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RecWell projected to break record attendance in 2023

While attendance at the RecWell has changed the community has not.
The entrance of the University Recreation and Wellness Center on Saturday, March 21, 2020.
Image by Kamaan Richards
The entrance of the University Recreation and Wellness Center on Saturday, March 21, 2020.

The University Recreation and Wellness Center (RecWell) has seen strong student attendance this past year, with many interacting in the gym community.

After the RecWell closed for the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been slowly gaining back attendance, with this year projecting numbers similar to pre-pandemic levels.

Cody Mikl, assistant director for facilities at the RecWell, said student use is the strongest it has been since the build of the original recreation center in 1993, with over 7,000 validated scanned entries in a day.

Students tend to engage at least two to three times a week at the RecWell, said George Brown, the director of the RecWell and assistant vice-provost for Student Affairs.

Pre-pandemic attendance numbers showed 85% of the weekly traffic were students and the other 15% were non-students, including faculty, staff and alumni. Now, over 90% of the RecWell’s traffic is students, according to Brown.

“[Non-students] are not trafficking the rec center as much as they used to, but the students are more than making up for that,” Brown said.

According to public records, 868,802 cards were swiped into the RecWell during the 2018 calendar year by students. That number dropped to 376,452 swipes in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic but recovered to 815,528 in 2022. The number this year to date is 719,787.

For faculty, 38,163 cards were swiped in 2018 but that number has declined to 17,852 this calendar year.

There is also a difference in attendance throughout the school year, Mikl said, as the numbers tend to melt or taper through the fall semester and into winter break. The start of spring semester shows the highest attendance rate.

“It’s really cold in Minnesota in mid-late January, and our use is the highest throughout the year during that time,” Mikl said.

While the cold and rain might affect attendance, Mikl said he believes that is not the main impact. Students tend to lose energy throughout the semester as they work on all the things they need to get done.

Brown said he believes attendance is high because, as the single largest employer of students on campus, there is a lot of word of mouth and understanding of all the opportunities presented at the RecWell.

“What we see emerge really notably during and since the pandemic is what we call the ‘social well-being,’ the idea of congregating and being with others, particularly students,” Brown said.

Some students also tend to feel intimidated by the RecWell, though, according to Brown.

“That is a real concern,” Brown said. “We’ve heard that from students when we’ve surveyed is ‘it’s overwhelming, it’s intimidating, I don’t know how to use the equipment, I don’t know where to start.’”

According to Brown, there are mechanisms in place to help students overcome that intimidation. He said he encourages students to visit the RecWell website, where they can walk through many of the things offered, along with watching the Rec’s traffic meter showing how busy it is.

Mikl said there is something for everyone. Students can be social and talk with friends or go to the other parts of the facilities where privacy can be found.

“You can find a space that suits your speed, your style, your vibe,” Mikl said.

Brown recommends asking questions and for assistance and not being afraid to acknowledge the fact that students may not know where to start. He added the workers are there to help you navigate that challenge.

Students say social media has motivated them to workout

Liam Wright is a third-year student who goes to the RecWell around three to four times a week. One thing Wright said he has noticed is the increase in fitness content online.

“When I started over the pandemic, there were like a couple people that were big on Instagram for guys, and then a couple informational YouTube videos on how to workout,” Wright said. “Now, it’s really exploded.”

According to Wright, this increase has had a big effect because the less niche and more mainstream something is, the more people try it out and will get involved.

Mallory Nelson is a third-year student who goes to the RecWell to workout five days a week. She said she has noticed the RecWell is really busy at the start of each semester, but then it dissipates. Over break, she finds the gym is dead.

Nelson said she has seen an impact of social media on the gym and especially on females.

“I honestly think that TikTok and Instagram have made more girls want to lift and workout,” Nelson said. “I saw a change in attitudes towards lifting in social media.”

According to Nelson, it is important to not worry about how intimidating the gym seems as everyone is just there to workout.

“The biggest thing I hear is people are like, ‘The Rec is so busy, it’s so intimidating’ but no one gives a f—,” Nelson said.

Samuel Angell is a second-year student who lifts at the RecWell around five to six times a week. He said he usually sees the same people at the gym, but as it has gotten colder, a lot fewer people go to the gym.

Angell added the good thing about the RecWell is you can do anything at your own intensity. While it might be intimidating, he encourages students and participants to not worry about others and just do it.

“There’s not a ton of pressure or anything to be lifting certain weights or working out intensely or anything,” Angell said. “Everyone is just kind of doing their own thing.”

Brown said he has observed University students being extremely respectful of one another when they come into the spaces.

“I think there’s a spirit of cooperation that Minnesota students have and I applaud that,” Brown said. “That makes the experience at RecWell less negative or foreboding or intimidating because when you come in you feel like you’re among people who are going to accept you.”

Brown and Mikl encourage students to try the RecWell and use all of the resources available.

“This is yours, please explore it,” Mikl said. “We are literally here to serve you.”

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