Players have been able to support their mental health through the use of a mindfulness app that allows them to focus on different areas such as eating, productivity or sleep.
UCLA’s softball team, the unanimous No. 1 team in the final polls, is still adjusting to its national title hopes being over because of the coronavirus outbreak.
“That’s another way that coaches and the athletic department have demonstrated that they’re not only worrying about our physical health,” Washington said, “but they’re also worried about our mental health and providing resources for that.”
While there may be no substitute for live batting practice or fielding drills, Washington said it helps to get creative. The second baseman on a Bruins team that finished the aborted season with the nation’s No. 1 ranking resumed some of the same training routines she used before coming to UCLA, throwing a tennis ball against the side of her garage and hitting off a tee in the backyard.
“There are so many things that we can do if we focus on the positives,” Washington said. “It makes everything better.”
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