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Fort Lewis’ Health and Human Performance Center is powering future Olympians

Schlessman Family Hall has helped numerous successful Durango cyclists
Professional mountain biker Riley Amos trains in Schlessman Hall, the new Health and Human Performance Center, before his World Cup wins in Brazil. (Keiran Eagen/Special to the Herald)

Durango is a hotbed for producing Olympic cycling, mountain biking and off-road racing talent.

While there are plenty of incredible trails and roads to ride on at elevation, many top riders around town have visited Fort Lewis College’s Health and Human Performance Center to work with Rotem Ishay to push their riding to the next level.

Ishay is the lab coordinator at the Human Performance Lab and the exercise specialist at Durango Performance Center. He first arrived in Durango in 2008 to attend FLC and join the prestigious FLC cycling team.

“As soon as I got to FLC, I fell in love with exercise physiology and I went to school in the same department,” Ishay said. “It used to be called Exercise Science. Now it's called Health and Human Performance.”

Ishay graduated from FLC in 2012. Thanks to internships and research he did at FLC, he was able to get a job under Doctor Bruce Andrea at the Durango Performance Center while he was racing mountain bikes professionally.

Ishay has worked at FLC since 2016. A year or two before COVID-19 hit, the project of remodeling and re-purposing the Health and Human Performance Department into a new building began.

The new building was a big necessity for FLC because that department is one of the biggest on campus in terms of enrollment and was one of the fastest growing, according to Ishay.

At the time, the facilities were very minimal and an old dance studio was converted into a sports lab, combining a biomechanics lab, nutrition lab, physiology lab and adapted exercise lab into one space.

Therefore, FLC got in a queue to receive funding from the state of Colorado to help with the project. When the pandemic arrived, Ishay and FLC thought they lost their chance. Luckily, FLC moved up the queue and eventually got $30 million in state funding.

Ishay said former FLC President Tom Stritikus and the FLC Foundation “did an amazing job of getting substantial donors to make the big remodel.”

“It's important for me to say big thanks for the Schlessman Foundation. The Schlessman family is really tied in with Fort Lewis and they provided a lot of the funds as well,” Ishay said.

The work on the space began during COVID-19. The 42,000-square-foot Schlessman Family Hall partially opened in April 2023 after two years of construction. The building cost $33 million. After $30 million of state funding, $3.3 million came from donors, $2 million of which came from the Schlessman Foundation.

Ishay and his co-workers started working in Schlessman Family Hall in the fall semester of last year.

Some of the highlights of Schlessman Family Hall are a dedicated biomechanics lab with force plates, a biomechanical device that measures forces applied to it.

The biomechanics lab also has motion capture cameras, which can analyze movements like a golf swing, someone running or sprinting.

Schlessman Family Hall is also home to a nutrition lab with an industrial-grade kitchen. It helps the nutrition majors and helps students get hands-on experience preparing their own food and learning about food from different cultures.

There’s also an exercise lab that can be used as a basketball court or be transformed for other uses.

Inside Schlessman Hall is the Durango Performance Center. The Durango Performance Center may have the star of the show in the altitude simulation chamber.

The altitude simulation chamber was made possible with the help of a separate grant, according to Ishay. It can simulate altitude from sea level to 25,000 feet.

“For us, it's more interesting because our students, our athletes and the community that we test as well, they all live and most of them are adapted to altitude,” Ishay said. “So, it's more the question of how it would be different if they were at sea level and we're all familiar with it to some degree. If you lived in altitude long enough, you go to Phoenix or sea level and you feel amazing if you’re there for a few days or even a week or two. Then it goes away and then you need to readjust back to altitude.”

Ishay’s racing experience at different altitudes and undergraduate research have helped him train some of the best local riders using the altitude simulation chamber.

Riley Amos is almost certain to represent the United States in Paris this summer at the Olympics in mountain biking. Other athletes like Quinn Simmons, Payson McElveen, Sara Sturm, Todd Wells and Howard Grotts have worked with Ishay.

Amos trained with Ishay before his World Cup wins in Brazil in April. Since Brazil is at a lower altitude and is hot and humid, Amos trained in the altitude simulation chamber with the chamber at sea level and the humidifier and heat turned up.

Riley Amos trains inside the altitude simulation chamber inside the Durango Performance Lab. (Keiran Eagen/Special to the Herald)

It was important for Amos to acclimate to the lower altitude. Since Amos’ muscles were used to elevation, the muscles can work harder with all the oxygen. But this can be overwhelming for the muscles with all the oxygen available at lower altitudes in places like Brazil, according to Ishay.

“Having the Durango Performance Lab to be able to simulate that when I'm home for long periods of time and to, like, keep those muscles familiar with that type of an effort is huge,” Amos said. “If we're going to Brazil for the first two World Cups where we know it's going to be really hot, really humid and we're coming off a pretty cold, long winter, it allows us to simulate that climate we're going to effectively. This makes the transfer when we get there less severe because it is a big change for us.”

Amos said he has been working with Ishay for a few years. He enjoys Ishay’s scientific approach and his sense of humor. Amos said Ishay provides a clear perspective from Ishay’s research and his background as a racer.

“I had some of the best races of my life (in) Brazil and won four World Cups in a row,” Amos said. “So, it's pretty unreal results and I think a huge part of that has to do with the resources we have through him and FLC cycling.”


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