Courtesy of TJ Belanger

TJ Belanger, a member of Yale’s strength and conditioning team since 2017, is stepping up to become the department’s director of sports performance and student-athlete innovation.

Yale Athletics announced Belanger’s promotion in a release last Wednesday, putting Belanger in charge of the department’s strength and conditioning unit. In a phone interview with the News, Belanger said he will have the chance to pursue inventive ways to keep athletes performing at the top of their abilities. His promotion follows the departure of Tom Newman, Yale’s former director of student-athlete innovation and performance, earlier this year. Belanger told the News he served as an interim director for six weeks before the promotion.

“Through time, I’ve been able to step up into bigger roles, and I’ve just honestly been lucky, for myself professionally, that I’ve had the opportunities open up and I was given the chances to show I deserve [it],” Belanger said. “I’m just lucky to have been given the opportunity, and I’m very grateful to our Athletic Director Vicky Chun for giving me the chance.”

Belanger first joined Yale Athletics as an intern in 2017. After studying nursing at Western Connecticut State University, where he played soccer and rugby, Belanger went on to receive a master’s degree in human performance from Southern Connecticut State University in 2016. He said studying for his master’s inspired him to explore a career in strength and conditioning.

“[I] had worked in a local Connecticut hospital and while that’s fulfilling in certain ways, I really got into the idea of preventing yourself from getting sick and how exercise is medicine as well,” Belanger said. “I love being able to work with student-athletes and teach them about performance but also teach them about long-term health as well.”

After starting at Yale, Belanger spent time as the head strength coach for seven different varsity teams — women’s basketball, baseball, field hockey, women’s golf, men’s and women’s fencing and co-ed and women’s sailing — as well as the assistant strength coach for the football team. For the last two years, he has also overseen day-to-day operations in Payne Whitney Gym’s varsity weight room.

Belanger emphasized the importance of science-based training and individualization “to help our athletes perform and stay as healthy and safe as possible.”

Last spring, as Connecticut dealt with the coronavirus pandemic, Belanger used his undergraduate training to pitch in as an ICU nurse at Waterbury Hospital.

“TJ has been a valuable part of the Yale student-athlete experience and his impact on them is evident in their growth on and off the field,” Director of Athletics Chun said in last week’s release. “He is a proven leader, and we are fortunate to have him at the help of our sports performance and student-athlete innovation department.”

According to changes in the department’s staff directory, the strength and conditioning unit within Yale Athletics has lost two members since the start of 2021: Newman and assistant strength coach Brandon Lamphier-Shaffer.

Belanger currently leads a team with three other strength coaches: Teofe Ziemnicki, Rachel Hodgson and Wayne Newman.

NADER GRANMAYEH