Aaron May missed out on some crucial moments in his athletic journey during the past two years.
The 2020 track and field season was reduced to a couple of meets before the lockdown, and the thrower – who specializes in shotput, hammer and javelin – couldn’t compete at all in the 2021 season.
So when the business senior got a call from his coaches asking if he wanted to return to campus in the spring for a five-week training session, May was overjoyed.
“I had the biggest smile on my face,” May said. “I was jumping around the room.”
Up until that point, May completed workout routines and lifted weights at home, but he missed “that rich communication that comes with being in person” with his coaches and teammates.
His return to campus for the spring session was made possible with weekly COVID-19 testing to enable student athletes to get back to training.
Ruem Malasarn, assistant athletic director for sports performance, said Cal Poly Pomona began a pilot COVID testing program for student athletes and athletic staff in April, as practices and training sessions resumed, though the CCAA Conference had canceled competitive play.
Unlike the NBA, which set up a bubble in Orlando for players and staff in 2020, Cal Poly Pomona Athletics doesn’t have the resources to establish a similar protective cocoon.
So, it was key to implement testing as an additional layer of safety, along with requiring masks, staggered schedules and holding activities outdoors, said Malasarn, who oversees athletic training and sports medicine, strength and conditioning training, mental health and nutrition for the university’s 240 student athletes. The department also encouraged people to get vaccinated as soon as they were eligible.
“We wanted to manage risk and eliminate the spread,” he said. “It keeps all of us aware that the pandemic is still here. Even though we’re in much better place, we’re not just jumping into the deep end of the pool like everything is back to normal.”
During the spring, athletes and staff participating in activities on campus were tested twice a week using the UCLA PCR saliva sample COVID-19 test. About 400 tests were conducted during the five-week session.
A summer voluntary training session kicked off in June, with about 100 tests done so far. Participants are tested one to two times a week, depending on the number of days they are on campus. No staff members or athletes have tested positive in either session, Malasarn said.
“The student athletes have been fantastic,” he said. “Testing is something they have been expecting and they have been very open and receptive.”
Ayana Fields, a senior majoring in kinesiology who first returned to campus for training four days a week during the April session, said she was getting tested twice a week. The sprinter, whose events include the 200 and 400 meters, as well as the 4×100 and 4×400 relays, had been working out at a local park to stay in shape. Her twin brother, Ryan Fields, also competes on the team in the 110- and 400-meter hurdles.
The overall process for returning to train, including the testing, has been easy, Ayana Fields said.
“I think the athletics staff is doing pretty well with just making sure we all come back safe and don’t face any complications in returning,” she said. “I think they are very well prepared.”
When senior Vincent Sarino heard about the opportunity to return to campus in April, all of the requirements to come back – including the health screeners, COVID training and the testing – seemed a little overwhelming. However, Sarino, who gets tested twice a week, said athletics has done everything possible to make the athletes comfortable with returning to on-campus training.
The kinesiology student, who competes in cross country and track and field, said the April session fueled his excitement about training with his coaches and teammates again.
“It’s really relieving to be able to see my coaches in person,” Sarino said. “During the pandemic, I felt like I was on an island. Even if this is just a little taste of what’s to come, it’s really good to be around everyone again.”