Recreation services finds ways to keep people active

Rock climbing

Nicholas Dykhuizen, a graduate student in computer engineering from Minneapolis, makes his way up the climbing wall at State Gym. Photo by Christopher Gannon.

For many on campus, finding an outlet during a pandemic is important, and recreation services still provides plenty of opportunities.

Recreation services director Mike Giles and his staff have worked to find safe ways to continue many programs and new delivery methods for others. Student surveys provided ideas for what is needed, marketing coordinator Ray Schmidt said. The staff also is connecting on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter with students looking for social activities during the pandemic.

"Reaching out to my staff at a minimum is key because we have a mechanism to get you connected to a team, environment or space," Giles said. 

Safe environment

To deal with the impact of a pandemic, recreation services formed a committee to examine information at the national, state, county and university level as well as what other Big 12 institutions were doing.

The biggest change? Face coverings must be worn at all times inside State Gym, Beyer Hall and the Lied Recreation Athletic Center, with the exception of swimming pools. New rules require participants to keep a physical distance and, where applicable, clean equipment they used.

"Even though we have these restrictions, the students who are participating -- for the most part -- are doing what they are supposed to be doing," Giles said.

Although Gov. Kim Reynolds reopened gyms on May 1, State Gym didn't open until June 15.

"We did a lot of research to see what was feasible for us," Giles said. "Everything from spacing out equipment to taking reservations. The summer was a good dry run in preparing us."

Training student employees on new standards like enhanced cleaning procedures is key. Giles said before COVID-19, 90% of employee training took place in person. That training has shifted to Canvas.

"It has saved the staff so much time and effort and allowed them to shift their focus to programming," he said.

With the announcement that the spring semester will continue with in-person, hybrid and online courses, Giles expects recreation services' offerings and guidelines to be similar to the fall.


There has been a "significant" decline in drop-in use of the facilities, Giles said.

"With something like group fitness or intramurals, there is an automatic drop in numbers because of the restrictions on how many people we can have for in-person participation," he said. "It is a natural decline of about 50%."

That doesn't mean interest is gone for intramural sports, it is just conducted a little differently.

"I think our students who are participating are just glad there is an option, and it gives them something to do," Giles said. "Our enrollment is close to max of what it can be given the restrictions."

Many students also are branching out to find an activity they enjoy that's both social and safe.

"We didn't have the high-number intramurals this year like football, but people are gravitating to sports they wouldn't normally play," Schmidt said. "Things like volleyball, badminton and pickleball have become more popular."

Esports continue to grow in popularity across campus with the addition of more games even though the pandemic has slowed the construction of an esports room, now scheduled for a spring completion in Beyer Hall, Schmidt said.

New opportunities

Numbers may be down, but offering some activities online -- for example, group fitness classes -- has been successful. Instructors conducted classes from their homes last spring when much of the university was working remotely. There still are online options even as in-person classes have resumed, and attendance is stronger than in most years, Schmidt said.

On-demand fitness videos also are planned for the campus community.

"It will be a subscription streaming service with our instructors leading classes," Schmidt said. "It is something people can pay monthly or yearly and be able to stream pretty much anywhere."

"We will probably never go back to not having some kind of group fitness or intramural online program," Giles said. "We will always have some kind of hybrid model."

The first virtual 5K run had 350 participants who ran 3.2 miles sometime between Sept. 21 and Oct. 5 and submitted their times for prizes. Numerous workshops and outdoor day trips involving kayaking, rock climbing, hiking, horseback riding and biking still are offered. Not surprisingly, outdoor activities are popular this fall, and recreation services responded by offering community equipment rentals.

"Previously, you had to have a gym membership to rent from our outdoor rec program," Schmidt said. "Now we are able to rent to anyone in the Ames community. Anyone can come and rent things like a tent, canoe or cooking set."