High Altitude Performance Lab stresses bodies, education and community outreach

Students measure athlete in HAP lab
The High Altitude Performance (HAP) Lab at Western State Colorado University serves as a hub for education, research and community outreach.

Western’s state-of-the-art HAP Lab draws on the Gunnison Valley’s unique environment and offers an opportunity for undergraduates, faculty, Gunnison community members and graduate students to work together.

During the field house’s 2014 construction, the HAP Lab received a huge makeover and the renovated space now serves more functions than ever. It’s the center of a community health and wellness program and the High Altitude Exercise and Physiology (HAEP) graduate program. Additionally, Exercise and Sports Science (ESS) undergraduates begin working in the lab alongside their professors as early as their freshmen year.

The HAP Lab epitomizes Western’s combination of education and environment. Along with easy access to recreational activities such as mountain biking, skiing and trail running, Gunnison sits at 7,700 feet, presenting unique research opportunities.

“Being in such an active community and dynamic environment gives a lot of meaning to what we are learning,” said Cam Smith, a junior in the ESS program.

Because class sizes are small at Western, undergraduate curriculums can incorporate research in ways that aren’t possible at larger universities, and ESS professors aren’t drawn away from teaching to conduct research. Professor and Director of the Center for Wellness and Human Performance, Lance Dalleck, stresses the significance of this set up.

“Teaching and research are not separate,” Dalleck said. “Research generates new knowledge and the highest form of learning is creating new skills … students can actually practice skills for their future careers in the HAP Lab every day.”

In addition to offering a hands-on undergraduate experience, the HAP Lab draws in all kinds of community members. Since the Gunnison Valley is home to many elite athletes in addition to Western’s Mountain Sports and NCAA teams, graduate students have an abundance of subjects to work with for their research.

Graduate student, Sam Van de Velde, points to this benefit, but says he wants to see more.

“I hope to see more outreach to elite athletes on campus and in the community for performance testing,” Van de Velde said.

“It would be an excellent opportunity to help each other out, where students can get even more lab experience and athletes will have access to better training resources,” he added.

In addition to top athletes, the HAP Lab draws in community members in need of medically supervised exercise as part of the Wellness, Elevated program. Professor and HAP Lab Manager Angie Dalleck, leads the effort. The program matches senior ESS majors with two to three clients each, and provides the clients with professional, affordable personal training and physical therapy as prescribed by local physicians.

Both parties benefit. Without the Wellness, Elevated program, many of these clients would be forced to travel to Montrose for care. Meanwhile, students earn actual experience working with clients.

“[The students] are predominantly working independently… I’m not looking over their shoulders all the time,” Dalleck said.

“It is often challenging because clients have different needs and personalities,” she added. “Everyone meets up every few weeks to discuss and share their experiences.”

The HAP Lab is a vital component of Western’s connection to the Gunnison community, and its use and popularity continues to grow. Both Lance and Dalleck are excited about the increase in lab use, but still want to see it become a more predominant campus resource.

“We want to help students be as healthy and productive as possible,” he said.

Story by Peter Noon.

Photos by Grace Flynn.

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Date: 
Thursday, November 3, 2016 - 12:00pm