NYU athletes needed a place to call home and Hyperice stepped up to help. Here’s how the two came together to create the Champions’ Den.
Stuart Robinson took the reins as athletic director at New York University in July 2020. The Violets did not compete in a single varsity athletic contest for the next 13 months.
That’s not an indictment of Robinson; it’s just the reality that he took the job at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and NYU, which competes in the NCAA’s Division III, felt it prudent not to participate in athletics for the 2020-21 school year.
That didn’t mean Robinson could kick back and coast for his first year-plus on the job, however. While the university navigated a calendar brimming with uncertainty, Robinson listened – to his colleagues, student-athletes, and the outside world.
“At that time, the real continuing buzz around our department was about mental health and wellness,” the athletic director told Boardroom. “And as a result of that conversation, we started talking about ways to explore how can we do something. How can we improve things in that particular area?”
At that time, Thomas Pritchard, a member of the swim team and then-athletic department intern, began doing some research. He talked to athletic department officials at other universities, including Michigan and Harvard, and eventually stumbled on athletic wellness brand Hyperice.
After some initial calls, it became clear to Robinson that any partnership with the brand would be truly collaborative – not transactional.
What followed was a series of events that culminated this year with NYU’s Division III athletes receiving a dedicated recovery room to call their own. Hyperice outfitted the new facility with its recovery products and a complimentary membership for Core, the brand’s meditation trainer. At a level of competition in which athletes are not signing six-figure NIL deals and showing up on campus with new cars, that Core membership is what college sports’ name, image, and likeness era can look like beyond the headlines.
Hyperice: Building An NYU Community
Talking to student-athletes at NYU, it becomes clear that the NYU “Champions’ Den,” located at the school’s Palladium Athletic Facility in Greenwich Village, isn’t necessarily all about its Hyperice products themselves. Rather, it’s simply that the athletes have somewhere to go that they call truly their own.
Student-athletes at a rigorous academic institution that aspires to compete at the top of Division III find themselves under immense pressure. Exacerbating this at NYU is the lack of a true campus (though you could be fooled by walking through Washington Square Park in Manhattan’s West Village at midday while school is in session). It makes it difficult for students to create a sense of community; yes, athletes have a leg up there because they spend so much time with their teammates, but beyond that, it’s tough to find that coherence.
What exacerbates this further is that for most of the past decade, the Violets haven’t had a real home facility. Its basketball, wrestling, and volleyball teams have bounced around local gyms after their previous home was demolished in favor of a shiny new building slated to open in the fall.
As senior men’s volleyball player Guatham Dasari pointed out, the Champions’ Den has allowed him to connect with many more of his fellow athletes — hundreds more, in fact. Now, instead of just walking by them on his way to the NYU gym, he can sit in a room with them and talk while he makes use of Hyperice’s performance and recovery offerings.
“I used to run into these kids when I’m walking through the facility,” he explained. “I never had a conversation with them, so we’ll be sitting in that room and I’m like, ‘hey, I know you, what’s your name?’”
Dasari isn’t the only one. Senior women’s soccer player Gabriella Funk has enjoyed getting to know athletes on other teams — ones who play a different sport but share the same types of experiences.
“It builds a bit more of a community,” she said. “I’m meeting people that I didn’t even know were on teams, especially during the spring when I’m out of season and tennis or baseball or whoever is in season and they are using it a little bit more.”
Of course, it would be impossible to build that sense of community if the products inside weren’t key to athletes’ recovery. The NYU Champions’ Den offers a full suite of Hyperice products; walk in on a given day and you might see a baseball player wearing a tension-relieving arm sleeve, a soccer player massaging their legs, or a basketball player working on their back.
It’s all there, no trainer necessary. Students control the room as the ones who know their bodies best, and that’s why there’s almost always someone around.
“The biggest reason I use it so much now is because for the past three years, I didn’t have something like this,” Dasari said. “Once I graduate, who knows when I’m ever gonna get access to that kind of recovery equipment?”
Keeping Mental Health at the Core
Sarah McDevitt is 15 years removed from being an NYU student-athlete. She played for the women’s basketball team from 2005-09 and was a key reserve on the Violets’ 2007 Final Four team.
When she reflects back on her time at NYU, however, she can’t help but think that her team did not get her very best. It’s something she didn’t realize until she was already in her 20s and working for Microsoft.
“I experienced anxiety,” she said. “For the first time, I recognized it and it really sidelined me for a little bit, and I reflected back to realize all the times that a mental state or a mindset had held me back from my potential I knew I had, especially as a student-athlete.”
She said it gave her a sense of sympathy for those who have to battle “your mind vs. your mind.” It was at that point that McDevitt thought to create a product that could help athletes train their minds similar to how they would train their bodies.
What she landed on ultimately became Core, a hand-held meditation device that could not only guide you through a session, but track your progress through a corresponding mobile app. Users can then measure their heart rates and breathing patterns to ensure they are getting the most out of the product.
McDevitt launched Core in 2020 before Hyperice acquired it in 2021. It was sheer coincidence that around this time, Hyperice was also talking to an athletic department in New York that was looking to help its students recover physically and mentally from the rigors of the season.
“When we first started talking to [McDevitt], it was about imagining the possibilities of collaboration and what that could be,” Robinson said. “She understands the environment that we are.”
A Day in the Den
A volleyball player like Dasari will have different uses for the Champions’ Den than, say, a soccer player. While Dasari gravitates toward the arm attachments, Funk finds herself using the Hyperice boots when she’s in the room.
It’s a major step up from the days before the Den when she and her teammates would have to fight over the limited recovery equipment the school had available. That was particularly bad on road trips, as they would travel with the men’s team, doubling the number of athletes looking to use the same equipment.
“It was literally a fight over who could use the boots and for what time,” she said of the ever-popular air compression devices. “That’s one of the things we use the most in women’s soccer.”
As for Core, Funk admits that she and her teammates haven’t taken full advantage of all that’s available quite yet. However, with some product education, she feels like it could be a significant asset.
“I like to meditate, so I would probably use it,” she said.
McDevitt remains steadfast that Core can be an invaluable tool to a D-III athlete. She described how mental health concepts are often intangible, but by adding in-app data, they can become skills. Athletes can track their progress and development just as they would with on-field metrics.
And really, that’s what the Champions’ Den is there for – to turn recovery, be it physical or mental, into a skill that one can develop throughout a collegiate career and beyond.
“[Athletes] learning to self-regulate has been invaluable,” Robinson said. “Being at an institution like NYU and to perform at a high level and have those high standards could test or even break some people, and our students do an amazing job by persevering and keeping their eye on their specific goals and making it work.”
Headed into 2023-24, the Champions’ Den experience will change a little for NYU athletes. The original Palladium location is staying put, but the university is on the verge of opening the $1.2 billion John A. Paulson Center – a 735,000 square-foot building that holds everything from athletic facilities to classroom space and dorm rooms.
Expect a second Hyperice Champions’ Den there, and just as importantly, another place for NYU athletes to feel authentically at home.
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