Athlete Alums of the Issue: Sophia Copeman ’20 and Winnie Wang ’20

Both Sophia Copeman ’20 and Winnie Wang ’20 had a very unusual start to their student athlete college careers. Entering their freshman year of college in the middle of a pandemic, Sophia and Winnie faced a series of trials and challenges in both school and athletics. Currently, Sophia rows Division I crew at Columbia University, and Winnie runs Division III cross country and track and field at Middlebury College. We decided to interview these two athletes specifically because we were curious how these D1 and D3 schools handled training and supporting student athletes during the pandemic. 

What was the team dynamic like in the COVID-19 pandemic?

Sophia: When it was announced that the 2020 fall season of all Ivy sports had been canceled, we were all introduced to each other in a big Zoom meeting. We were told that since we were to be all online for the entire year, training would be completed at home by yourself. I am still sad that I did not get to meet the majority of the seniors on the crew team, but I met a few in the spring of 2021. Overall, I don’t think that the team dynamic dramatically shifted due to the pandemic, but that could also be because I was new on the team and had not met most of them before. 

Winnie: COVID impacted my season last year in that we simply did not have one. We still practiced as a team, but we did not have the opportunity to race other schools. Instead, we just did time trials throughout the “season.” This year, COVID has not had too much of an impact on the season. We don’t have to run in masks anymore so it’s starting to feel more normal. The only small difference is that there aren’t as many spectators watching. However, families aren’t entirely banned from going to watch meets. Overall, I would say we are having a pretty normal season.

What is it like being a student athlete at college vs. at Winsor?

Sophia: Obviously the practice schedule is very different. I am now waking up at 5:00 am every morning and [getting] out on the water by 6:30 am. We are given just the right amount of time to go right from practice to class, although I have been known to wear my crew uni with sweatpants to my Econ lecture. All athletes are given a special pass to an “athlete only” gym, and it’s a really fun dynamic because you get to meet many people from different sports teams. A plus side is that Winsor definitely prepared me well for balancing sports and academics. 

Winnie: I feel like it’s the same overall structure; I go to school during the day, and then I go to practice for a couple of hours after. The main difference is that it’s a much bigger commitment in terms of time and effort. I definitely am much more aware of my living habits in general, like making sure that I have enough fuel and [that] I am getting enough sleep each night. These were both things that I was not as concerned about when competing at the high-school level. This is cross-country specific, but in terms of where we run, we have so much more accessible to us being in Vermont. We have our own track and run on all the dirt roads and trails surrounding us, which is something that we didn’t have at Winsor.

What resources do you have at college that help you balance the student athlete life? 

Sophia: One perk of college, if you’re an athlete, is that if you need tutoring, the athletic department pays for your tutor. This perk has definitely been helpful as a student athlete. Another perk is that we do not have class on Fridays, so it’s a good day to get all of your homework done, especially if you are going to be traveling for a scrimmage or regatta. Winsor prepared me well for academic life at college, so the adjustment wasn’t too drastic.

Winnie: In terms of resources, I feel like everyone is pretty self-sufficient and very good about getting work done. We always go to the library or the science hall to study together after dinner. Honestly, I appreciate the break in the day when I go to practice because it clears my mind, and I feel a lot more productive afterwards. The coaches are also really understanding of the workload. The great thing about being a Division III athlete is that you are a student first, so if you have a bunch of exams to study for or a ton of papers due, you can always figure out a way to run on your own as long as you communicate with the coaches.

How many hours a week are you spending at practice, and how do the practices compare to Winsor’s? 

Sophia: Six days a week I am at practice from 6:00 to 9:00 am, and sometimes we have afternoon practices from 2:00 to 5:00 pm. At Winsor, we only had practices in the afternoon, so changing to morning practice was quite a shift. We also only got about an hour and a half because we had to be off the water before it was dark. Another thing that is different at college is that our boats shift around way more. The lineups change almost weekly, unlike at Winsor when the top two boats on Varsity were usually pretty set. 

Winnie: We have official practice six days a week and optional yoga on our off-day. I usually get to the locker room at 4:15 pm and after practice and stretching and showering, I leave anywhere from 6:00 to 7:00 pm depending on what we do that day. For meets, we drive anywhere from two to six hours each way. Our entire day on Saturday is dedicated to traveling and participating in meets. 
We would like to thank Sophia and Winnie for speaking with us in order to provide some insights into the college student athlete experience. We wish them the best of luck in their upcoming seasons!