PE, theology teacher and health instructor develop rosary-themed workout for Shamrock athletes

NOVI — Get a tight grip on the handle, straight back, breathe, lift with the legs, lock the knees, and…

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee…

Friday mornings in the Detroit Catholic Central High School weight room are unlike any other.

Every Friday morning, anywhere from 20 to 40 students, along with teachers and members of the surrounding community, meet at the Novi campus for the Rosary Workout, a physical and spiritual exercise that promotes strong bodies and an even stronger devotion to the Blessed Mother.
 
The workouts are the product of collaboration between Garrett Chapel, religion teacher and strength and conditioning coach at Catholic Central, and Daniel Wolocko, director of Mercy Elite Sports Performance at St. Mary Mercy Livonia Hospital.
 
“We both have this passion for sport, wellness and the Catholic faith,” Chapel said. “We develop these workouts to help people move better and develop a devotion to Mary.”

Athletes in the off-season meet at the Catholic Central weight room at 6:30 in in the morning on Fridays for the Rosary Workout. Chapel begins the session with a brief talk on the mysteries of the rosary – the sorrowful mysteries since the workouts are on Fridays – and the group prays the creed together before taking to their stations.

Catholic Central athletes raise their fists in solidarity to conclude the workout Oct. 19.

Chapel has a Marian app that recites the rosary, which is played over the speakers in the room. The students begin lifting weights or doing resistance exercises as soon as the Our Father starts and continue through the decade of the rosary.

“The idea is you are there to conform yourself to the workout movement you’re going through, but to enhance the exercise with the meditation of the rosary,” Chapel said. “Going through the sorrowful mysteries, we start with a talk with the young men about the rosary. It’s not meant to be a lecture, just to help them form an experience, making them conscious of what they will be hearing when they are working out.”

Ryan Sullivan is a junior on the Catholic Central lacrosse team. Sullivan said he and his teammates who aren’t involved in fall sports have been coming to the rosary workouts to lift as a team.
 
“It’s the third week that this has been going on, and it’s a good way to wake up in the morning,” Sullivan said of the early start to the day, which includes Mass at Catholic Central’s chapel afterward. “It’s a lot of the same lifting material we normally do, but it’s different with the rosary going on. It creates a different type of workout. Everyone is calm, there isn’t a lot chaos going on that you normally see.”

Chapel and Wolocko are third-level Marian Missionaries of Divine Mercy and are hoping to create an apostolate called the Soldiers of the Immaculate Heart of Mary to inspire young men to consecrate themselves to Mary and promote the rosary through physical activity.
 
“A couple of colleagues of mine are really devoted to our faith, and we have a passion for sports and exercise,” Wolocko said. “We were kind of coming together with this Unleash the Gospel movement in Detroit and thinking, 'How can we help serve the Catholic church and our faith?'”

Wolocko said he went to a Marian Missionaries of Divine Mercy men’s conference in Grand Rapids a few years ago, where he was introduced to Fr. Michael Gaitley’s book, “The Second Greatest Story Ever Told.”

The "rosary workouts" are the brainchild of Garrett Chapel, religion teacher and strength and conditioning coach at Catholic Central, and Daniel Wolocko, director of Mercy Elite Sports Performance at St. Mary Mercy Livonia Hospital.

The conference and book had a great impact on both Wolocko’s and Chapel’s lives, leading them to a calling of helping young men have a greater devotion to Mary through the rosary.
 
“When you say 'yes' to praying the rosary, you are saying 'yes' to going through the passions, joys and miseries Mary experienced in her own life, and you reflect on how they relate to your own,” Wolocko said. “When life is tough and you don’t want to make excuses to make your life comfortable, you can call on Mary.

“Young men want to go through something; they are looking for a fight, looking for a battle,” Wolocko said. “Well, there is a battle going on, a spiritual battle. And we’re looking for direction for this battle, and you find it in the rosary.”

Chapel and Wolocko are hoping to develop a website to promote the rosary workout, showing different types of exercises one could sync up to the rosary and creating different workouts for people, depending on their levels of interest or physical needs.
 
“Since we started doing this, I’ve found a lot more focus and clarity,” Chapel said. “In college, I suffered a serious injury playing football in college, and I was lost, looking for purpose. That’s when I found the Catholic faith, became a Catholic theology teacher, physical educator and strength coach. After hearing about the spiritual attacks I heard my students were going through, it became clear to me that this is a way I could use my passions. There are so many distractions that get in the way, and this workout I find helps people clear their minds."

A Catholic Central student-athlete kneels during the recitation of the rosary during the early morning workout Oct. 19.
Catholic Central student-athletes lift weights while praying the rosary during an early-morning workout Oct. 19.

After the rosary is completed – the app recites the rosary in just under 20 minutes – the students gather around Chapel for a reflection on the mysteries and how the pain from lifting or resistance compares to the pain Christ suffered on the cross. The team breaks the huddle and leaves the weight room, ready to start the rest of their Friday.

“When you are going through struggles, either here in the weight room or in life, you create a fall group or someone you can rely on to go ask for help,” Wolocko said. “When you pray the rosary, that is what you are doing: you are asking Mary for help, you are really collaborating the way God wanted you to, through love. I ask coaches all the time, 'How many of your people can you ask for help, and how many lives can you change by asking other people if they could help you?' 

"That is what the rosary is: asking Mary for help for what we are struggling with, no matter what the resistance is.”