TikTok Tawa: How a Stanford baseball player has gone viral amid COVID-19

By Dave Peck
Medill Reports

If you asked Stanford’s Tim Tawa, he’d tell you the key to TikTok is combining what you know with what you see. Since March, Tawa has been home getting swings in alongside lifelong friend and former teammate Will Matthiessen, who also played for the Cardinal before being drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2019.

With a return to baseball uncertain for both, the two Oregon natives have transformed their routine batting practice into a viral video series.

Photo at top: Tim Tawa stands on the diamond. (Bob Drebin/ISI Photos)

A look at the NFL’s virtual offseason

By Evan Brooks
Medill Reports

While COVID-19 continues to affect the sports world, the NFL is moving forward with a virtual offseason. The organization is giving teams a chance to meet and get ready for the season online.

Photo at top: New England Patriots #51 Ja’Whaun Bentley celebrates on the field. (Eric Adler/Patriots)

For North Texas, 2019-20 basketball will forever be a lost season

Joshua Skinner
Medill Reports

They were arguably the best basketball team in North Texas history. After starting the season 2-5, the Mean Green stormed to a 14-4 conference record and the No. 1 overall seed in the Conference USA tournament.

At the very least, they were guaranteed a spot in the NIT. At best, they’d clinch the school’s first NCAA Tournament bid in a decade.

Then, within hours, everything they had fought for collapsed under the crushing suddenness of COVID-19.

North Texas Broadcasters Hank Dickenson and Zac Babb relive a special season destroyed by forces beyond their control.

Photo Above: Inside a vacant UNT Coliseum, more commonly known as the “Super Pit.” (Zac Babb/MGRN Radio Network)

Running with the Windy City Bulls

By Yousef Nasser
Medill Reports

The NBA G League provides opportunities for basketball players to realize their dreams of making it to the NBA. In this episode of Medill Newsmakers, Yousef Nasser gives viewers an inside look at life in the NBA G League through the lens of the Chicago Bulls’ G League team, the Windy City Bulls.

Windy City Bulls guard Milton Doyle warms up before an NBA G League game against the Grand Rapids Drive.(Yousef Nasser/MEDILL)

The NFL’s first all-remote draft made for a lot of entertainment

By Clara Facchetti
Medill Reports

A robe. A cellphone. A dog. Parents, kids and a large Arizona home. These are just a few of the funniest things that took place during the NFL’s record-breaking all-remote draft last week.

Live from his basement in Bronxville, New York, Commissioner Roger Goodell launched the NFL’s first ever all-remote draft, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, on Thursday night. The 2020 draft became the most-watched in the NFL’s history, with over 55 million viewers in total, including 15 million for the first round, a 37% increase over last year, ESPN reported.

“To see the reactions I got from people I didn’t know, people I did know, family — it definitely struck a chord with people,” Goodell told the Washington Post in a phone interview.

The unusual setting gave NFL fans a view into their favorite coaches’ and prospects’ homes, which inevitably led to some very entertaining moments. Here are some of the funniest moments from the 2020 NFL draft:

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‘Run as long as you can until you can’t’: The motivation behind ultrarunning

By Caroline Kurdej
Medill Reports

Ultrarunner Andrea Kooiman was never a superstar cross-country runner in high school. “I really only joined because there was a dude on the team I liked,” she said with a giggle.

Yet since her high school days, Kooiman has competed in 150+ ultramarathons and marathons. Now, at 44, she’s crossed the Boston Marathon finish line. She also ran just a bit farther and finished the 2018 Vol State 500K (310.68 miles) in 110 hours, 40 minutes and 59 seconds.

Kooiman co-founded We Run Orange County’s Kids, a nonprofit that enrolls 12- to 18-year-olds in a seven-month, $750 training program to run the Orange County Marathon.

Kooiman fits her runs in whenever she can, often when her family is fast asleep at 4 a.m. She bolts out of the house, fully equipped with a head lamp to light the way on the trail in the frigid darkness. If not, she squeezes runs in before her full-time job as a sports marketer at Road Runner Sports, her 12-year-old daughter’s dance classes or when the others are at work.

“On the flip side, I’ll put the family to bed, and do something from midnight until sunrise,” Kooiman said. She then takes her daughter to school, steals a nap and heads off to coach for the youth program.

It’s a precarious balancing act. “How many times have I met a friend out for dinner or for a drink and then planned a route, packed a bag, and threw it in their car knowing I’d see them later?” she said. Kooiman still wants to be social while also logging immense miles any time of day and night. Adaptability is key. Her longest run, when she’s training for a 100-mile race, is 50 miles.

Officially, an ultramarathon is any race past the marathon distance of 26.2 miles, though their lengths vary from 50 kilometers (31.06 miles) to New York’s 3,100-mile Self-Transcendence ultramarathon, which is run around a single city block. The current women’s record for that race is held by Kaneenika Janakova who completed the “Everest of ultra-running” in 48 days, 14 hours, 24 minutes and 10 seconds.

The rise of the sport’s popularity far outruns its competitors’ slower paces. Ultramarathon races have reached a historic peak in popularity around the globe, increasing by 1,676%, from 34,401 ultrarunners to 611,098 participants, over the last 23 years, according to a recent study by Run Repeat.

Kooiman expressed how ultrarunning tends to exhibit many individuals from “broken pasts.” Those difficult pasts enable them to “dig deeper into the pain case, and be OK with not being OK.” The discomfort allows ultra distance athletes to accomplish magnificent feats and use their pain to some benefit.

Unlike life’s uncertainties, in ultrarunning, “I own the pain. It wasn’t inflicted on me. It wasn’t brought upon me. I chose it,” Kooiman said. “And because I chose it, I get to control it.”

Since COVID-19’s impact, WeROCK had to transition from group runs to solo efforts. Kooiman encouraged all of the kids to join Strava and created a private strava group to watch their progress. It’s been a great way to stay connected, give “kudos” and comment on their runs. The group feels the “community” even though they are apart. Additionally, one of the coaches recorded some core workouts and the group even logged on together to do some yoga on Zoom.

As for Kooiman’s own fitness level, all of her big races have been cancelled. She had a 330-mile race coming up in July and with that gone and Kooiman suddenly finding herself unemployed, “it was difficult to focus on waking up early anymore.”

She entered a few virtual races so that she had a goal and ran a 50-mile event (completely solo) around her neighborhood streets. Unlike other states and various parts of the country, Kooiman is fortunate that her local trails are still open.

She began to set her alarm early once again to beat the others into the open space and be back in time to help her daughter with online learning. Although she claims her daughter doesn’t need her help at all.

“Those moments when I am on the trail are when life feels normal again,” Kooiman said. “I force myself out the door so I can have those few hours where there is no social media, constant news updates or sorrow-filled posts. I am able to look out at the open fields and remember that nature recovers and so shall we.”

Others don’t suffer from tribulations but seem to search for them.

Adharanand Finn, author of “The Rise of the Ultra Runners: A Journey to the Edge of Human Endurance” and writer for The Guardian, completed 10 ultra races over the course of two years.

Adharanand Finn scales a mountain (Courtesy of The Scotsman)

“I don’t have enough trauma in my life to be doing this,” Finn said, chuckling.

As a former marathoner, Finn would head out for 16-, 18- or 20-mile runs. The only difference existing in his training for ultras were the four-to-five-hour long runs, which often entail thousands of feet in elevation change and hills.

“In most of the ultra runs, you have a moment of crisis where your body is screaming to drop out of the race,” Finn said. “You’re going to have to have that reason going strong — why you need to keep going, why you need to finish the race.”

An ultrarace demonstrates a runner’s control of what happens between the start and finish line.

“If you have the grit and if you have the stubbornness and if you have that desire to burn deep, to keep moving, then you can finish it,” Kooiman said.

Despite a resilient attitude, an ultramarathoner’s body takes some inevitable hits from the physical exertion of running. Guillaume Millet, leading expert on neuromuscular fatigue in ultramarathons, competed in the UTMB — and placed top six three times.

Guillaume Millet strides miles over mud, mountains and more. (Courtesy of Echo Sciences Grenoble)

In his 2018 study, Millet found sleep deprivation hurts the brain’s cognitive performance, evidenced in the increased reaction time and lapses during attentional tasks. “You’re running the same speed, and if you haven’t slept, you’ll think ‘Yes, this is hard,’” Millet said.

Millet recommends incorporating “shock weekends” in training cycles — venturing into the mountains and tackling uphills and downhills at similar race speeds as during the ultra. Muscle fibers build up resistance to the damage and strengthen the body for the hardships experienced during ultraraces.

“You go into the mountains and train almost like you’re doing an ultra, except that you take some rest in the night,” Millet said.

But taking naps cuts into race time. Millet recommends opting in on caffeine gels (which is not considered doping), and stocking up on sleep the week before — that is, “sleep banking.”

Just as Millet advises, many ultra-athletes embark on arduous training runs. The former Cosmopolitan-selected 2011 Montana Bachelor of the Year, Casey “Dov” Weinman, is one of them. Weinman’s hometown of Eugene, Oregon, is unofficially, the City Where Everyone Runs.

Casey “Dov” Weinman posing for Cosmo’s 2011 Montana Bachelor of the Year.  (Courtesy of Cosmopolitan)

“I’ve always been a product of my landscape, and western Montana re-molded a runner more keen to run up mountains than around ovals,” Weinman said.

When asked where he finds his “third gear,” Weinman said, “The only gear I have left is ‘mountain gear,’ and it isn’t a particularly fast one.”

The transition from 800-meter races to 100-mile races was a product of “self-awareness,” Weinman says. He ran half a mile in a 1:51.93 for the University of Montana track team in his college days. Yet, he struggled to get through cross-country seasons healthy. “I became a better listener to what my body needed in order to manage long days and big climbs,” Weinman said. He left his watch at home and ran for hours until the trail loop brought him home. “That mind-body trust develops — then all the distances become imaginable.”

What spurs ultrarunners to cross the finish line?

“I know, worst-case scenario, there is a start and finish to my pain,” Kooiman said. “I can justify it.” The word “retirement” doesn’t exist in the 44-year-old’s dictionary. “I will run as long as I can, until I can’t.”

Weinman attributes every one of his ultrarace finishes to a mantra he draws from Lewis Caroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” as stated by the King of Hearts:

“Begin at the beginning … and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”

Photo at top: Andrea Kooiman smiling victoriously at the Barkley Fall Classic 50K in Frozen Head State Park, Tennessee. “By the end, most are covered in blood and their skin is shredded from briar kisses,” Kooiman said. (Courtesy of Misty Wong)

Leading the troops: Jahmir Young’s brilliant season ends due to COVID-19

By Evan Brooks
Medill Reports

Charlotte 49ers All-American point guard Jahmir Young was gearing up for the conference tournament in Frisco Texas with a chance of potentially going to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2005. As COVID-19 took over the world his phenomenal season ended instantly.

Photo at top: Jahmir Young brings the ball up the court. (49ers photographer/Charlotte Athletics)

Coping with quarantine: How a sport psychologist is helping student-athletes stay on track

By Allegra Zamore
Medill Reports

After the onset of COVID-19 student athletes were left mourning cancelled seasons. With their dreams put on hold, for many students the pandemic is taking its toll on their mental health. University of Virginia sport psychologist Jason Freeman has been working virtually with student-athletes to help them stay on track mentally and physically. Freeman places an emphasis on setting realistic expectations and meeting basic needs like sleep, to help get through these unsettling times.

Photo at top: University of Virginia men’s soccer team warms up at Klöckner Stadium (Allegra Zamore/MEDILL)

NU swimmers train for next season without a pool

By Yousef Nasser
Medill Reports

Last month, eleven members of the Northwestern Swimming and Diving Team qualified for the NCAA Championships. Shortly after learning of their achievement, the rug was pulled from underneath them, as COVID-19 forced the NCAA to cancel all winter and spring championships. Find out how the Northwestern Swimming and Diving team is preparing for next season without access to a pool or a gym.

Photo at top: Empty Canterbury Woods pool in Woodbridge, Virginia is closed indefinitely due to COVID-19. (Yousef Nasser/MEDILL)