JEN:Mia Erickson is joining us for today's Chat. Mia is a sports performance specialist with Mayo Clinic, and works with Century High School's student athletes, helping them develop strength, speed, and conditioning. We know Mia because our kids have been hitting the weight room with her all summer. I'm excited to talk about the program, Mia, but I'm interested in hearing about your background first.

MIA:I have a BS in exercise science, and a master's in applied kinesiology. I was a track and field athlete at the University of South Florida. I competed on the USA women's bobsled team for five years, and was a competitive Olympic weightlifter from 2007 to 2014.

MISSIE:Wait — hold on! Bobsled?!

MIA:I was a pilot on the USA team. It was an amazing experience.

MISSIE:How does a person even get into that? I'm sure a notice didn't come home in high school looking for members.

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MIA:The USBSF does a recruitment tour all over the U.S. and one of their stops was in Florida. They invited me up to camp and I passed the testing.

JEN:Where did you compete?

MIA:Germany, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Canada, et cetera. I was there during the winter months, so this Florida girl was thrown into the fire — or, rather, snow! I was not used to those types of temperatures. Trying to warm up to sprint when it's minus-20 degrees outside was brutal. Not a fan.

MISSIE:And now you live in Minnesota.

MIA:Yes. My husband Karl, a 2001 Century grad, is from Rochester. We met at the Olympic Training Center in San Diego during summer training. He was a shot put and discus thrower.

MISSIE:OMG. We are so old.

MIA:No, these kids make me feel old. "Throwback Thursday" is like the 2000s for them.

JEN:That's a great segue back to the topic at hand...

MISSIE:I don't know about your kids, Jen, but mine are loving Century's SAQ program.

JEN:Absolutely. Bergen loves being able to exercise with his friends, and I love that it gives the kids something healthy to do all summer. So that's the parents' perspective; I'm interested in your perspective, Mia.

MIA:The goal of sports performance training is to improve the athletes' mental and physical level of preparedness, increase their athletic potential, and minimize potential injury risks. One of the biggest things I want them to walk away with is confidence. Testing numbers are all well and good, but ultimately they have to be confident that they are ready to compete in whatever sport they choose.

MISSIE:Well you are definitely doing this right. One morning Maddie had such a tight schedule that I was trying to convince her to skip SAQ. She said, "No, this is really good for me."

MIA:Maddie is super motivated. There are those individuals who are not and who need more encouragement and external motivation. I look at it this way: They are here. There are many who are not, so we have already conquered one hurdle. If they are in the building and working out, it's one step closer to becoming a habit. I see that as progress.

MISSIE:There are specialists at each of the Rochester high schools. Is there an underground competition to see who can produce the strongest athletes?

MIA:There is a rivalry: Karl is the specialist at JM, and we are a house divided! It's JM vs. Century all day! Bragging rights are on the line. We have two other performance specialists, Ethan and Justin, at Mayo and Lourdes, who share the same friendly but competitive rivalry.

JEN:How many kids do you have in the program?

MIA:This summer at Century we had 355 athletes signed up for summer sports performance. With those types of numbers, I have to combine the younger and older athletes. Obviously they are in different developmental stages, but I try to encourage the athletes to do the best of their current ability. I don't expect perfection, but I do expect progress.

JEN:What's the best part of the job?

MIA:Seeing kids get excited about training and their improvements. Seeing the change in attitude from not feeling like they belong in the weight room to owning it and taking pride in their training. I really believe that Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine has an amazing opportunity to reach out to the community in a different way than what people expect when they hear Mayo Clinic. Every coach in each school is committed to the program and we want the kids to succeed, but also have fun in the process. If they enjoy it, they will continue. So whether or not they choose to continue in athletics after high school, hopefully we have given them some tools and a foundation to continue to build on an active and healthy lifestyle.