The Rec&PE department helps students keep active

November 19, 2013

As a high-school athlete, Parker Poliakoff ’14 played football, lacrosse, and golf, rowed crew, and was a nationally ranked wrestler who hoped for a walk-on position with the Blue Devils. But when back and knee injuries put a damper on his varsity aspirations, Poliakoff was forced to regroup.

“I couldn’t not do a sport,” says Poliakoff, who has played competitive sports since he was a boy. So the Miami native sought opportunities to stay active through the university’s Recreation & Physical Education (Rec&PE) Department. Last year, Poliakoff was one of more than 13,000 members of the Duke community—including faculty and staff, but mostly students—who competed against a rival intramural team, sweated out miles on a treadmill or elliptical machine, lifted weights, swam laps, took a Zumba or hiphop dance class, worked with a personal trainer, went rock climbing and backpacking, played in a cornhole tournament, learned to kayak, or earned their American Red Cross lifeguard certification.

“Duke students are very health and fitness conscious,” says Felicia Tittle, executive director of Rec&PE. “They really like to work out, and they get upset if they can’t. Our goal is to get as many members of the community involved in some form of activity as possible.”

In sync: Duke Men’s Crew has evolved from a moribund club to a nationally ranked collegiate team in a few short years.

With the motto “Work Smart, Play Well,” Rec&PE provides a positive alternative to the “Work Hard, Play Hard” mindset that many Duke students embrace. While the latter phrase conveys a delineation between academics and leisure—and with some students interpreting “Play Hard” as an endorsement of risky behaviors such as binge drinking— “Work Smart, Play Well” promotes a healthy mind-body balance.

Rec&PE’s Sports Club program comprises thirty-seven sports, from badminton to women’s water polo. Last year nineteen clubs went to national competition, with Duke cycling and martial arts securing first-place honors. The equestrian team and men’s rugby were national runners up.

Director Tittle says she and her staff are happy to work with students who want to create a new club or revitalize one that has been dormant. When Poliakoff sought involvement with the men’s club crew team, he was dismayed to discover that it was just a handful of men who occasionally got together to row. “I was used to a high level of competition and a strong work ethic, so it was a little discouraging,” he says. Even though he was elected president of the club his freshman year, Poliakoff considered transferring to another school where he could compete at the varsity level.

Instead, Poliakoff decided to embrace the challenge of transforming the relatively dormant group to a nationally ranked contender. He recruited new rowers and implemented six-day-a-week, crack-ofdawn practices on Lake Michie in Bahama, North Carolina. (The team shares a boathouse with women’s varsity crew.) He also worked with Rec&PE’s sports clubs director Mike Forbes to navigate the administrative requirements of rebuilding and managing the club. By the end of the 2012-13 season, men’s rowing was able to field four teams in the Southern Intercollegiate Rowing Association’s (SIRA) Championship Regatta, which attracts both club and varsity teams. Three of the four Duke teams advanced to the finals, and the novice four-person team won its division—the first time a Duke boat has ever brought home a SIRA championship.

Pump it up: Fitness classes range from yoga and pilates to kickboxing, cardio dance, and interval training. Alexander Marse

For students who don’t have the intense drive or spare time to devote to competing on a club team, or who prefer to play on a coed team, intramurals (IM) provide a more informal outlet for recreation. “IM has a real mix of people; some of them were high-school stars and others, not so much,” says IM president Josh Weiss ’14, who’s played on the IM soccer team The Goon Squad since freshman year. Even though he had played competitively in high school, Weiss liked the “more laid-back” atmosphere and fun social outlet of intramurals.

For the student who prefers individual pursuits, fitness classes and gym equipment are available at Wilson and Brodie gyms. Fitness classes (yoga, pilates, cycling, cardio/dance/toning) are offered from morning to night every day, but they are routinely at or beyond capacity. Tittle says having so many people taking advantage of Rec&PE offerings creates challenges.

“It all comes down to space,” she says. “Based on demand, we’d like to be able to double the number of fitness classes we offer, but we just don’t have the room. ”

Relief may be in sight. There are plans on the drawing board for constructing a new intramural building to replace the aging facility wedged between the tennis courts and Wilson Recreation Center. A neglected field near Central Campus, currently serving as a repository for fill dirt from various campus construction projects, could be converted into two full-size turf fields. And there are conversations about adding a new softball field, multipurpose field, and sand volleyball courts on some to-be-determined location (or locations) on East Campus.

Until those plans become reality, Tittle and her staff continue to think creatively about ways to get (and keep) the Duke community moving. Last year they launched an annual flag football tournament to raise money for injured football player Blair Holliday ’15; this year’s tournament was cosponsored by Zeta Tau Alpha to raise money for breast cancer research. The first NFL combine-style competition, held in October, put participants through drills such as bench press, forty-yard dash, and vertical leaping. And they’re in the planning stages of sponsoring a video game tournament to attract students who prefer Wii to working out.

“Our goal is to promote healthy lifestyles for everyone, including people who might not see themselves as the type to join a team or go to the gym,” says Tittle. “Not everyone can be a varsity athlete, but everyone can be active.”