Walking through the interior of the Santora Elite Training Center, Kathleen Santora abruptly comes to a stop at the front desk. Pointing out the newly installed backlit UCI logo, she marvels with excitement at the newly installed decoration.
“I was looking for a wow factor and that right there is a wow factor,” beams Santora.
As the donors of a million dollar gift to UC Irvine’s Department of Intercollegiate Athletics, Kathleen and her husband Mark Santora were on hand to be honored at the Center’s grand opening ceremony last week.
The parents of UCI alumni and former captain of the men’s soccer team Kevin Santora, the Santoras soon fostered a relationship with the coaches. After witnessing the success of George Kluntz’s 2008 squad that gave the program its first NCAA Tournament appearance, the Santoras were motivated to give back to the program.
“We were inspired by Kevin and his teammates and how they worked so hard on the field, and inspired their fans … [When they] entered the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school’s history and went all the way to the sweet 16 we felt like we wanted to give back,” said Kathleen Santora.
Initially intending to upgrade Anteater Stadium, the Santoras soon realized there was a greater need for their efforts elsewhere.
“We were shown [the current] weight room and we were inspired that if we worked on a performance center as opposed to the stadium, we could affect every student-athlete at UC Irvine as opposed to just the soccer teams.”
Acclimating themselves with the campus facilities through tours and coming away particularly impressed by the Anteater Recreation Center (ARC), the Santoras felt compelled to provide their son and fellow student-athletes with a facility that could offer as much as other spaces on campus.
“When we compared [the ARC] to what the scholar-athletes had to work out and get ready for playing with, it just didn’t compare,” said Mark Santora.
Before the SET Center opened the fall of 2013, UC Irvine’s Division I student-athletes had to make do with an overcrowded weight room that comprised a total of 3,700 square feet and held a maximum capacity of only 30 student-athletes. Additionally, the only pieces of workout equipment Anteaters had at their disposal were free weights.
After several renovations and expansions made possible by the Santoras, the western wing of Crawford Hall now houses a state of the art training center dedicated to helping each individual achieve their maximum potential.
Regarding space, the SET Center is much more accommodating, as it encompasses a total of 8,500 square feet and can simultaneously hold a total of 350 student-athletes at any given time.
Anteaters now possess greater flexibility in their training regimes, as they have access to advanced cardiovascular equipment, exercise machines and incline ramps in addition to free weights.
To further ensure maximum performance, a multitude of programs such as resistance training, speed development, conditioning and flexibility workouts are also made readily available to UC Irvine’s athletes. Lastly, injured student-athletes are provided with access to non-impact exercise machines to help expedite their rehabilitation process in a careful but effective manner.
Asides from helping student-athletes achieve competitive success, the Santoras harbor hopes that the fruits of their donation can play a role in fulfilling two other pivotal roles. To advance exercise and sports medicine research, the SET Center is also being utilized as a working laboratory for the sake of improving the performance and safety of student athletes. Secondly, the Santoras hope that their generosity will inspire other schools and donors to step up and make a difference in the lives of their own student athletes.
“Throughout this whole process we’ve had a little saying that’s [motivated us] and that is to inspire our student-athletes to be champions on and off the field,” said Kathleen Santora.