College inspires fitness for life among students, professors and more

Director Bryan Ryberg reaches out to create a sense of community through involvement in Intramural Sports.

Roanoke College is busy sweating, biking, swimming, running and dodging balls. There are so many fitness activities on and around the Roanoke College campus that new Director of Intramural and Recreational Sports Bryan Ryberg is opening up even more to target those not involved in NCAA athletics. Faculty, staff and students find the plethora of outlets refreshing to both mind and body.

"Not only are these activities healthy alternatives, but they also create a sense of community for students," says Ryberg. "Intramural sports include flag football (with now over 30 teams), disc golf, table tennis, sand volleyball and soccer."

Dr. Michael Maina, an associate professor in the Department of Health and Human Performance, says that "You are laying the groundwork that is paying dividends later in life. You have to put the time in. You can't cram for fitness." His wife, Dr. Julie Maina, is an assistant professor in the same department and sees herself as both a teacher and a role model. She is trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon, and she teaches the required Fitness for Life class. "If you don't role model for students, they don't actually understand that you're involved with it. We can talk about concepts, but if we do it, they see it as important, and it lends to my credibility."

Katie Schlimmer '11, who participated in the Big Lick Triathlon, was not used to competing with people older than she. "I was passed by a 75-year-old man. It definitely inspires me, especially endurance sports such as these. This is something I can do for a long time, and it's nice to see 75-year-old men still going strong."

Michael Maina says the key to exercise is not to become a "fitness fanatic," but to try to do it as a regular activity. "While a lot of the College's concern is academic, it is also to develop people for a lifetime, and geographically, this place is chock-full of opportunities."

Student Heath Davis has certainly found those opportunities; not only does he bike on Wednesday nights with a diverse group, but he also has formed a mountain bike team made up of students who want to become more involved in racing. And Dr. Alice Kassens in the business administration and economics department has found this area particularly challenging and strengthening compared to where she grew up in Wilmington, N.C. "Wilmington is flat as a pancake, so this helps to get me very strong," she says of the hilly terrain in Southwest Virginia. She is part of the Brooks Sports "Inspired Daily" team, is a competitive regional runner and is currently training for an 8K in Richmond. She also is coaching Julie Maina and Shelli Sayers '00, Roanoke College's assistant track and field coach. "I need an outlet for my competitive spirit," she says.

That outlet is a necessity, but the irony is that when the stress level goes up, students tend to cut fitness from their schedules, says Michael Maina. "There are definite studies and research that shows exercise decreases stress level and increases a person's self esteem. But when kids get overwhelmed, it's one of the first things to go. When do kids get sick? During midterms, finals and papers, because they don't take care of themselves. We really preach the value of activity."

Fitness for life is the message that Ryberg is trying to convey to students. "We want to show students that they don't have to hit the treadmill, that they can play rec basketball and soccer. We provide all the equipment, so they just basically have to have athletic shoes and shorts, like showing up for P.E. class," he says.

Adding to the inspiration is nontraditional student Sharon Nanz, a 49-year-old senior who was part of the Geritol Junkies team. Accompanying her swimming leg of the Big Lick Triathlon was College plumber Albert Roberts, a 46-year-old who ran the 10K. "You could tell by looking around that we were the oldest group there. But we got third out of 21 teams," says Nanz.

When James Dalton, the College's vice president for information technology and public relations and his wife Stephanie Pratola can run 10K, bike 40K and follow that with a 5K run, competing against qualifiers from over 30 different countries - that, too, is inspiration. Roanoke College students, staff and faculty are not staying still. And it should be a balance in everyone's life, says Michael Maina.

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