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Inspiring Healthy Lifestyles: The Wellness Center Makes A Splash On Campus

By Claire Sachse

The staccato high pitched squeaks of sneakers on the polished floor of the basketball gym, and the pounding of the ball against the backboard, is all music to Mark Ritter’s ears. Ritter is the new director for fitness and campus recreation at the Wellness Center in the newly-opened Health Education Complex, and he smiles as he watches droves of students come in to use the gym.

“About 1,000 people a day are using the Wellness Center,” said Ritter who adds that the basketball courts receive the most foot traffic since the Center’s widely-anticipated opening on February 23.  “The students are in awe of all the space, and of all the things there are to do here,” he says.

Wellness ExteriorAnd there are many things to do in the 60,000-square-foot, three-story center, and things usually get started very early in the morning with the 6:30 a.m. workouts, and stay especially busy during lunch and from 3:30 p.m. to closing. In addition to basketball, students are enjoying an array of group fitness classes such as Boot Camp 101, Aqua Fit, Step N Pump, Cardio Kick and more. Intramural sports are a hit in the evenings and racquetball has been “a surprise hit” according to Ritter who adds that intramural sport participation has also been very positive.

David Lancaster, assistant director of student life, said that the response to the building has been overwhelming. “Students are blown away by the aesthetics of the building and what it offers them. They can come in and make the campus experience a wholesome one with mind, body and physical activity. It’ll be a hub of the campus and we’ll build traditions and friendships that will last a lifetime.”

“I honestly didn’t expect Upstate to have a facility like this,” said Gabrielle Truesdale, a sophomore from Rock Hill. “It adds a more positive image and energy to the campus and it’s another way to bring the students together. The Wellness Center makes us feel like we have a real community, where we have everything that we need right here on campus.”

Not only is the center a popular place for students to exercise, but it’s also a great place to work. Latoyia Covington, a senior criminal justice major from Pageland, is one of 150 students who are on staff at the center. She works at the check-in counter, scanning ID cards of users, taking reservations for racquetball court use. “I supervise the facility and the weight room,” she said, “and I make sure everyone gets checked-in.”

HEC - swimThe pool, a first for Upstate’s campus, has made a splash with students. The smell of chlorine and an underwater aquatic mural greet you as you descend downstairs to the ground floor where the pool is located. The humidity and warm air envelop you. The pool and adjacent hot tub hold 155,100 gallons of water and has eight swim lanes at 25 yards long. Lifeguards, who are all USC Upstate students, are on duty at all times.

“I don’t know how to swim,” confessed Deanna Bachelor, a sophomore from Summerville, who visited the Wellness Center shortly after it opened. “But now that the pool is here, I’m going to learn. In fact, I’m going to be the first in my family to learn to swim!”

Beginning Swimming, already a curriculum course which was being held off campus will now be brought on campus, according to Maya Carter, director of aquatics. Carter said, “Between the faculty, staff alumni and students, everyone is excited to have a pool on campus. Everyone sees a lot of opportunity to learn how to swim or just become healthier.”

On the third floor, there is a yellow rubber walking track that is one-tenth of a mile around, and from the vantage point you can look down upon basketball players. Georgia McCarroll, a 2008 graduate who also works at USC Upstate, likes to spend her lunch hour on the track. She logs 30 minutes of walking on weekdays, and returns on weekends for what she calls her “extreme workout” which includes walking and various workout machines. As an alumna who graduated between 2005 and 2008, she is eligible for one free year of membership to the Center as the fees she paid with her tuition went to help build the facility.

Wellness - WalkingBack on the second floor main level, Michael Bates, a freshman from Greenville, is using one of seven Matrix treadmills for his workout. He likes to squeeze in exercise between classes and his job which is at the Wellness Center. The treadmills measure incline, and time, and additionally can simulate rolling hills, check heart rate, calculate fat burn, simulate a 5k run and tell your speed, all while fanning you as you sweat. He said he is pleased with the equipment. When he’s not jogging, he can often be found in the group fitness room for “Lunch Crunch,” a vigorous lunch-time workout with fitness instructor Debra Budworth.

“Our mission is to encourage a healthy lifestyle,” said Ritter, “because ultimately, our students’ overall academic well-being and personal health are tied to their level of physical activity.” Ritter said the Center also wants to encourage alums to come back to campus to use the facility, not only for their health but also to stay connected and foster those bonds.

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