I am probably the ultimate NARP. I’ve never seriously played on a sports team, and I tried to get away with only running 1.9 laps around the Homecoming bonfire. While many college-bound students write their Common Application essays about sports — a particularly rewarding win or upsetting loss, injury or serving as a leader on a team — I wrote mine about celebrities. Varsity athletes are arguably the closest people Dartmouth has to celebrities. On a campus where almost 25 percent of the student body is comprised of varsity athletes and overall more than 75 percent are in some way or another involved in athletics, my lack of athletic prowess is especially glaring.
Whenever I walk to the Alumni Gymnasium at the Zimmerman Fitness Center (which unfortunately is not very often), I stop to marvel at the mysterious brick building that simply reads “Dartmouth” just next to Memorial Field. If this campus were Hollywood, this building, the Floren Varsity House, would be Chateau Marmont, the notoriously exclusive club that hosts the biggest names in Hollywood.
What could be inside the $19.5 million facility? I’d heard tales of sparkling clean machines and free massages. Determined to satiate my curiosity once and for all, I set out on a mission to get inside the varsity gym.
My first step was to venture across the hall to talk to my neighbor and varsity lacrosse player Jack Auteri ’19, who works out at Floren with his team two to three mornings a week. He told me that the varsity gym would probably live up to my high expectations.
“It’s a very nice facility,” he said. “Everybody works really hard to keep it clean. There’s plenty of squat racks for all the athletes.”
It turns out that I was not the only one itching for a glimpse of the Floren Varsity House. Auteri’s roommate, Conner Ueberroth ’19, works out at the Alumni Gym three to four times a week and even created the Facebook group “Dartmouth Fitness” to help students coordinate workout schedules and find spotters. He said he would love to see the varsity gym because he heard that it is better supplied than the Alumni Gym.
“The Alumni Gym is always busy so there’s not always enough equipment,” he said.
Ueberroth, a self-professed protein connoisseur (he’s partial to Iso), also perked up when Auteri mentioned that the varsity athletes get free protein shakes after their workouts.
At a mere five feet, I knew I wouldn’t pass for a varsity athlete, but I put on my most athletic outfit nonetheless and headed over to Floren. As I walked over, I wondered what it would be like. Would I have to say a secret word to get in? Would I even get in at all?
I was surprised to get right in — part of me really expected bouncers to be waiting outside the door with a list with only the varsity athletes’ names on it. Once inside, I had absolutely no idea where I was going — it felt like I had snuck behind the scenes of movie but the cast and crew were nowhere in sight. All I could see on the first floor were an equipment room and a lecture hall that they use for team meetings.
It turned out that I had to take an elevator to the second level to get to the varsity strength training center, where most of the team workouts are held. As the elevator doors opened, I could see that the training center was full of teams working out in unison to a blasting country song I didn’t know.
And they could see me. I could tell that despite my best effort to look athletic, I couldn’t disguise myself very well. It probably didn’t help that I was the only one there not wearing a Dartmouth Athletics shirt. They gave me confused looks through the glass door while they effortlessly held the plank position.
I sat on a bench outside the elevator waiting for them to finish their workout and hoping security didn’t come to escort me out.
As soon as practice was over and the coast was clear, I hurried over to the training room. It was a thing of beauty.
Three long rows of immaculate black, white and green equipment — 20 platforms and racks, four cable lat pulldowns, eight glute and hamstring machines, three bell squat machines, four Russian boxes, 12 cardio machines, three sets of iron dumbbells, assorted hammer machines and six adjustable hammer machines — lined the gym which was decorated with Dartmouth Ds and a giant Dartmouth banner.
I headed into the strength and conditioning office where strength and conditioning intern Joe Gilfedder explained that the varsity athletes need their own gym so that they can get individualized training based on their specific sports.
“We’re able to give them a program that will help them excel in their sport. They’ll be stronger, faster, more conditioned,” he said. “Having over 30 varsity teams here at Dartmouth, one guy can’t handle the whole thing. We have a few guys on staff, and we divide up all the teams.”
“A lot of people think it’s all about lifting maximum weight really slowly but a lot of the time we want to transfer explosiveness and speed onto the court, field or into the playing arena,” Gilfedder said. “Most gyms, and even a lot of varsity gyms, will not have that.”
While the facilities at Floren may be fit for A-listers, they don’t cause the varsity athletes to behave like divas because, as assistant strength and conditioning coach Kelsey Baier told me, they have rules to follow and coaches to answer to.
“The music played in the gym is at the coaches’ discretion,” she said as the mystery country song switched to Eric Church’s “How Bout You”(2006). “Sometimes players have requests, and if we’re feeling generous we’ll give in, but usually the coach on the floor is the one who picks.”
Gilfedder added that the varsity athletes do not just come and go as they please. Teams have specific times they are scheduled for training.
“If they want to do extra work, that’s up to their own coach and whether or not that coach would allow it,” she said. “If they wanted to come over and just do some biceps we’d probably tell them to go over to Alumni [Gym].”
And, finally, to answer the burning question that I’m sure is on all of your minds, the varsity athletes do not get “free massages.” According to Baier, if an athlete has an injury that is due to a lack of mobility, director of integrative health Anna Terry and her interns will provide a 20-minute massage that targets their injury.
“It’s not like you’re getting a Swedish massage,” Gilfedder said.
If my trip to Floren Varsity House taught me anything, it’s that being a varsity athlete is not as glamorous as it seems. It’s like when celebrities tell reporters that their lives involve way more hard work than glamour. Yes, the varsity athletes work out in a super nice gym, but they don’t even get to choose their own workout playlists.