Yogi in uniform: Wisconsin's Fumagalli relies on Yoga as means to improve play

No Badger has more than three receiving touchdowns this season. 

Image By: Brandon Moe

On any given Sunday night, it’s likely you’ll see senior tight end Troy Fumagalli walking down the streets of Madison with a yoga mat, heading to a yin class. Although almost all of the Wisconsin faithful recognize Fumagalli on the field as Alex Hornibrook’s go-to receiver, most wouldn’t recognize him with his yoga mat as someone with a passion for practicing yoga.

“I’ve been practicing yoga since I got to campus [as a freshman],” Fumagalli said. “I’ve been so stiff and focused on weight lifting, things like that. I started to really understand when I got here that flexibility and mindfulness are really important too.”

Practicing yoga has allowed Fumagalli to become more in touch with his body and understand how flexibility impacts his game. Local instructor Bekah Gant, who does not work with Fumagalli, still understands the benefits of lower impact yoga, such as yin, for football players.

“Football players get a bit more mind-body awareness,” Gant said. “They’re doing a lot of that on the field where they’re moving pretty quickly, but we’re adding a bit of stability — like here’s what it feels like to be in your body. With a slower paced practice, you’re working into muscle groups that you probably don’t access as much on the field.”

Fumagalli agrees, stating that the benefits of yoga have impacted his performance, helping him develop into a more healthy, versatile player.

“It’s really helped me out,” the tight end said. “First of all, staying healthy, I think that’s the biggest thing. Being flexible and limber and being able to move well. I’ve really seen myself grow in my flexibility and balance too.”

That flexibility and balance has been on full display, as the 6-foot-6, 248-pound Fumagalli has become a matchup nightmare for defensive coordinators around the country due to his ability to run routes and make catches that many smaller players simply can’t.

Brady Greco, a former professional athlete who now teaches yoga at multiple studios in the area, has seen firsthand how Fumagalli’s dedication to yoga has helped him to improve his game.

“It’s really helped [Fumagalli] with the mental aspect of things,” Greco said. “He’s putting together the three biggest pieces, the mind-body-breath connection, and is becoming more aware of how his own body works. This practice allows Troy to become a little more flexible and helps with his presence of mind.”

Fumagalli is not the only Wisconsin athlete who has bought into the benefits of yoga. Redshirt senior golfer Aya Johnson says her whole team practices yoga once or twice a week in season and two-to-four times a week during the offseason.

“The biggest benefit of yoga for golf is probably the balance, core work, stretching and the mental benefits,” Johnson said. “It’s almost a sort of meditation when we go to yoga because in order to do the poses, you have to have a lot of focus, similar to when we’re on the golf course.”

Gant says that Johnson’s golf team is not the only team she sees in her studio to reap the benefits of yoga.

“We have quite a few athletes come into [our studio], we have whole teams come in for strength and conditioning that they wouldn’t normally get in their sport,” Gant said. “I’ve seen the golf, tennis and volleyball teams all come in recently.”

Fumagalli thinks seeing other athletes in the studio is a huge positive and wants to spread the word about how beneficial it is.

“I would definitely recommend [practicing yoga] to other athletes. I think it would do wonders for them,” Fumagalli said. “I actually got [Matt Miller, a quality control coach at UW] into it and I usually go to classes with him.”

Fumagalli stated that yoga allowed him to be less singularly focused. Getting his mind to focus on something besides solely football was a big part of why he continues to attend yoga classes.

“When you leave that class you’re calm,” Fumagalli said. “The mindfulness and peacefulness is great.”

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