Exercise for Earth & The Environment: Swarthmore Student Athletes Take Action

In the four days leading up to Earth Day, a wave of Apple Watch fitness updates and post-workout selfies coursed through Swarthmore social media, a wide range of posts adorned with the label #E3GoGarnet. These posts were all in support  of the “Exercise for Earth and the Environment” event (E^3), organized by Garnet Go Green (G^3). An initiative emerging from the Swarthmore Athletic Department, G^3 formed to unify student athletes, coaches, and staff members in order to address and reduce the environmental impacts of the college’s athletic programs. From April 18, 2021 to April 22, 2021, E^3 (literally) mobilized the Swarthmore athletic community, urging student athletes and coaches to run, swim, bike, or hike outside. Through pledges for every mile of exercise, participants raised money for G^3 to purchase and plant trees in the Crum Woods and to fund future G^3 programming.

The E^3 event successfully encouraged 118 student athletes to spend time outdoors and restore the bond between body and nature — a relationship too often overlooked in the ongoing climate crisis. According to Karinna Papke ’22, communications director of G^3 and a player on the women’s basketball team, the coupling of exercise and the environment brought sustainability to the forefront of the athletic community’s awareness. 

“The climate crisis and the need to think and live more sustainably is something that we should all have on our minds,” she said. “I am hopeful that this event got student-athletes, even those who do not normally think about sustainability, more interested in the topic and more likely to engage in the future.”

Samantha Barnes ’22, a women’s soccer player and former President’s Sustainability Research Fellow, stated that she participated in the event “by going on runs on [her] own time and also contributed the exercise [she] did during team practices to [her] total mileage.” Barnes also commented on the value of the event’s linkage of student-athletes, exercise, and sustainability.

“Linking sustainability with student-athletes and exercise is extremely valuable because it proves that there is no limit to how sustainability efforts can be applied,” she stated. “That is partly why the mission of Garnet Go Green was realized — to promote and support environmental efforts in spaces that may usually ignore these practices or find it hard to participate in.”

Barnes continued to highlight the significance of E^3’s goal to plant native trees in the Crum Woods, localizing the participants’ efforts within the local ecosystem that surrounds and houses our community. 

“Obviously this is a small local effort, but it’s raising money to plant over 200 trees in the Crum Woods which is one of the last forested areas in the surrounding state. The Crum as an ecological system is really important to preserve and steward as it is responsible for equally supporting wildlife and other environmental factors directly related to Swarthmore as a community. With this in mind, fundraising for planting hundreds of trees is no small feat and should be celebrated because it directly impacts the health of our community,” she said. 

Through the joint focus on sustainability, the event provided the opportunity for the unification of the athletic community along an axis of action. Organized during a time when teammates and students are unprecedentedly isolated, E^3 provided an occasion for Swarthmore community members to stay physically active with others. For Christopher Folk ’23, a member of the men’s track and field team, the effects of COVID-19 detached exercise from the communal aspects of team membership. The event, however, prompted him and other student-athletes to feel connected to the athletic community once again.

“Exercising on one’s own can be incredibly challenging and demoralizing, especially if one is used to having a team environment.” Folk said. “This event, from my brief look at social media, looks to have reinvigorated a lot of people, and got them running with friends. In my personal experience, Minh, a few other people from our friend group, and I have started running together every day. It’s felt really good to be together exercising and it makes it so much more pleasurable and enjoyable.”

The community-building aspects of E^3 encouraged Papke as well. 

“I am extremely excited by the response we have received from both the athletics department and the larger community,” she stated. “Student athletes have done a great job not only engaging with us, but also sharing their engagement and enthusiasm with others. This makes me really hopeful about future sustainability projects within the department.”

According to Papke, this event is just one amongst a number of future programs and initiatives intended to mobilize the Swarthmore athletic community around the issues of sustainability and  climate change.

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