Call of the Mountain: 40 hearty members of NIU Exercise Science Club volunteer, compete at 2019 Abominable Snow Race

Tony Calderala
Tony Calderala

Another winter, another mountain.

Members of NIU’s Exercise Science Club returned to the Abominable Snow Race for a second consecutive year in February, this time traveling to Devil’s Head Ski Resort in Merrimac, Wis.

Forty students helped with pre-event set-up Friday night and with actual race operations Saturday. They also staffed a booth Saturday in the “base camp” area, where they promoted NIU and their club while offering racers opportunities to scale a peg-board wall or a second climbing apparatus using a rope or pole.

Club adviser Tony Calderala, an academic advisor in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, brings students to the race for unique hands-on learning experiences under the Engage Local umbrella that will benefit their eventual careers in exercise science and sport management.

He also makes sure they network with potential employers who come to the race to showcase their companies, products and organizations.

“I was extremely impressed with our students, and with the number of them. There were no issues. They did what they were asked, and they went above and beyond,” Calderala says.

“My goal is for them to learn how the course was designed,” he adds. “They talked to (course designer) Tom Abraham about what his goals were in placing obstacles in certain places and why he wanted the route to follow the path it took. By starting the race looking up the mountain, with 1,000 feet of elevation, he wanted to tax the runners’ legs early and then have them really have to dig deep when they got to the obstacles.”

Bradley Carter, a senior Kinesiology major from Crystal Lake and president of the Exercise Science Club, soon learned what Abraham meant. Carter was one of the NIU volunteer who also tackled the course as an athlete.

Abominable Snow Race logo“It was brutal, more difficult than I was expecting,” he says. “You’re on a ski hill for the entire eight miles, going back and forth, zigzagging the mountain. My goal was to finish, and I did it – but I was hurting the next week.”

Some of the competitors amazed him. “You saw a whole range of athletes, some who ran the course three or four times during the day,” he says. “There are some crazy animals out there.”

Carter returned to DeKalb with more than sore legs, of course. Club members spent some of their time on the course, motivating the runners to keep pushing.

“We saw some people who were struggling with some of the first obstacles that try to ease you into the course. It’s one thing to sign up for a race, but it’s another thing to actually go and do it,” Carter says. “We focused on the positive. You should never put anyone down who is trying to work out and get healthier. That’s one of the things I hope everyone in the club understood.”

For Carter, who is interested in coaching sports teams in his career, cheering from the sidelines with words of encouragement is a good start. Helping to organize the trip to Devil’s Head – and leading the coordination of a USA Weightlifting-sanctioned event last November – also provided valuable career prep in management skills.

“I’m thinking about owning a gym down the line, which means managing people, making sure that everyone has their voice heard,” he says. “I want to make sure that everyone is getting the most out of things as they can, trying to enjoy themselves and learning all they can by the time they’re done.”

November’s USAW event was hosted in collaboration with the DeKalb-based Prairie State Barbell – Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education instructor Brandon Male is the head weightlifting coach there – and attracted more than 100 competitors hoping to qualify for nationals. Olympic scouts were in attendance.

Bradley Carter
Bradley Carter

The Exercise Science Club took charge, which included providing and preparing the facilities in Anderson Hall and handling the pre-event marketing.

“Our students coordinating the general logistics,” Calderala says, “getting people registered, making sure the weigh-ins went properly, loading the weights, getting spectators in to the right area.”

Some club members who are certified to judge weightlifting served as referees, he adds.

Calderala hopes to more bring events to campus – he’s already in conversations with a suburban obstacle course organization and with a local U.S. Marine Corps recruiter who seeks volunteer opportunities for veterans – that will allow his students to hone their skills further.

Exercise Science Club members also made a March 8 field trip to the United Center to watch the Chicago Bulls play and to receive an exclusive tour of the training facilities.

“We really want to offer opportunities for our students to get engaged outside of the classroom, to get to ask questions and to get experience in the real world,” says Calderala, who also ran the Abominable Snow Race. “It’s not just talking about it, or having people come and tell them things. It’s about putting things together themselves, and making them totally student-led and run, because now they’re prepared to do so.”

And it looks great on a résumé, Carter says.

“To be able to say you were a referee at a USAW-sanctioned event is crazy – and you get to put it on your résumé,” he says.

“Last semester, our professors were talking about internships: ‘When you guys graduate, you don’t want to have the same qualifications on paper as people across the country,’ ” he adds. “Everyone in my club is going to have an edge on everyone else who just graduated without getting as involved as they could have with events like the Abominable Snow Race and weightlifting.”

Members of the Exercise Science Club made a March 8 visit to the United Center for a behind-the-scences tour of the training facilities.
Going Bulling: Members of the Exercise Science Club made a March 8 visit
to the United Center for a behind-the-scenes tour of the training facilities.
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