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Published August 13, 2020
As far back as the summer of 2018, representatives from the University of Wyoming’s Division of Kinesiology and Health were exchanging ideas with administrators from Shanghai University of Sport (SUS) in China regarding ways to better support SUS students who study at UW, and to enhance their academic competencies and cross-cultural experiences.
An established academic/athletic training program is now in place in the UW Division of Kinesiology and Health that allows undergraduate students from SUS to come to UW. The program helps students expand language skills, follow academic pursuits and train for competition in a winter sport for national and international recognition.
The SUS-UW Nordic Ski Grant Program, sponsored jointly by SUS and the UW Division of Kinesiology and Health, selects 10 students from SUS with a number of athletic backgrounds, including gymnastics, soccer, climbing and even badminton, to probe their adaptability to learn and excel at cross country skiing.
The recent class of 10 students, chosen from a group of approximately 90, also was selected based on academic test scores and physical fitness assessment. Funding for the student group totals about $330,000 for one year that provides tuition, housing, food, training equipment and domestic travel.
“The SUS-UW Nordic Ski Grant Program provides these students with exposure to sports training that is not readily available to them in their home country,” says Qin (Arthur) Zhu, a professor with the UW Division of Kinesiology and Health, who oversees the international program. “As we study their physical adaptability to learning a new sport, we are not only helping SUS to train student-athletes who are competitive in the sport of cross country skiing, but also helping China to cultivate the first generation of cross country ski coaches who return home and promote this relatively new sport in China.”
Zhu’s research focus is on understanding the process of learning, or relearning, perceptual motor skills; investigating the control mechanisms for functional movements; and evaluating the effectiveness of training methods for teaching, coaching or rehabilitation.
This past winter, student-athletes, under the mentorship of UW Nordic ski coaches Christi Boggs, a UW distance education senior lecturer, and Rachel Watson, a UW chemistry senior lecturer, began training in some of the best cross country ski areas in the state.
“Happy Jack, just outside of Laramie, offers some of the best ski trails available,” Zhu says. “Our students were able to experience expert training on ski trails that would prepare them for actual competitive skiing taking place around the country.”
Those competitions included several ranking competitions in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming this past winter. To everyone’s surprise, the SUS students improved their performances so much that they qualified for the United States Collegiate Ski and Snowboard Association’s national championships, which were held at Lake Placid, N.Y., last March.
Then, COVID-19, which was already wreaking havoc throughout Asia and Europe, arrived in the U.S., with New York becoming one of the nation’s epicenters of infections due to the novel coronavirus.
With flights being canceled nationwide, Zhu, along with Derek Smith, director of the UW Division of Kinesiology and Health, began efforts to bring the SUS students back from New York. With flying no longer an option, rental cars were the next viable travel solution.
Once back in Laramie, the SUS students immediately started to self-quarantine in their apartments for two weeks. Meanwhile, they began to prepare for completion of their academic programs of study. However, upon COVID-19’s arrival in Wyoming in mid-March, the UW campus came to a screeching halt, and all students as well as most faculty and staff began to finish the 2020 spring semester remotely online from home.
For international students, the change in educational format to online learning was as challenging as it was for students from around Wyoming. However, “going home” was not going to be as easy as before. In fact, many countries canceled all international flights in and out of all airports.
With the SUS students stranded in Laramie, the UW Division of Kinesiology and Health, which is part of the College of Health Sciences, collaborated with SUS on ways to provide for students until they could return to Shanghai.
Smith, along with Zhu, started a student hospitality service that provided food and supplies, where needed, during the quarantine period. They also hosted gatherings to give students the opportunity to share their emotions and experiences of study and life at UW.
In an effort to provide continued cross country skiing training exercises, Zoom sessions were made available since many outdoor recreation areas had been closed. The virtual trainings, offered by Boggs and Watson, gave students instructions on ways they could work on athletic skills in a backyard setting.
SUS, while having to negotiate many new rules because of the pandemic, provided their students at UW with a shipment of 3,000 face masks.
With personal protective equipment becoming in short supply everywhere, David Jones, dean of the College of Health Sciences, along with Zhu and Smith, worked in collaboration with SUS to receive 3,000 additional masks to aid shortages in local health care facilities.
Due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, a new class of SUS student-athletes could not be recruited for the program this year. Through the joint effort by SUS and the UW Division of Kinesiology and Health, the 2019-2020 class was offered the opportunity to extend its stay in the program with full support for another year. Two students decided to stay, and the program will resume with the support of $121,843 in funding.
“I was honored to participate in this program. I benefited a lot from it,” says Dan (Doris) Yan, an undergraduate from Jiangxi Province. “From this program, I learned professional skiing skills and theoretical knowledge of training. I also am glad to know many friendly teammates, and they helped me a lot. I am very grateful to them and to my coaches.”
She also hopes that leads to an international competition.
“I hope that my skiing performance can be greatly improved in the next season through my efforts so that I can have the opportunity to participate in the 30th Winter Universiade next year,” she adds.
The Winter Universiade, the largest winter multisport event after the Winter Olympic Games, will be held in Switzerland in 2021.
Dongyang (Andy) Han, from Henan Province, supports the exchange program.
“In the past year, I have benefited a lot from meeting good teachers and friends. I hope the friendship between the Shanghai University of Sport and the University of Wyoming has a long history,” Han says.