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The BG News
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November 30, 2023

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Ohio State wide receiver camps out to get edge on opponents

COLUMBUS – Anthony Gonzalez sleeps in a tent. The Ohio State junior wide receiver also studies in his tent, plays Xbox in his tent and writes e-mails from his laptop in his tent.

“It’s very difficult to explain to people that you sleep in a tent,” said Gonzalez, 21. But the St. Ignatius High School grad believes his sleeping arrangement will give the No. 1-ranked Buckeyes a minuscule edge in their pursuit of an other national championship.

What Gonzalez calls home is a hypoxic altitude simulation training system, a 6-by-6-by-8-foot plastic chamber that he places over his bed. A device that looks like a humidifier sucks air from the tent and removes oxygen until Gonzalez feels as if he’s living at an altitude of 8,000 feet. With the percentage of oxygen reduced from 20.9 to 13, the rarefied air is pumped through a plastic hose and back into the tent, which Gonzalez climbs in and zips shut.

The contraption is part of a “train low, rest high” method that endurance athletes such as cyclist Lance Armstrong have embraced for a decade.

The idea is to increase the number of red blood cells through prolonged exposure to simulated altitude. That improves the body’s ability to carry oxygen, which increases endurance and shortens recovery time.

Then, by training at sea level, an athlete can work out longer and more intensely, getting the best of both heights. The altitude exposure typically takes three weeks to have any effect.

Last summer after consulting some skeptical doctors and talking with his parents, Gonzalez bought a system for $5,000 from Colorado Altitude Training.

He was told he was the first college football player to commit to a life in plastic.

For more than a year, he has spent 10 to 12 sleeping and waking hours each day in the tent. He says he feels fresher at the end of games and grows less tired over the course of the season. Last year, in the final minute of the regular season, Gonzalez sprinted downfield and jumped over a cornerback to haul in a 26-yard pass at the 4-yard line to set up the game-winning touchdown.

Yes, the tent beat Michigan.

Or at least Gonzalez feels that way.

“No one is going to sleep in this tent and come out and take on the world,” Gonzalez said, “but maybe it will make the little bit of difference that results in a successful play or game.”

This month, he brought it to the Columbus hotel where the Buckeyes are staying during preseason camp. He got permission from OSU coach Jim Tressel and even secured a larger corner room to accommodate it. Finally, he had to assure the hotel manager it won’t start a fire.

Does the tent really work?

“The evidence is much more anecdotal than it is scientific and empirical,” said Randy Wilbur, a senior sports physiologist at the U.S Olympic Training Center in Colorado. Some athletes, he said, might experience the “placebo effect,” actual benefit that results simply from believing that a technique or medication works.

But a spokesman for Colorado Altitude Training offered many studies that support the effectiveness of the tent.

“There are doubters for everything,” said marketing manager Rip Young, “but none of the studies have ever disagreed with the benefits.”

Gonzalez swears by it, and spread the word to former Buckeye teammate A.J. Hawk, now a rookie linebacker with the Green Bay Packers. Other clients listed on the company Web site include former NHL player Eric Desjardins, Olympic skier Bjorn Daehlie and Olympic swimmer Ed Moses.

Founded in 1997, the company has sold about 700 systems in the last nine years, Young said. Larger tents sell for $7,500 and the company also has simulated high-altitude environments in entire workout rooms. They cost $14,500 and eliminate the need for zipping.

“If you want to, you could cover the Superdome,” Young said.

That Gonzalez found his way into an athletic environment previously populated by Tour De France cyclists and triathletes isn’t a surprise.

He is a player who started an argument with the Buckeyes’ equipment manager after discovering the team’s face masks were 2.4 ounces heavier than a year ago. He worried the added weight could cost the receivers a millisecond while making a cut.

Since deciding he wanted to attend a top law school, he has dedicated himself to an academic plan that led to 4.0 grade-point averages in four of the last five academic quarters. He is in bed by 9 p.m. and up by 6 a.m.

Eric Lichter, who was hired this summer as Ohio State’s director of football performance, introduced Gonzalez to the tents while he was a trainer at Speed Strength Systems Inc. in Euclid, where Gonzalez and a dozen other Buckeyes worked out.

Gonzalez’s first nights in the tent didn’t go well, though. For four nights, he woke up with a headache and a bloody nose after disregarding the company’s recommendation to build up his altitude acceptance. He jacked it to 8,000 feet and hopped in.

Since then, Gonzalez said, he has felt better than ever, avoiding the colds that typically plagued him each winter, losing about 10 pounds off his midsection and eliminating his nagging hamstring strains.

Gonzalez finished last season with 28 catches for 373 yards, more than enough to secure his spot as Ohio State’s No. 2 receiver this season. But he noticed the greatest effects of the tent when he went without it for the hectic two weeks leading up to the Fiesta Bowl against Notre Dame.

“I was getting pretty tired in that game,” Gonzalez said, “and that was the first time I thought to myself, ‘This thing does make a difference.'”

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