by Adrienne Hare
To the nearly 6,500 students at Western, it seems like a distant memory when the only options for recreational fitness were elbowing your way into the compact and sparse fitness center in the RSC or trying to squeeze in a workout during one of the few (and random) hours the weight room under the stadium was open to the student body.
The Health and Wellness Center (HWC) isn’t just a fancy new building, it’s a cornerstone in promoting a healthy campus and a huge first step in creating and encouraging an on campus environment. Last spring we featured a photo spread of the new 45,000 square foot health and wellness facility complete with a renovated pool, new basketball courts, an indoor elevated track, rock climbing wall, racquetball courts, multipurpose rooms, and state of the art weight room and cardio fitness area. One year later we are back to take a closer look at how one building has impacted campus through the eyes of those who use it most: the student employees.
“I think the impact on campus has been pretty big because we didn’t have anything like this before. I mean we had the gym under the stadium, but that was mostly for the sports teams, classes and serious workout people. Here it’s more of an environment where everybody on campus can come. You can play basketball here when it’s raining, racquetball, you can climb - there’s a pretty big list with something that everybody can do. So I think it’s definitely unified campus quite a bit.” says Ben Martin, a sophomore criminal justice major. Ben works 17 hours a week as a lifeguard, guest service specialist and climbing instructor. The opportunity to be a climbing instructor is what interested him in applying to work at the HWC. He takes great pride in providing a safe and enjoyable experience for those who come to climb the rock wall “We put up every hold, label every hold and do extensive safety checks on the climbing gear and on the wall itself every day. When the staff sets a new route on the wall it literally takes hours.” says Martin. They are constantly changing things up to keep the wall fun and challenging for the climbers.
Junior Kelly Davis serves as a guest service specialist, facility supervisor and Zumba instructor. Davis feels that the HWC has given more students a reason to stay in town. “There’s actually something to do on weekends, people used to go home. I feel like the HWC is a place where people get to socialize and get to meet other people similar to them in a way they previously might not have had before.”
Claudia Gallegos, a junior psychology and Spanish major, didn’t have a background in fitness but found a place to serve at the HWC as a guest service specialist. The job opportunity was particularly important to her because like many WOU students, Gallegos lives on campus and doesn’t have a car so the HWC provided a job that she might not otherwise have. “I needed a job and my chances of getting one were very limited around here, so I applied. I really wanted to work here, I love the people and the environment around here.” Since she started at the HWC she’s enjoyed taking classes like Zumba and the Hydrosculpt class offered in the aquatic center.
Pictured: Junior Claudia Gallegos (double major in psychology and Spanish) is one of 40 students employed at the HWC.
Touring the facility, you quickly notice that it runs like a well-oiled machine and it has been a labor of love to get it that way. Like anything new, at the beginning there was a bit of a learning curve for both the staff and the students. “The first term was survival. We saw over 2,000 visits per day the first two days we were open.” says Rip Horsey, HWC director. He and his staff had to build the facility guidelines from scratch. “We want to be good stewards of the facility. We want a 30-year life span on this equipment so the rules are in place to teach our patrons to respect the equipment and the facility.” His priority is to be sure those rules and guidelines are engrained in each of his staff members so that there is consistency as well as an assurance that no matter who is working they have all the answers they need. Even if that means having to tell your peers when they are breaking rules.
“I think that’s one of the harder things but when you look at it, that’s what you need to run a facility like this. You need to keep your patrons safe and that’s the number one priority. When it first opened we had to start from scratch- we had to set the rules and make it a priority for those using the facility to be sure that not only did everyone know them but we had to be consistent,” says Davis. Only being a year in, they are still in the process of learning as they grow. “We are always going to be adding…tweaking…changing our policies depending on the situation," Davis continued. “A problem may arise that had never been a problem previously that we would need to address accordingly.”
The staff at the HWC is also continually coming up with ways to make it more user-friendly. There are several programs that the HWC has in the pipeline. With WOU having such a large percentage of first-generation students, the staff recognizes that many of the students that attend Western may have never been around some of the facilities’ state of the art equipment or may have never been a member of a gym before. They are hoping to attract more people who haven’t worked out by putting together a gym orientation program.
“It’s a tremendous positive when someone can walk in the door, walk up to a machine and know what to do and how to use it, and feel confident in doing so.” says Horsey. Since day one, many alumni and community members have inquired as to if the HWC would offer an opportunity for outside memberships. With as many users as the HWC sees per week (6,275 uses per week during the school year- that’s 896 people per day!) opening up the doors to outside memberships isn’t an option yet as the primary purpose is to affect WOU and right now there is still a portion of campus that hasn’t been reached. Rip and his staff want 100 percent participation. “We are only at right over 70 percent of the campus that has come through the doors. There’s still just under 30 percent of the campus population that haven’t used the HWC. We are missing them, we need them. We want them.” says Horsey. His goal is to have everyone that steps foot on campus to use the facility at least once.
The HWC isn’t closed to the public completely though. The HWC offers its very popular aquatic classes and swim lessons to the community. Info and registration information can be found at wou.edu/student/hwc. All or part of the facility can be rented out to the public, based on availability, for camps, events and parties. The staff is currently working on creating a climbing program for youth and community members to be able to utilize the rock wall and hopes to have that available in the coming months. “We are really just getting an understanding of how the students are using the facility, so there are other opportunities that we want to explore and keep building on.”
Buildings become almost a human part of college campuses. Sure they create the landscape of the campus, but more so inside their walls friendships are formed, memories are made, history is written. If Western Oregon’s buildings make up a body, the HWC has become the heart- pumping life, energy, and pride into the lives of the students who walk this campus.