This is not how I remember spending my summers home from college.
In between working, I remember sleeping, long days at the beach, cookouts, bonfires, camping and road trips. I remember lots of freedom and moderate personal discipline.
Serious can wait for adulthood, right?
I ate plenty and drank my fair share, be it “regular” beverages or, well, you know the other kind.
So there I was on July 8, as a 31-year-old, long out of college, sweating profusely in a fieldhouse at the Athletic Republic of Kenosha and experiencing firsthand how an elite college athlete spends his summer.
I spent a morning training with Mason Waynes, a track and field athlete at Eastern Michigan University who attended Harborside Academy and ran track at Bradford High School. He’ll be a junior this fall.
I found out that my college and high school summers, while busy and filled with activities, were nothing like the ones top college and high school athletes like Waynes experience.
It’s a competitive environment, and they can’t afford to bridge the gap from one season to the next by kicking their feet up lest they fall behind.
Waynes, a business major, had a strong sophomore season at EMU, running as part of a 1,600-meter relay team that qualified for the NCAA Division I Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Ore., in June.
But he can get better.
“I come here because I want to get better, of course,” Waynes, 20, said of his summer regimen. “I’m not the best at my school, not the best really anywhere. So I want to just improve what I’m doing, because I want to be the best. And if not the best, I want to see where I can get at.”
That’s why Waynes spends three days a week training at Athletic Republic, in addition to training during his personal time and with his old high school coach. Waynes said he trains a total of five or six days a week.
I don’t know if I’m curious or crazy — probably both — but I wanted to spend a day experiencing what an athlete like Waynes does, so I met him at Athletic Republic on July 8.
The first thing I realized was that I was in the company of athletes far better than me.
In addition to Waynes, part of our training group that day included Katie Young. Young was a basketball standout at Bradford and Marquette University. As of that day’s workout, she plans to play professionally in Spain this season.
The trainers themselves that day were accomplished, too.
I first worked with performance trainer Andy Heller, who played football, baseball, basketball and soccer at St. Joseph High School and had a distinguished baseball career at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.
Waynes, Young and I then worked with Athletic Republic director of operations Justin Belotti, a football and track standout at Bradford who played football at the University of Minnesota-Mankato and the University of North Dakota.
I’ve always been a decent athlete, what you might call a “weekend warrior.” But this felt like someone who participates in a Wednesday evening creative workshop bumping keyboards with F. Scott Fitzgerald or David Halberstam.
I was out of my element, but I must say that Heller and Belotti were terrific. They “coached” me as if I were preparing for an NFL tryout.
First we warmed up using a resistance band, then we hooked a strange-looking bungee cord device around our waists for some plyometrics. After that, Belotti took Waynes, Young and I to run the “super treadmill,” basically a series of successive runs on an inclined treadmill, with the treadmill increasing in speed each time.
The workout lasted just about an hour, but nothing was inefficient.
The goal was to focus on running technique, not just to get tired. I quickly learned that when elite athletes train, they’re not just getting a workout. They’re always trying to increase flexibility and agility and not just trying to run, but rather trying to run as efficiently as possible.
“I’m not trying to get faster, because I know I’ll probably lose it by the time we actually get to where I want to be during the summer,” said Waynes, whose brother Trae is one of the Big Ten’s top football players at Michigan State University. “It’s a long track season. We start (in) September. I just got back two weeks ago.
“Here at home, I’m trying to get stronger, so that when we get back, I can be where I left off, or at least close to it, because I don’t want to lose as much.”
I topped out at a speed of 15 1/2 miles per hour on the “super treadmill.” Belotti said I was a “natural athlete,” a compliment I’ll be sure to brag about over beers for many years.
Waynes hit 20 mph that day and said he’s previously tied the record for the facility’s highest speed in the exercise at 22 1/2 mph.
You can see how his refined technique equals speed when he’s competing.
Yet there is more than working out to Waynes’ summer schedule. He works 30 to 40 hours a week as a stocker at the Walmart in Somers. He’s taking a vacation with his family to visit relatives in California and hopes to go on a camping trip to Minnesota with friends before he returns to school.
In some ways, he does live the regular summer life of a college student home from school.
He’ll return on Aug. 20 or 21, depending on when his apartment is ready, and his training with the team begins in mid-September. The indoor season officially begins in October, though Eastern Michigan probably won’t compete in races until December or January.
Meanwhile, Waynes continues a busy summer. While one day was enough for me, there’s no stopping for the best college and high school athletes if they don’t want to fall behind between seasons.
“It’s not easy,” Waynes said.
Trust me, he’s not kidding.