Friday, March 27, 2020

“Life of a Student Athlete” presentation generates enthusiasm in the community

John Underwood
By Elizabeth Richards

Amid school cancellations, business closures, and messages about the pressing need for people to stay home and stay distant, it may seem strange to read about a large event held at Windham High School. But before the threat of COVID-19 caused such drastic measures, the Be the Influence Coalition brought John Underwood to the school for a presentation called “Life of a Student Athlete,” an event that was very well received in the community.

Underwood is the Director/Founder of Life of an Athlete/Pure Performance-Human Performance
Project.  He is a former running Olympian, a former coach of Navy Seals and Olympic athletes, among others, and a crusader for drug-free sports at all levels.  Underwood is internationally recognized as a human performance expert specializing in recovery, peaking training, and lifestyle impact on mental and physical performance.

BTI Director Laura Morris said that the kick-off of the spring sports season presented a great opportunity to bring a speaker with credibility who would be a draw to coaches, student athletes, families and the general community.’s presentation, she said, really exemplifies the impact of any substance – from sugar to
marijuana to alcohol to cocaine – on the brain.  “This is not an opinion piece, this is a science-based, proven, evidence-based theory,” Morris said.  “The underlying factor is that we all need to be far more conscientious about what we put in our body and how it affects us.”

Morris said they had approximately 130-150 people scattered throughout the gym, with a nice mixture of coaches, law enforcement, student athletes, and parents in attendance.

The information presented was quite impactful for many of those in attendance. “The scientific research is very rigorous with a number of universities and medical facilities participating,” said Dave Packhem, parent and prevention specialist. Underwood emphasized many aspects of how powerful the brain is, including the connection between brain and body; the critical importance of sleep; the process of learning; the impact of chemical substances on the brain, body and basic functioning; the cumulative effect of using substances and how the brain learns to become dependent on them; and the brain scans that demonstrate how drugs and alcohol damage the brain.“Mr. Underwood's presentation was incredible. It really opened my eyes on what it takes to be a great
athlete,” said Windham High School (WHS) senior Anthony J. Gugliuzza III. “Being in shape doesn’t just have to do with your physical capabilities. In order to compete at the highest level, you have to be willing to put in the time. You have to be willing to eat right and get sleep. Mr. Underwood didn’t just preach this, he showed us, providing us with statistics and real-life data.”

The brain scans comparing the brains of substance-free teens with those who have used substances were eye-opening for many. “These images were really cool because they highlighted the importance of staying chemical free, especially at such a critical point in our development,” stated Gugliuzza, who will be attending Endicott College next year to study pre-physical therapy.

The presentation has inspired him to change his personal habits, he added. “What he said, especially in regards to diet, exercise and sleep, stuck with me. I have already started practicing better training habits, and look to continue these in the future, so that I can compete to the best of my abilities.”
Town Councilor Dave Nadeau said the way Underwood tied everything together was outstanding. “His presentation was so complete and thorough. That’s what the key to the whole thing was,”
Nadeau said. When he spoke about the impact of various substances on the brain, “You could see the downhill curve of the loss of what you had trained for,” Nadeau said.

The presentation didn’t just focus on drugs or alcohol, making it even more comprehensive.  Underwood also focused on personal development. “The way he talked to you about the way you can develop and constantly get better, either as a coach or an athlete – he just sewed it all together,” Nadeau said.  “It was impressive.” The impact that this presentation can have in the community is huge.  “It’s important to the community to counter the messages about alcohol and cannabis with scientific facts, Packhem said.
“Too many people think these substances are benign. They are not. I hope we see a movement building to educate us to the real dangers for putting chemical substances in our brains.”

WHS assistant principal Phil Rossetti agreed. “It’s so important to have experts in the field in to speak to our community. It helps reaffirm the message and information that we are sharing with our youth. There are so many messages out there that confuse folks and make it seem like a substance is healthy for you, but in reality, it’s harmful.”

“I truly believe Mr. Underwood's presentation will have a lasting impact on the community. The way in which he was able to speak to us and our parents was truly inspiring, especially given all that he has accomplished,” Gugliuzza said.  “There are a lot of kids who aspire to be athletes growing up, and I think this will hit home. I think his message will not only impact the future generation but will resonate with parents throughout the community."“If it helps one person make a healthier choice/decision then it was worth it. Our hope is that by
continuing to share information with the community we can be the influence,” Rossetti said.
“As a coach and educator, I/we encourage students to make healthy choices and to be prepared.

Preparation for learning is equally as important as preparation for an athletic event. This element often gets overlooked by many. The impact some “little things” like sleep have on us is unbelievable. The true way for us to see this impact is through science. It’s hard to argue the brain activity demonstrated in the brain scans when a substance has been inserted,” he added.

It’s critically important to provide this kind of information to youth, Morris said, especially since everywhere they turn, they are receiving messages that many substances are no big deal.  “It is a big deal, and it will have very negative repercussions for your future. If we can get someone like John Underwood, it really helps that credibility,” Morris said. “Youth are very undereducated, as are adults. We really hoped that parents would get the message too, and that’s why we tried to make it a community event,” she said.

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