Fitness center promotes physical activity with virtual race


Beacon Archive

Unlike this pre-pandemic photo of the fitness center, students must wear masks in the facility at all times.

By Ethan McDowell

With the college’s fitness center closed due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, the center’s staff is encouraging students to walk, jog, run, or even ski five kilometers to stay active. 

The fitness center announced a virtual 5k challenge on April 13, giving students 10 weeks to complete the 3.1 mile long race and log their results online. Recreation Coordinator Johnny Dunbar said the fitness center staff considered a variety of different events to keep students active with limited access to training equipment, but they decided on a 5k because it is an achievable goal for students stuck at home. 

“You could easily do like a basketball program, but not everybody likes basketball,” Dunbar said in a phone interview with The Beacon. “I wanted it to be something that was more inclusive.”

Dunbar stressed that this is not a competition and said the main point of the event is to keep people active. For students and faculty who may not run regularly, the challenge’s website also offers training programs that range from six to 10 weeks. 

“I don’t really care about someone running the race in its entirety,” Dunbar said. “What I do care about is people just being physically active over the course of 10 weeks. So your ideal situation would be somebody trains progressively for the whole 10 weeks and then, at the end, they have enough courage and confidence to run the race.”

Two weeks into the event, Dunbar said 70 students, faculty, and staff signed up for the challenge. Grace Tepper, a junior outside hitter for the women’s volleyball team, decided to participate in the challenge after she heard about it from Dunbar. 

“There’s nothing better right now than getting outside and staying active,” Tepper said in a phone interview with The Beacon. “I think it really helps a lot of people when you’re dealing with being home all the time.” 

Tepper last ran a 5k in the sixth grade and said Dunbar played a big role in convincing her to do another. 

“Johnny is the most helpful, wonderful person at Emerson College,” Tepper said.  “He’s always so inspiring and upbeat and helpful that, at least the people I know that know him, see this challenge and are like ‘Oh my gosh, I would totally do that because Johnny is doing it.’”

Shen de Leon, a residence director at the college, also heard about the challenge from Dunbar. As a runner recovering from a sprained ankle, de Leon said this event appealed to him for multiple reasons. 

“I had recently, maybe like two weeks before the virtual 5k started, started running again,” de Leon said in a phone interview with The Beacon. “I’m already running, so if I can continue to do that and also support one of my colleagues and hopefully help motivate other Emerson members to engage and participate in this event, why not?”

De Leon, who resides in Boston, said he hopes to run consistently throughout the 10 week period, making laps around the public garden or running by the Charles River Esplanade with his dog. 

In addition to the 5k challenge, Dunbar said the college is looking for other ways to keep students active. Tepper said the volleyball team is working out over Zoom every two weeks, and team members are receiving workouts from the training staff over an app. She praised the fitness staff for maintaining the team’s offseason training. 

“They’re constantly in contact with us and making sure that we have everything we need,” Tepper said. “And not in a ‘Are you doing your workouts?’ way, and more like, ‘How can we help you, what equipment is available? Here’s a workout that we made for what you have at home.’ They’re amazing. It’s really nice.”

When the fitness center was open, Dunbar and other members of the staff would be available to give students advice. They now do the same over video calls. 

“Right now we’re offering consults throughout the week, so people can jump onto the Google Hangouts, and we post that on the fitness center social media,” Dunbar said. “My time is on Thursdays from 1–2 p.m.. People can actually jump on there and ask as many questions as they want and get some information in that way. We’re just trying to stay as accessible as possible.”