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Student athletes stagnate due to air quality

Student athletes have been dealing with cancelled practices and matches in the wake of the poor air quality from the fires in the North Bay that began on Oct. 8.

Athletic trainer Natalie Spangler said that she has been working with athletic director Themy Adachi to determine whether it is safe for sports teams and PE classes to participate in exercise.

“You just have to take it day by day,” said Adachi.

Spangler said that the determination was even an hour-by-hour call, as the Air Quality Index is continually updated.

“As we speak, the Air Quality Index is ‘Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups,’” Spangler said. “Technically, it’s recommended that you can participate still, but people in the sensitive group should limit prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors. So that’s what it is right now, but we’re taking extra precautions and limiting for everybody because we’re noticing it’s been an issue for even us [people without special conditions].”

By Thursday, Oct. 12, all teams and PE classes had been affected. Every PE class was cancelled, and teams either modified their practices or cancelled them until conditions improved.

That day, Spangler sent an email to all student athletes, saying that these changes are “based on recommendations from the National Collegiate Athletic Association, Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Weather Service.”

She also provided a list of warning signs: coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, trouble breathing normally, chest tightness, feeling lightheaded, dizziness, racing heartbeat and worsening headache.

If experiencing these symptoms, one should “stop activity right away, come inside — ideally away from the poor air quality. Trying to get away from the cause or the root source is the first step if you can,” Spangler said.

Spangler also stressed that those who use inhalers should have it with them at all times, not just while exercising.

“Slow your breathing — in through the nose, out through the mouth,” Spangler said. “Our nose hairs are meant to filter things like particulate matter in the air, so it would be good to breathe in through your nose. Also that helps to open your lungs more.”

Students on sports teams expressed frustration at their inability to exercise because of the effects of the fires, as well as concern for their future competitions.

“I’m disappointed because I haven’t been exercising,” Cleo Koerner said, a member of the swim team. “I’m just kind of behind…That is frustrating for a lot of us athletes.”

The swim team has already been forced to cancel their inter-squad scrimmage on Oct. 10 and their meet against Cal State University East Bay on Oct. 13 due to unhealthy air quality ratings. The cross-country team also had to make a sudden change of plans in reaction to the air quality.

“We were planning on going to Berkeley to practice on one of their tracks,” Karena Huang said.”We actually did set out in one of our vans to get there, but the moment that we got out assistant coach, our team captain and some of our members gathered around to talk about it and were really worried about the air quality.”

This initial worry would become a common theme for all sports teams and coaches throughout the week.

“When we told [the coach], he totally agreed with us,” Huang said. “He was just like, ‘We’re going back immediately.’ We didn’t even go on the track — we just filed back into our vans and just went back to Mills, and we ended doing workouts inside the gym.”

Huang said she felt that the inability to practice outside has been detrimental to the team and to her own training, saying she has felt less satisfied.

“It’s only been a few days, but the atmosphere has not gotten better,” Huang said. “The only thing we’ve been doing is working out inside Haas Pavilion, which is basically what every other sport is doing now as well, so everybody’s trying to fight for space to work out, especially if they have training at the same time.”

Both Koerner and Huang expressed concern about how the inability to do full practice would affect their future matches.

“This week it just kind of hit me, like usually I don’t worry before a race but I’ve just been feeling kind of worried that I might not do any better than the past few races,” Huang said. “If we had been running outside and long distance I might feel more prepared for the meet we’re having this weekend.”

Based on the air quality forecast for Santa Clara, it was determined on Friday that the team would not race over the weekend.

Adachi also recognized this issue, saying that teams who do physical conditioning have been thrown off schedule with the inability to perform their regular practices. She predicted that PE classes, since most are taught indoors, will be able to resume shortly, but sports teams will be affected on a more long-term basis.

Whether a game can occur or not comes down to a multitude of factors, including how conditions are affected by time of day, location and wind.

“It’s often hard to move matches,” Adachi said. “Not every school has the flexibility to reschedule.”

Adachi said that in her years here as athletic director, Mills has never had poor air quality to this extreme, describing the event as “unprecedented.”

“It’s a matter of us being prudent to make sure our students are safe,” Adachi said.