The water rushes into your face and you feel some disorientation along with a touch of claustrophobia. You are thrown from your vessel and think for a moment that you may drown. All of a sudden, the sun blinds your eyes from above the water’s surface and you gasp for air. Although your life jacket has saved you, it won’t help you with your next problem: How the heck do you get back into this thing?
This is the feeling a number of CUA students reported this past school year as they kayaked the rapids of the Potomac River as part of a new program called Cardinal Adventures run by CUA’s Eugene I. Kane Fitness Center. Students also engaged in rock climbing, skiing and other activities.
Since its opening four years ago, CUA’s fitness center has grown into one of the most popular places on campus, averaging more than 400 student visits a day. “But exercise is not just about going to the gym,” says fitness center director Marie Kennedy. “There are places in D.C. that our students should see, and being so close to natural beauty, it is important to get out and experience it.”
Cardinal Adventures was born the summer before the 2007–2008 school year, when Kennedy partnered with student organizations and the university offices of student life and campus ministry to set up free or inexpensive off-campus outings including rock climbing at Sportrock in Alexandria, skiing at the Whitetail and Seven Springs resorts in Pennsylvania, and competing in a triathlon. While most of the activities were geared toward fitness, some included educational or cultural activities such as going to the Bodies exhibition in Rosslyn, Va., to learn about the complexity of the human body. Kennedy tries to schedule four to six adventures per semester.
“Our ice skating trip included a group of CUA international students from Hong Kong,” she says. “They had never been ice skating, but each one of them gave it a try. One of the American students on the trip was an intern at the White House and by the end of our outing the international students had a new skill and a date to take a tour.”
Kennedy is already planning trips for next year that may include catching a performance of the musical Les Misérables at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, hiking at Great Falls and Shenandoah National Park, and rafting in the Shenandoah Valley.
One of her biggest spring projects this past year was teaming with the CUA swim team to host a triathlon. The event featured a half-mile swim, 13-mile bicycle course and 3.2-mile run. To prepare the student athletes, Kennedy held triathlon training classes every weekday afternoon throughout much of the winter and spring.
More than 50 participants spent a Saturday morning in April swimming at the DuFour Center, biking up some of CUA’s steepest hills and running through campus. Kennedy and her volunteers mapped out the route, ran the water stations and timed the athletes.
“It was my first triathlon and was a lot of fun,” says CUA freshman Stephanie Paul of Sunderland, Md. “Through it, I met new people and stayed in good shape. I felt so accomplished just to have finished a triathlon. It was an amazing feeling.”
While most students come to the fitness center to exercise and socialize, a few students have found a passion for wellness education there. Kennedy relies upon a number of students to teach classes such as yoga, “abs and conditioning,” and tai chi. Some students also choose to take advantage of free American Council on Exercise classes and get credentialed to work as personal trainers at the fitness center. A number of them have enjoyed training so much that they have become certified in other aspects of fitness, like performance enhancement to help other students improve in a specific sport.
Graduate student Dave Harlan first went to the center to get in shape, but found something that changed his entire lifestyle.
“My main reason to get in shape is for my daughter, Rachel, and for myself,” he says. “I want to be around to watch her grow up, and I know fitness is a big part of that. Working out has made me change my entire life. Even what I eat has changed, since I do a lot more salmon and vegetables now.”
Working with a personal trainer is a free service to CUA students who exercise at the fitness center. Harlan began working with his trainer, Frank Kenny, two years ago and the pair hasn’t stopped.
“Over our sessions, we have become really good friends,” says Harlan, “but Frank is just one person over there. Everyone at the facility is like him. He’s a true coach.” — B.J.
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