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Behind the Scenes with Penn State Track and Field

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By Alyssa Palfey, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Most success of teams is measured by their performances and placing at meets and competitions, but rarely anyone ever thinks of all the behind the scenes work that contributes to this success.


Penn State track and field's Director of Operations Coordinator, Laura Loht, is the person who makes sure all the details most don't think about are all taken care of before, during, and after traveling to meets.


"My job when we go on the road is literally get the team from point A, which is the indoor track, to point B, wherever we go," said Loht. "Bus trips are way easier than when we fly. It's somewhat a challenge when you're checking in 60-80 people with small pole vaulters carrying their poles and javelins in oversize at an airport that is packed on a Wednesday or Sunday morning."


"Getting home with traveling like a big team like that, we're rarely traveling out of State College. We're most likely bussing to Pittsburgh or Baltimore, which can be tough especially when you're coming home and you're getting to Baltimore at 9:30 at night and have to get everyone on the bus and positive," Loht said.  "Even though we're getting home at 1 a.m., making sure they get to class the next day."


Loht is a former Nittany Lion, where she earned All-American honors three times and still holds the javelin school record. Having all this track and field experience makes Loht's perfect for the role in operations.


"We just get there early and try to make sure everyone is staying relatively positive and whatnot.  If we're going somewhere that's warm, I usually take tents along. When we get there, I have to make sure that we coolers and fluids, so waters and Gatorades," said Loht, who also makes sure she has extra supplies incase any athletes forget something back home.  


Loht is the one of charge of creating the itineraries for the team and coaches, where she goes into greater detail about the travel information, meet schedule and dress code. She even includes some hydration tips from athletic trainer, Michael Gay, to make sure the athletes are staying hydrated as they travel to compete in warmer weather.


"Trust me during outdoors because we live in central PA, and it was snowing two weeks ago, we chase warm weather. They go from training in 30-degree weather to Arizona State where there's 70-degree weather," said Loht.


"It's a change, so our training staff does an awesome job of preparing the kids and telling them what they need to be doing as far as fueling their bodies in order for them to have the best day they can have when they step on the line or into the field."


Athletic trainer Michael Gay is heavily involved with the behind the scenes work as athletes prepare to do their best on meet day.


"Meet day is event preparation and then pre and post-event recovery. Depending on the day, a kid might have a time trial at the beginning of the day then there's some recovery time and then they have to compete again. That can involve maybe getting time for a meal in between or a hydration status or a soft tissue massage, so it's a lot about managing the between," said Gay.


With the different events that make up a track team, they all have different areas they must focus on to recover. Distance runners usually are more energy-based and require a lot of refueling and rehydration. Throwers use their max-effort upper body while sprinters create more damage from fast running.


"When a kid races, they create a lot of damage when they run. The whole idea is to try to manage that inflammation, manage the soft tissue, so they can give you maximize effort later. It's different for each kid," said Gay.


Most importantly, communication within the team, coaches, and staff is what makes the team run smoothly and successfully during competition weekends.


"A lot of it is communication. If something comes up, it changes the complexion of the meet. All of sudden a kid struggles in a 100 or something comes up, someone will have replaced them if they have other events. We have to stay on top of it and communicate with everybody and coordinate with all the athletes and coaches," said Gay. 

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