Staff Q&A/Amy Wagner

Amy Wagner, director of recreationPhoto credit: Mark Stehle

With a full-time staff of nine, an additional 200 part-time employees and a stable of fitness centers, squash courts, exercise studios, a pool and even a 40-foot-high rock climbing wall to oversee, Amy Wagner’s plate is full.

But Penn’s Director of Recreation still finds time to hit the gym.

“I think pretty much everybody here works out,” says Wagner. “It’s surprisingly not any easier to find time to do it just because you’re in the same building.”

Wagner, who has a master’s degree in exercise physiology from Temple and has been Director of Recreation at Penn since July of 2007, practices what she preaches. One of her department’s main goals is to emphasize across campus that fitness and wellness is an important part of life for everyone—students, staff and faculty.

The Current spoke with Wagner about the department and her role within it.

Q. Let’s start with a brief overview of the facilities the Department of Recreation operates.
The Pottruck Center has the Sheerr Pool, four fitness centers, the climbing wall, Pilates studio, three group exercise rooms, and a golf simulator. We have the Hutchinson Gymnasium on 33rd Street, which has basketball courts, squash courts and a small fitness center. All undergraduates pay the recreation fee, so they can use the facilities. We have about 4,000 graduate and professional student members, 2,000 faculty and staff and 400 alumni members.

Q. The department includes intramural and club sports. Can you give me a brief overview of those programs?
Intramural and club sports are called structured sports. There are 39 sports clubs in the sport club program and a number of them are nationally ranked. ... Intramurals include basketball, tennis, volleyball, soccer, softball, and special events we do like dodgeball and kickball tournaments. Overall there are about 1,200 kids a year that do intramurals, and about 1,000 on club sports.
Intramural is Penn kids against Penn kids. Club sports play other colleges. Our intramural champions go out and play in the City Six Championships, which is the Big Five, plus Drexel.

Q. What’s the department’s overall mission, and how does that fit into the mission of the University?
The mission of the Department of Recreation is to create experiences for the University students and faculty and staff population. We’re trying to promote health and wellness in the Penn community. We offer a free program called Penn Fit, which are eight-week courses. One is fitness, one is healthy eating, one is stress management. They’re designed to help people with behavior change, particularly people who haven’t exercised before and need to know how to set up a routine. There’s no point in people working out a few times in a gym and never going back.

Q. What are some of the more unique group fitness classes that you offer?
The new classes this year are Body Combat, which is a martial-arts based fitness class with boxing and kickboxing components, and Body Pump, which is a weight training group exercise class. We offer 20 to 25 spinning classes a week, with 25 people in each class, and they’re consistently full. Yoga is our other most popular thing. We can never offer enough yoga classes here.

Q. What’s the Outdoor Adventure Program?
It started with our climbing wall we have in Pottruck. We started picking people out to go on actual rock climbing trips. From the day trips, we’ve expanded to hiking trips on the Appalachian Trail, overnight backpacking and camping trips over spring and fall break.
The really cool thing we’re doing this spring is in collaboration with the Morris Arboretum. We’ve offered a tree climbing course. It’s part education to learn tree identification and environmental awareness, and they also climb some of the tallest trees in the city.

Q. Why is a regular exercise routine important for people, aside from the obvious physical health benefits?
For the students, it’s about building a healthy lifestyle that they’re going to carry forward into adulthood. It’s a place where students, faculty and staff can interact in a way that’s outside the classroom. They get a chance to have that camaraderie. It’s a place for people to have fun. The trips are something they’re going to remember, the sport club championships they go to. We routinely hear back from sport club alumni who still talk about their hockey or water polo days from 30 or 40 years ago.

Q. What’s your personal workout routine?
I try to run to get outside. I do a lot of the yoga and Pilates classes. I try to do cardio three times a week, plus weight training.

Q. Any words of advice for those of us who work out, but sometimes need a little motivation to get to the gym?
The days when I don’t feel like working out, the biggest thing to do instead of sitting around beating yourself up for not going, is just to go and get on the treadmill. Usually, once you get past that first five or 10 minutes, you’re like, ‘Oh, I’m really glad I’m here.’

Originally published on May 21, 2009