The Machine of Wellness Supporting every University of Denver Pioneer

Ever wonder how the University of Denver manages to consistently punch above its weight in sports and in the community? It’s rare to see a school of 6,000 field 17 Division 1 varsity teams, and many of these are also in national news. The Pioneers stand toe to toe in almost every major sport against schools with larger populations, increased funding and bigger operational budgets. In fact, the University of Denver is the most successful athletic institution without football funding, a title the Pioneers have proudly claimed for the last decade. What gives their athletes an edge on every field, rink, court and course?

Their secret isn’t a sports-fanatic philanthropist. It’s no secret that Dan Ritchie among many other generous donors have helped the Pioneers. The Daniel Ritchie Center for Sports and Wellness supports the Pioneers without a doubt. When he was Chancellor, Ritchie grew many University of Denver programs including the International Program, as well as embedding ethics and social responsibility into the core curriculum. The Pioneers would not have their secret advantage without Ritchie, but their primary strength doesn’t come from Ritchie’s funding; it comes from his value of connectedness.

Meet Matt Shaw, University of Denver Director of Sports Performance. Strictly speaking, he oversees the physical development of the ice hockey and men’s soccer student-athletes, while leading an impressive staff of additional coaches. But when we asked him how he helps to create some of the nation’s most impressive NCAA athletes, he unveiled an athlete-focused wellness practice emphasizing long-term development. “Athletes train under restricted hours, with no more than 4 hours of contact within a day in practice and the weight room.” he said, “We want to make sure they understand lifestyle management so they can take care of themselves while they are out of the training environment, including nutrition, physical, mental and emotional preparation.”

Life-work balance is challenging for any NCAA athlete, but the Pioneers continue with Ritchie’s legacy by practicing an incredible array of community engagement activities. Clinics for youth athletes, volunteering with hospitals and local organizations are commonplace activities on these athletes’ schedules. Denver is an active community, and the Pioneers are a critical piece of that fabric both on and off the field.

Does that sound like a lot of stress to load on student-athletes? Community engagement plus three or four hours of training every day, competitions during the season, and a full course load? The magnitude of their personal investment really brings the importance of lifestyle management into focus. Shaw and his team prevent overexertion by helping to ensure the balance of mental, emotional, and physical contributors to stress. They deploy the HRV4Training App to monitor Heart Rate Variability (HRV), combining physiological readings with daily questionnaires designed to gauge everything from overtraining to social stress. Athletes also have access to nutrition experts and even on campus food providers, allowing opportunities to learn more about food safety and basic cooking techniques.

But in case you were wondering where Royal Crest Dairy comes into play: athletes need sustenance. When asked if his athletes drink any milk, Shaw said, “A year ago, we built a fueling station within our weight room. Royal Crest has been an unbelievable provider in terms of delivering nutrition to our athletes. We built the fueling station out to provide nutrition pre-practice or pre-game, during competition, post-training, and even just to grab a snack on the run. Royal Crest has allowed our athletes to succeed and give them proactive solutions behind balancing the life of an athlete and a student.”

Thank you for the kudos Matt. 😉

But if you look at the level of success academically and even post-graduation, these holistic practices are working in the way that matters most. These kids are moving on with a firm foundation and leading stable, successful, happy lives. When they graduate, they move on from being Pioneers on the field, to pioneers in life.

We couldn’t be more proud to play a part in helping the Pioneers do everything they do on the field and in our community. Go Pioneers!