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Iron Works

Lady vaulter

For an athlete, game time is the easy part. The tough part is the months of hard work in sweaty workout shirts and shorts, lifting and pumping iron to become stronger, faster and better.


There is perhaps no place on campus where the power of transformation is more obvious to the naked eye than the weight room.


Three UNF athletes, baseball player Preston Hale, pole-vaulter Anne DelBovo and basketball player Brittany Kirkland, are intimately familiar with the hard work. They don’t mind it at all. On the contrary, they embrace it because their efforts in the weight room have helped them improve to the level of all-star status in their particular sports.


Hale, DelBovo and Kirkland work out regularly under the guidance of Joe Collins, UNF director of strength and conditioning. They lift weights in the 4,000-square-foot “Iron Works,” UNF Athletics’ strength and conditioning facility housed in the Wilkins Family Center in Hodges Stadium. Athletes work out during the regular season and in the summer.


Longtime UNF Athletics supporters John Hayt and Tony Weight were the lead donors in raising the $175,000 to construct the facility. Other donors were Gerry Hurst, Howard Hodor, Bob Goin and Dave Polovina.


Hale, a senior criminal justice major and a right fielder on the baseball team, loves to lift. He calls it a passion. At 5-feet, 10-inches and a well-chiseled 195 pounds, Hale puts in nine hours a week spread over six days during his summer weightlifting sessions at the Wilkins Family Center. His workouts start at 7 a.m. The lifting and hard work is paying off. Hale is so strong his muscles have muscles.


The sandy-haired senior from Lakeland led the team in batting with a .371 mark, smacked a team-high 10 home runs and drove in 43 runs in 53 games. Hale was named to the Atlantic Sun All Conference Baseball second team. He’s been on the Atlantic Sun Conference All-Academic team three consecutive years.


Despite the success on the ball field, Hale doesn’t take anything for granted. Shortly after doing a set of five squat-lifts with 305 pounds draped across his shoulders, Hale toweled his face off and offered a revealing glimpse into his workout philosophy. “When I go to sleep, I want to know I’ve outworked everybody else who wants to take my position.”


Baseball coach Dusty Rhodes has nothing but good things to say about Hale and his work ethic. “A lot of hard work has made him the player he is,” Rhodes said. “He takes advantage of everything we have, and it’s worked out great for him. He has made himself a better player.”


Asked for two words to describe Hale, Collins came up with: “tenacious and perseverance.” “He’s like a [soldier]. He just works and doesn’t ask a lot of questions. He just does what you tell him,” Collins said.


Collins, 42, graduated in 1993 from the University of Cincinnati, where he was a center on the football team. He writes the workout plans for all the athletes. “They gain confidence knowing the workout session is harder than the game. I try to make my sessions harder than any game they will compete in,” he said.


DelBovo, a senior nursing student who also happens to be from Lakeland, is a pole-vaulter on the track team. She also is a long-jumper and runs the lead leg of the 4x100-meter relay. This past season DelBovo was a member of the Atlantic Sun All Conference first-team pole-vaulter in both indoor and outdoor competition.


DelBovo, at 5-feet, 6-inches and “130ish,” manages to squeeze in 90-minute workouts four days a week at the Wilkins Family Center despite working two jobs during the summer – one 35 hours a week, the other 15 hours a week. She’s a home health aide and works part-time at a running-equipment store.


“When she first came here she was a skinny, little girl,” Collins said, recalling DelBovo’s freshman year at UNF. He admitted to thinking that she would never really make it as an athlete.


Collins happily admits to being wrong. He speaks proudly about how DelBovo has worked to succeed in her sport. “She just kind of blossomed and physically transformed herself. Anne always works hard. She’s gone from being a little girl to being an athlete,” Collins said.


Track Coach Mark VanAlstyne has also watched DelBovo hone her athletic skills. “Anne is a phenomenal young lady who was always a good athlete but through hard work and dedication in the weight room is transforming herself into a great athlete,” VanAlstyne said.


DelBovo has a simple formula for her success. “Working there [the Wilkins Family Center weight room] has made me more confident. Having more strength equates to speed, and speed is everything if you want to get on bigger poles and go higher,” she said.


Kirkland, a sophomore community health major from Monroe, Ga., was the starting point guard on the basketball team last season. Kirkland led the Ospreys in scoring, and was second in scoring in the Atlantic Sun Conference, averaging 11.1 points a game. She also was a member of the Atlantic Sun Conference All-Freshman team.


Despite the accolades and honors, Kirkland, at five-feet, 7-inches and 143 pounds, is working in the weight room this summer to get stronger so she doesn’t, in her words, “get knocked down driving to the hole.”


“Brittany came here [to UNF] with a better skill set,” Collins said. “What she did in the weight room was take that skill set to another level.” Collins describes Kirkland as tireless.


Kirkland has matured into a powerful young athlete. When Kirkland goes home to Monroe, her grandmother asks to take a look at her. “My grandma asks me to turn around and do a spin, right quick,” Kirkland said. “She smiles and laughs because I used to be a little skinny stick in my teens.”


Basketball coach Mary Tappmeyer is pleased with how her prized freshman is developing. “Since she has been in the program, I have seen an improvement in her leg strength, which will make even more explosive and improved her endurance,” Tappmeyer said.


Collins, in his low, no-nonsense voice, perhaps added the perfect footnote to this story while in the middle of a workout in the weight room early one weekday morning.


 “I enjoy all of it; doing workouts, planning workouts; implementing workouts. It’s all about effort. If they’re stronger and more confident, they play more aggressively and can impose their will. It’s the mental aspect of it – you feel strong. You can beat people with your mentality because you are mentally tough.”


And then he was off to work with a young athlete on a lifting technique. The athlete wore a T-shirt with “The Iron Works” emblazoned across the chest. Collins calls the strength and conditioning facility “The Iron Works” because it suggests an attitude of hard work and toughness. Hard work and the donors’ gifts that built the facility give UNF athletes the power they need to compete and win at the Division I level.


UNF’s athletes “gain confidence knowing the workout session is harder than the game,” Collins said. “I try to make my sessions harder than any game they will compete in.”