With the upcoming launch of a new student organization called “Fitbuddies,” a group of Yale student-athletes is seeking to unite varsity athletes and nonathletes in pursuit of a more active lifestyle.
Fitbuddies will pair Yale students with varsity student-athletes for one or two weight-training sessions per week, when the athlete will give the other student exercise tips and motivate him or her to work out, according to program founder and former men’s soccer midfielder Saul Downie ’18. Student-athletes, who through training with their teams acquire significant experience in weightlifting, can help pass on this knowledge as “peer mentors,” Downie said.
As of Saturday, the organization had 15 varsity athletes signed up as peer mentors as well as the support of multiple athletics administrators, who see the program as a positive initiative that can bring student-athletes closer to the rest of the student body. The program has not begun accepting nonathlete sign-ups but plans to launch by Friday, when students will be able to request a peer mentor via email.
“At Yale, a place that is so academically intense, there is no question that some students feel intimidated about going to the gym,” Downie said. “Even if they go to the gym, they might not know what to do besides run on the treadmill or do the elliptical.”
The idea for Fitbuddies came from Downie’s freshman year experiences, when he walked on to the Yale men’s soccer team and enrolled in Directed Studies, a reading-intensive freshman year survey of the classics of Western Civilization.
Although he developed close relationships with both his teammates and the other students in the DS program, Downie found the two communities were “like two separate worlds.”
He noticed that disparity more after he quit the soccer team in his sophomore fall semester and began exercising with a friend who was not a varsity athlete. Downie realized that although his friend was on a club sports team and a “very athletic guy,” he lacked in-depth knowledge of the equipment available at the fitness center.
“I realized that was probably the case for a lot of Yalies, who are really good at some things, but sometimes don’t know how to go about working out,” Downie said.
Both Senior Associate Athletic Director Brian Tompkins and Associate Director of Strength and Conditioning Michael Harris were receptive to the idea of Fitbuddies, though they said they still do not know what the program’s administrative support will look like in the coming weeks.
Harris, who said he is not involved in the program at this time, advised Downie about potential liability issues because the student-athletes are not certified professionals. Because of this concern, Downie stressed that the program features “one-on-one peer mentors” and not personal trainers.
Harris added that the program’s ability to attract nonathletes could result in a loss of clients for the paid personal training staff in Payne Whitney Gymnasium. Still, both he and Tompkins highlighted the benefit of creating new interactions between athletes and nonathletes.
“I think there’s tremendous value in any enterprise that is intended to connect diverse groups of students in meaningful and productive ways,” Tompkins, who served as men’s soccer head coach from 1996 to 2014, said. “I see Fitbuddies as a means of creating mutual benefit and understanding in unique and non-traditional ways.”
Current men’s soccer midfielder Archie Kinnane ’18 said although he had no experience with weightlifting before walking on to the team, he has since learned numerous tips such as safety techniques. He signed up to be a Fitbuddies peer mentor in order to share this information with others who also have no prior experience.
In addition to sharing knowledge, the peer mentors will also serve as motivation for students to stick to their exercise routines, Downie said. Setting workout dates with a partner at the start of each week will make students more likely to develop an active and healthy lifestyle, Downie said.
Other athletes who chose to sign up as mentors did so because, like Tompkins, they thought the program could bring the student-athlete community closer with the rest of the student body.
“I joined the team of student-athlete mentors because I wanted to try to combine these two communities and make more connections within it,” volleyball setter Kelsey Crawford ’18 said. “As [Downie] explained the details of this group, I realized that it is just what Yale needs, and I wanted to join immediately.”
The relationship could create more fans for sports games because the students will have personal connections to players and want to show their support, women’s cross country runner Katrina Garry ’18 said.
Downie added that this benefit was particularly of interest to Harris, who thought the program could help raise attendance at sporting events.
“Fitbuddies hopes to bring students together who might not otherwise interact, and maybe even form relationships with students who are more willing to attend games and athletic events,” Downie said.
Fitbuddies will launch with a Facebook publicity campaign that features pictures of the student-athlete mentors in various residential college gyms.