News & Events

#OwlHeroes keeping students active

By Melanee Terry

measuring distance between fitness equipment

In the midst of the pandemic, health and wellness has never been more important, which is something Dick Gardiner, Keli Marston, and Donna Underwood are responsible for on the University of Maine at Presque Isle campus. Gentile Hall, the university’s wellness center, has had some significant changes over the past months due to COVID-19 regulations. With lots of coordination and diligent planning, Dick, Donna, and Keli have been true Owl Heroes, adapting to the pandemic and keeping everyone who comes to the building safe.

As the Director of Gentile Hall, Dick is responsible for the majority of the building’s activity. Dick takes care of scheduling classes, practices, and club meetings in Gentile. While organizing times for these groups, he also coordinated time and space for the public pre-COVID. Dick trains and schedules student staff members and is in charge of the purchasing of exercise equipment.

Keli Marston, the Fitness and Wellness Coordinator at Gentile is another person who has done lots of work behind the scenes. She has been a huge contributor to the work done in Gentile the past year. Despite exercise class cancellations, Keli is still holding several workout classes online. On the Gentile Hall homepage, she has a bosu ball class, a weight training class, and a Glutes and Abs workout class available for anyone to watch. There is information on the Gentile Hall website about more classes that are currently being offered.

Donna is an Administrative Specialist in Gentile Hall and is responsible for a large amount of the work done in the building. Donna checks in students and staff–and, before the pandemic, community members–into Gentile. She also creates community membership cards, answers questions concerning memberships, and takes payments.

Dick, Donna, and Keli’s work at Gentile has changed significantly since last March. The biggest change has been the fact that the building is closed to the community. Gentile Hall is only allowing students, faculty and staff members in at the moment. Social distancing and cleaning has been another priority in the wellness center. Mask wearing has been the most obvious challenge during the pandemic. Donna has noticed the huge affect that masks have played on students and their exercise.

“A face can say so much about the person’s disposition at that moment.  In the past, subconsciously seeing a face can tell us so much about how someone is doing,” Donna said. “My goal has been to try to inflect happiness into my voice in order to get it across that I care about the person I’m talking to.”

Gentile Hall looks very different than it did a year ago. Besides the lack of community members in Gentile, the pool and rock wall are closed. When students walk in, they are checked in by someone at the front desk, which has moved much closer to the main doors. Locker rooms are unavailable at the moment. Until recently, the free weight section upstairs was closed. Exercise machines have been spaced out and some cardio machines were moved downstairs to the gym. Arrows were placed on the floor in order to minimize traffic flow. Two people at a time are allowed on the track for walking and jogging only. The wellness center’s hours have also been reduced.

Now that Gentile Hall is only open for students, faculty, and staff members, having healthy interactions is especially important to the Gentile staff. Dick has been able to have more quality student interactions since there are less community members in the building.

“This facility was built for the students, so they play a valuable role in making Gentile Hall successful.  From lifeguards to rock wall belayers to light custodial work, this building does not operate without them,” Dick said. “Personally, having the students around adds a life to the building that just exudes energy.”

Keeping the public healthy and safe has been crucial to ending the pandemic. Dick, Donna, and Keli are responsible for a portion of the safety and health of students at UMPI. With the Coronavirus continuing its devastation across the country, Dick isn’t sure how it will affect Gentile and other exercise facilities long-term. Donna is grateful for her coworkers at UMPI and the individuals making the big decisions in the University of Maine System.

“How the System and UMPI–and, more specifically, President Rice and others who have worked closely with him–have handled the pandemic has been extremely reassuring to me. Safety for people has been the number one guiding light for them and they have shown that all the way through this,” Dick said.

Despite all of the closures and regulations in the building, the Gentile team hopeful for the future. They have learned many things about themselves and the world around them. They are grateful for their positions in life and opportunity to work in Gentile Hall. Through Dick’s leadership, Keli’s energy, and Donna’s positivity this year, Gentile has been able to be open, unlike many other places. The success of Gentile Hall wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for campus heroes like Dick, Donna, and Keli.

“Our lives can change quickly – but by being creative and positive, our work and home lives can still be fulfilling. It has also allowed me to slow down and appreciate the little things,” Dick said.