Strength staff raises over $10,000 in first annual Sufferfest

The Tufts Varsity Weight Room is pictured on May 4. Ian Lau / The Tufts Daily

The first ever Strength Staff Sufferfest commenced at 9 a.m. on April 14. Three members of the Tufts Strength and Conditioning staff — Dan Kopsco, Alex O’Keefe and Ethan Bare —  participated in a 24-hour long fundraiser to increase the number of people of color entering into the strength and conditioning field.

“Currently, we’re standing number two as far as any athletic department coming out of the winter season in all of Division III,” Director of Sports Performance Coach Kopcso said in a promotional video posted on Youtube and Instagram. “The challenge we’ve come across is in the last two hiring cycles for a strength coach out of more than 100 applications, less than five were people of color. So we racked our brains trying to figure out why this is — what are maybe some of the advantages or opportunities we had that aren’t happening getting some of these people into the field.”

Kopcso and the rest of the staff acknowledged that while there are many athletes of color at Tufts, as well as across collegiate athletics, there are substantial barriers to entry when it comes to the strength and conditioning field. According to Kopcso, often a candidate is required to intern for one to two years, in addition to completing a fellowship program, which means candidates do not get paid enough until a couple years into their careers. The three strength and conditioning coaches hope that by creating this fundraiser, they can begin to break down these barriers and provide more opportunities for people of color.

“We want to create a position where we can pay a really competitive hourly wage and try to pull some of these underrepresented populations into the position because we know once you’ve been a strength and conditioning coach, it is an unreal experience,” Kopcso said in the video. “It’s fulfilling, it’s challenging, you work with future leaders of tomorrow — we’ve got lawyers, doctors, dentists, future politicians all here — and honestly, I think most days we learn as much from them as they learn from us.”

In the promotional video, O’Keefe, the assistant strength and conditioning coach, said that the strength and conditioning staff likes to earn everything they do in the weight room, so they decided to work for all the money they wanted to raise during Sufferfest. 

Kopcso committed to doing pull-ups for 24 hours and Bare, an assistant strength and conditioning coach, aimed to do as many squats at 405 lbs in two hours as possible. The varsity athletes voted on the exercise that O’Keefe, one of the assistant strength and conditioning coaches, would have to do, ultimately deciding on him running treadmill sprints at a 10 degree incline at level 10 speed for as many minutes as he could in 24 hours.

“This is a really original idea for a fundraiser, not something I’ve seen before [and] probably only something that can be thought up by its strength trainers who spend all their days thinking how best to torture athletes to get them stronger,” Ian Daly, a senior defender on the men’s soccer team, said. “When Dan [Kopsco] talked about the issue and talked about what they were raising money towards, it was clearly something he’d put a lot of thought and time into. … Something he’d seen a lot of is lack of representation in this field, … so I thought it was great that they were personally taking the initiative to try and make a change instead of pushing it to other people.”

The strength and conditioning staff raised money through donations as well as pledges. Student-athletes, coaches and staff were encouraged to drop by the weight room throughout the 24 hours to support, cheer, and pledge or donate. 

Common pledges included one cent donated per pull up, $1 per minute on the treadmill or a flat amount of money for completing the day of work. Bare even received an additional donation if he did all of his squats while wearing jean shorts, a flannel shirt and a beanie hat.

“I was in there from about midnight to 1 a.m., and they looked like they were in the worst condition I’ve ever seen anyone before,” Daly said. “But right when I walked in there, Dan got up and did one pull up. It took him about 15 minutes to do one pull up, but that’s what he was doing. For every person that walked through the door, he’d do one rep.”

After the excruciating 24 hours, Kopcso completed 2,200 pull ups, and O’Keefe ran 48 minutes of treadmill sprints at level 10 speed at a 10 degree incline, which is equivalent to running approximately eight miles at a six-minute mile pace. Bare did 115 squats at 405 lbs for two hours of the fundraiser. Through the day-long fundraiser, just over $10,000 was raised.

However, the success of this fundraiser cannot replace the physical and mental pain endured by Kopcso, O’Keefe and Bare throughout the day. 

“It was grueling at times to watch them warm up 15 minutes for five seconds of 10-10s or one pull up, but you could see how much it meant to them to fundraise this money and work towards an issue they care so deeply about,” Daly said. 

With the help of the Tufts community’s support, multiple t-shirts and pairs of shoes, as well as snacks and plenty of water and gatorade, they made it through. The strength trainers hope that this fundraiser will become an annual tradition for Tufts Athletics; however, the format may vary year to year.

Daly explained that it was motivating for the strength and conditioning staff to see the Tufts athletic community come together to cheer them on. 

“I think it was nice that so many people were going because it meant they fundraised more money, but also their moods lit up when they saw the student athletes come in,” Daly said. “As much as each team is a family with our coaches, the strength trainers are a part of every one of these teams’ families because they spend so much time with all of us.” 

The student-athletes, who were both working out alongside the coaches throughout the day as well as cheering them on, accounted for a large portion of the total amount fundraised.

“I think it was especially great that there were so many student-athletes behind this cause,” Daly said. “You could tell it was something that we cared equally about and was something that we also wanted to fix and maybe more than anything, we just like watching our coaches beat their [bodies] up for a day because they spend so much time beating our bodies up.”