Working out isn't routine<br>for MU football player Tommy Saunders

Friday, October 26, 2007 | 2:15 a.m. CDT; updated 6:53 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Most people would be winding their days down at 11 p.m.

That’s not the case for Tommy Saunders.

After a physical, full-contact practice earlier in the day, Saunders walks into the Pump Room on the lower level of the Mizzou Rec Center. There are other patrons in there doing their own workouts at their own pace.

But when it comes to his own, Saunders goes the unconventional route. Going from one machine to another in about the amount of time most would use to take a little breather, Saunders wastes little time between lifts.

The program is one that Saunders developed himself with input from team strength coaches, emphasizing burning fat but maintaining muscle. At first glance, it seems as though his routine merely benefits the body and betters his play on the field.

However, it does just as good a job of strengthening the mind and the soul.

Saunders starts the night over at the pull up bar with his lime green iPod in tow. Selections range from “slow jams” to Kanye West to Kansas City native Tech N9ne.

On this day, Saunders is focusing on his upper body and abdominal muscles—areas he addresses equally during his stop. Quick repetitions of pull-ups with varying grips and leg lifts at different angles are on tap for this round. Surprisingly, Saunders wasn’t a workout guru until his junior year at Kearney High School, 25 minutes north of Kansas City. It was then, with the urging of his football coach, Mark Thomas, that Saunders developed his strong weight-room preparation.

“We had just won the state championship, and he was the guy that got me into it and kind of helped me out with the drive to do it,” Saunders said.

Saunders finishes his first go-around the weight room by running suicide drills on a nearby basketball court. At a comfortable pace from the nearby baseline, he touches the foul line, the half-court line, the opposite foul line and the opposite base line — all the while still going back to touch the line from which he started.

With hands on his hips, he stops for a well-deserved first break from the exertion.

A break from his own personal starting point, though, has him working with a bit of a heavy heart.

* * *

There is focus in Saunders’ eyes as he gets back to the workout with a pair of weights at a nearby incline bench. But you can’t blame him if his thoughts are elsewhere.

Saunders is 24 hours removed from being back home in Kearney where his grandfather, Rich Weber, is in his own struggle. Weber was diagnosed with lung cancer two months ago, and Saunders said it has spread to his spine and lymph nodes. Saunders made the two-hour trip on Interstate 70 to see how he was doing after chemotherapy.

With so much of his focus aimed at football and school, Saunders explained that his family sometimes will not give him all the details, trying to keep his mind on other subjects.

It doesn’t always work.

“My mom and grandma try and keep my mind off it, but it’s in God’s hands now,” Saunders said. “I’m just going to pray and hope it all works out.”

No one would blame Saunders if he wanted to take a day or two off to cope. But, at least with his training, Saunders can find something to distract him for a few moments.

With water bottle in hand, Saunders takes one of his allotted rest periods to compose himself for the next round of workouts. For now, family issues aren’t at the forefront of his thoughts.

“It (my workout) is something that takes my mind off of things for a while,” he said.

* * *

It’s half past the hour as Saunders starts his final push. After every bicep curl or a few abdominal crunches, Saunders shifts in one swoop to a push-up position where he continues to work toward his goal of 100,000 for the year.

With Saunders, it doesn’t seem like work. It’s a goal or a habit that he has to satisfy.

To Saunders, this is structure.

Take for example, his many ventures to Chipotle restaurant on Ninth Street, where the chicken quesadillas are his dish of choice. An admittedly picky eater, he sees Chipotle as the healthiest thing he can get on campus.

“If I like something, I will usually stick with it,” he said.

At 11:42, Saunders finishes his final curl. After refilling his water bottle, Saunders puts on a pullover and heads out into night.

He’ll tone down the ferocity of his workouts as game day nears but most likely won’t skip out on the weight room altogether.

Coaches have warned him of overtraining. Maybe he should slow down a bit.

But Saunders shrugs that off with a smile.

“There’s no such thing as overtraining,” he said.

In his case, probably not.

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