Aug 13, 2020

The air up there

Freshman pole vaulter Lyle Quillen is one of many athletes at Fresno State who has to deal with the poor air quality in the Central Valley. Quillen has been dealing with these conditions since his days at Clovis East High School.
Juan Villa / The Collegian

Unlike many people in the Valley, some Fresno State student-athletes and coaches do not have the luxury of stepping inside air-conditioned rooms when they go to work.

Air quality is notoriously bad in the Valley, and brutal for the athletes, something the coaches are aware of during practices, meets and games.

Fresno State softball coach Margie Wright backs off cardio-heavy workouts, especially during the fall.
“We absolutely break more often because we don’t want someone going down,” Wright said. “We have several kids who have asthma and it makes it tough on them.”

However, during the season Wright said that even though she pays attention to air quality, her athletes have to train, even when the air is poor.

Softball coach Margie Wright is cautious of her team’s workouts during the fall due to poor air quality. Several athletes on the team suffer from asthma.
File photo by Joseph Edgecomb / The Collegian

During the season Wright does not see the air quality affecting the players, unlike the fall.

“In the fall I see [the air] affecting them,” Wright said. “They get lethargic and it’s hard for them to breathe and do what they do.”

It helps the team that some games are played in the evening when the air quality is less harmful.

Wright said that when her team travels to Southern California, the humidity also affects the players.

“I know when we go down to Los Angeles, sometimes the air quality is pretty bad down there,” Wright said. “It does affect a lot of people on the team, mostly because they’re not used to it.”

Track coach Bob Fraley definitely pays attention to air quality, especially since all of his athletes train outside.

“We don’t make an issue out of it because most of these athletes train all year round,” Fraley said. “It’s a matter of adapting to the conditions.”

Fraley notices a difference when he recruits an athlete from a healthier climate.

Fraley said that people from the Valley and other parts of California are better at dealing with the poor quality because they are “immune or adapted to it.”

Fraley doesn’t make changes to his practice schedules for the runners.

“Unless it was so bad and it was an emergency and they said don’t do anything, then I’d have to do something,” Fraley said. “I really haven’t changed a practice for air quality, unless it was a really hot day.”

Fraley compared his athletes to Kenyans, who he said have no problems with their feet because they run around barefoot when they are kids.

Fraley doesn’t want to plant a seed in his runners’ minds that their performance might be linked to the air quality.

“If performance is bad, they’ll blame it on something that really didn’t have anything to do with their performance,” Fraley said. “No excuses.”

Fraley tries to set practice later in the day when he thinks the air quality improves.

“What we’ve found in the Central Valley is that somewhere around 1 or 2 p.m. you’re going to get a breeze coming in, and you’re going to get a layer that’s a lot less polluted.”

Fraley worries mostly how the heat affects his athletes.

“If the heat is really bad, then the air is really bad, so you have to take a look at it,” Fraley said.

Sophomore distance runner Frank Sanders uses the bad air to his advantage, as something that runners from other schools can’t use.

“It’s definitely harder to run [in the Valley],” Sanders said. “In a sense it’s good to train here because there’s no other place that has it. When we get to other schools, it’s clean air. We feel stronger.”

Still, Sanders doesn’t enjoy the bad air all the time.

“We might tell each other that it’s a bad day, or that hey, ‘the air sucks today,’ Sanders said. “But we have to go do 12 miles, let’s go.”

Sanders never changes his practice schedule to adjust to poor air quality.

He said that what he has written down on his schedule is what he does, regardless of the conditions.

“I have to come out here anyway and run in it,” Sanders said. “It’s harder to run sometimes.”

Sanders does notice differences in his times when the Valley air is bad.

“When we get back from a long, hard run our times might be slower,” Sanders said. “We sometimes might feel a little dizzy.”

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