Ginger Mickow is used to feeling the energy of a room of students moving to music when she leads kickboxing, body toning, and other classes at UC Riverside’s Student Recreation Center, or SRC.
But in recent weeks, the instructor has been leading classes in an SRC studio accompanied only by a camera operator. She faces a camera instead of a mirror where she would usually watch herself and her students. There’s no music behind her, so she can talk to the camera and explain each step to those watching.
The classes are being posted on YouTube as one of several efforts by the SRC to provide fitness programs for the campus community during the campus closure.
“The first couple of weeks it was very weird talking to a camera,” said Mickow, who has taught fitness for 38 years, 23 of them at UCR. “Now I’m so comfortable with it, I can teach like this forever.”
From fitness classes to youth camps, the SRC offers a busy roster of programs and activities for students looking for exercise and fun. But with the state-of-the-art facility closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Recreation Department staff members have been without their most visible asset.
“It’s been a big adjustment for sure,” said Dusan Stancic, marketing manager with the Recreation Department.
But the department’s mission, he said, remains the same: “Cultivating a sense of fitness and well-being through programming.”
The department began offering a variety of online programs such as fitness courses, livestreamed video games, and Zoom camps for kids. Stancic said the department also looked to its student employees for ideas, such as using TikTok and other creative ways to reach campus members.
Many of the activities take into account the fact that participants are at home, may not have regular exercise equipment, and may not be able to keep their regular routine.
For instance, Mickow has utilized a chair in some of her workouts where she would typically use free weights.
“I’m picturing people at home and what they have,” she said.
The Recreation Department has also tailored its youth programs for a virtual audience. For instance, aquatics instructors have been providing customized swimming lessons for kids with home pools. Several children have taken part in a pen-pal program sharing drawings and letters about how they’re doing with the instructors.
Normally, SRC would be hosting Camp Highlander during the summer, which includes a number of outdoor activities, such as swimming, hiking, and climbing.
Carl Dugdale, youth program coordinator, said he looked to the skills of his camp counselors, who are UCR students, in designing online offerings. Over a dozen courses are being offered, including American Sign Language, baking, Tagalog, and coding.
Dugdale said the aim is to give parents a respite from the increased workload they’re shouldering.
“They’re just so happy they can take a break while their kids are engaged in learning as opposed to screen time,” he said.
Alison Sommer-Castellanos ’90, who has enrolled her sons in Camp Highlander in past years, emailed the staff her thanks for the sign-language class.
“The hour or so they spend (in class) once a week actually gives me an hour to catch up on my needed work stuff, gets the kids off their video games, and, most importantly, there is no complaining,” she said. “It has been fun and productive.”
Stancic said the department is also looking ahead to how it will function when it is safe to open up the SRC. He expects there will be a continued hybrid approach with virtual programming. For example, a new program will allow members to rent exercise equipment, such as barbells, dumbbells, jump-ropes, and exercise mats, for a week.
“We’ve been trying to keep things upbeat and build community as much as possible,” Stancic said. “We’re all in this together.”