‘Inside UVA’: President Talks With One of the Largest Student Employers on Grounds
Audio: ‘Inside UVA,’ with Erika Perkins, head of UVA's Intramural-Recreations Sports Program(14:44)
President Ryan and Perkins talk fitness, fun and health in this edition.
President Jim Ryan 0:00
I tried to follow a couple of yoga classes online. I think I was watching an advanced class and I'm sort of competitive. So the person who was the instructor, I feel like took his left heel and put it behind his right ear. And I tried to do the same, but I'm not quite that flexible.
Erika Perkins 0:15
Flexibility is something that we have to really work on as we age.
President Jim Ryan 0:19
Yeah, no kidding.
Hi, everyone. I'm Jim Ryan, the president of the University of Virginia and I'd like to welcome all of you to another episode of Inside UVA. This podcast is a chance for me to speak with some of the amazing people at the University and to learn more about what they do and who they are. My hope is that listeners will ultimately have a better understanding of how UVA works and a deeper appreciation of the remarkably talented and dedicated people who make UVA the institution it is. Today's guest is Erica Perkins, Associate Athletics Director and Executive Director for IM Rec sports. Erica, thanks so much for being here.
Erika Perkins 1:04
Thank you for having me. It's an honor.
President Jim Ryan 1:06
So first things first, am I right that you once fell off a bridge while running a half marathon and nonetheless completed the race?
Erika Perkins 1:15
Yes, I did.
President Jim Ryan 1:17
Is that what got you interested in sports in the first place?
Erika Perkins 1:19
No, that might have stopped my career in sports at that point.
President Jim Ryan 1:24
So tell me a little bit more about it.
Erika Perkins 1:26
So, I was running, I signed up for the Colonial Half Marathon in Williamsburg. And the race starts at one o'clock on a Sunday and it was pouring down rain. It's February, it's cold, and I was soaked at the start line. But here we go. And in that race, there's um, it weaves kind of in and out through some swamp, woodlands, marshy kind of stuff, and they have bridges. And as you, as you go through each of these little bridge parts, the crowd, you know, they funnel in and so I didn't want to get caught in the crowd. So I wanted to get this thing over with. And I thought I was, um, had a superpower and could skirt around everybody on the edge of the bridge, which was a railroad tie. And as soon as I put my foot on it, I slipped. I heard the whole, like everyone behind me just had that big like "Oh", and I was sitting there dangling, mortified. And did like a little hand step over to the embankment and got up and ran because I was so embarrassed, I couldn't stand it. And that was unfortunately only mile five and I had a long way to go. And so the only thing that got me through it was adrenaline and a very bruised ego.
President Jim Ryan 2:45
Well, I'm glad you finished the race. I one time, we lived in the Netherlands for a year, and I was one time running across a park. And I saw ahead that the grass changed from dark green to light green. And then I realized that the reason it changed from dark green to light green is because the light green was algae on top of a canal. I realized that when I was in the middle of the canal. So I know how you were feeling.
Erika Perkins 3:13
Okay, good. Yeah, it was quite an experience.
President Jim Ryan 3:17
I remember scrambling off the bank and I was covered with algae and what thought like sea, what I felt like Sigman the Sea Monster. I don't know if you ever remember that character from Saturday morning television shows a long time ago. But in any event, I am not here to talk with you about your running mishaps. I want to hear everything there is to know about IM Rec Sports. But first, a little bit about you. How did you end up in Charlottesville and at UVA, what brought you here?
Erika Perkins 3:47
So my husband was actually born and raised in Charlottesville. And we moved back shortly after our son was born. And at that time, I was doing a lot of fitness consulting, locally, regionally on educating and certifying in the health and fitness industry. And so I started helping out the fitness department at UVA. And so I was able to develop a report and really enjoyed working with the department and the team, the students, it's always just a fun energy and vibe that comes from, comes from that group. And so a couple years later, there was a vacancy. And I was asked to consider applying for it and the rest is history.
President Jim Ryan 4:26
And when, when was that?
Erika Perkins 4:28
I started working doing the consulting with them in 1995. And I started full time in 1998.
President Jim Ryan 4:34
And then you sort of worked your way up the ladder to become Executive Director.
Erika Perkins 4:38 Yeah, I have.
President Jim Ryan 4:40
Tell people who are listening a little bit about IM Rec Sports because it covers a lot of territory that I think people might not realize.
Erika Perkins 4:48
It's funny because back years ago, we had a slogan that said we do more than just play sports. Then in recent years, I've been finding myself saying we're more than just a gym, but ultimately, it's about connecting people and concepts and actions that hopefully inspire a lifelong commitment to total well being and offering positive experiences through all of our services then use in programs.
President Jim Ryan 5:15
So can you talk a little bit more about the nuts in the ball, so you're more than just a gym, but you do oversee the gyms. And you offer a huge array of classes. And they are open to all students, faculty and staff?
Erika Perkins 5:34
So they're open to all students access to each of our facilities as part of their comprehensive fee. And then faculty and staff that want to join, they can be a member for all of our services, too. For less than $1 a day.
President Jim Ryan 5:49
That sounds like a good ad.
Erika Perkins 5:50
President Jim Ryan 5:52
And in addition, what else is covered by IM Rec?
Erika Perkins 5:58
Sure, so because of the size of our spaces, we host quite a bit of large scale events, anything from first-year moving options to robotics competitions to alumni events. Our day-to-day, we are a fitness Wellness Center. We are one of the largest student employers on grounds, I mean our students are lifeguards, rock climbing instructors, tennis instructors, so our students are the backbone of our operations. Programmatically, we've got fitness classes, ranging from indoor cycling to dance style to strength to yoga, about 70 to 80 classes each week that have a variety of different styles, competitive sports leagues, everything from 77 flag football to spike ball and cornhole tournaments. We teach people how to play pickleball, tennis, martial arts, dance, outdoor adventure has the rock climbing center over at Slaughter Rec Center. We do hikes, paddling, kayaking, backpacking, wilderness first aid, and we have a rental center. So you know, a group wants to go camping on a weekend or whatnot, they can get all the gear they need to be able to do that. Sleeping bags, tents, all of it. And then we have a challenge course, which is quite popular in the nice weather, which is an opportunity for team building, for groups to come in and build trust and do activities that both, that challenge folks mentally and physically on high ropes and low ropes.
President Jim Ryan 7:32
And what about club sports? Are you connected to club sports as well?
Erika Perkins 7:36
Absolutely. We advise average each year approximately 60-65 club sports.
President Jim Ryan 7:42
65 club sports, I didn't realize there were 65 sports.
Erika Perkins 7:46
We have Quidditch!
President Jim Ryan 7:49
I was gonna ask you what's the most unusual club sport you have? Do you think that takes the cake?
Erika Perkins 7:54
I mean, I think they're all, it's unique. There's a lot of dance clubs that are very competitive. You know, nationally, we have our traditional soccer, lacrosse, and things like that. But there's a lot of different dance groups and Ultimate Frisbee. The nice thing is, I think it's that the students really sort of drive it. And they get priority reservation in our facilities to be able to practice together.
President Jim Ryan 8:16
So, you know, the pandemic has obviously changed life and work for everyone. And I know it caused a great deal of disruption in your world. And I wonder if you can talk a little bit about how you and your colleagues coped, and what challenges you faced and what changes you made?
Erika Perkins 8:38
Yeah, it's, I talk all the time with the team that we really are in the business of people. And there's a great deal of satisfaction of interacting and dealing with people. So when the pandemic hit, and you had to stay distant, and there was a lot of activities that we, we just couldn't offer based on guidelines as they were. Over time, we were closed for about four months. And when we finally reopened, there was definitely a lifted energy; people were really happy to get the doors open and be, be back. And even though it wasn't full scale services by any stretch of the imagination, just the ability to see people without the barrier of a screen felt a little more normal than doing everything via screen. We moved equipment a lot, the guidelines between 10 feet, six feet, and so on and so forth. Our basketball courts early on to the pandemic became where we put all of our exercise equipment.
President Jim Ryan 9:35
Right. I remember seeing that, it was impressive.
Erika Perkins 9:37
Yeah, it was a lot of work. And as things progressed, the equipment's been back. There are certain things that we still can't offer. We have definitely also tried as a team to make sure if we cannot do it safely, and in compliance, we've had to pull it back. But everything that we can offer in a safe way, we have certainly tried to put it out there and be as creative as we can to continue to keep people connected and, and well, right, it's mental health.
President Jim Ryan 10:05
Yeah, I think the mental health piece of it is huge.
Erika Perkins 10:08
Exactly, and exercise and movement and social engagement is a huge component to helping with mental health. So we continue to do as much as we can to provide a forum for people to be able to tap into an activity that can help.
President Jim Ryan 10:24
And have you had to move, or did you move many classes outside? Have you taken advantage of the outdoors?
Erika Perkins 10:31
We did, um, we installed new outdoor exercise equipment outside, right behind Mem Gym. And that's getting some use. We also did a lot of stuff out at the park, we have various fitness pieces of equipment that we would roll out and use on the turf fields. We did outside walking classes, we did a lot of guided hikes, we brought in laser tag, you know, anything and everything we could do outside we were trying to do so and then activities that we could do, or we could keep decent distance, if you will.
President Jim Ryan 11:02
So let me ask you a slightly unfair question, which is, do you have a favorite gym among the gyms at UVA?
Erika Perkins 11:10
No. And this is because they're each unique.
President Jim Ryan 11:13
I think that's the right answer for you to give.
Erika Perkins 11:16
They're very unique. And I think that that's what is fun, because right there, they offer different, you know, different things. So the Slaughter Rec Center has rock climbing and the outdoor rental center is there. And the gym is a little bit more functional strength training as opposed to all the selectorized equipment and things like that. Whereas Mem Gym, that's the only one that has a combative boxing room.
President Jim Ryan 11:39
I didn't know it had a boxing room.
Erika Perkins 11:41
It does. It's very cool. And Mem is just the original, it's going to be turning 100 years old and just has a total nostalgia to it.
President Jim Ryan 11:50
Right. Yeah, no, it's a very classic-looking gym.
Erika Perkins 11:53
Yes, so that one's a ton of fun. And, you know, North Grounds, it has a pool that a lot of our swimmers enjoy going over there. They'll have to work around varsity athletic schedule. We have squash courts over at North Grounds. We have squash and racquetball at North Grounds and the AFC is our largest facility. Yeah, so I think it's just it depends on what your interest is, maybe that day that week, or an opportunity to try something different.
President Jim Ryan 12:22
So any advice you'd give to students who have not yet taken advantage of what you have to offer?
Erika Perkins 12:29
Oh, my goodness, I think they just need to come and try or ask. And there's a lot of our students that would also love to, you know, be a buddy to help them you know, experience something for the first time or reach out and ask for customized options, we certainly do a lot of customized classes for different groups, be it a CIO or a club sport or any organization or group of students on a hall in a dorm, they, they can reach out and we can customize sort of an experience for them to try out a lot of different options.
President Jim Ryan 13:02
That's great advice. Well, Erica, thanks so much for spending time with me and with all of our listeners. And I want to thank you not only for what you do in normal times but to thank you and your team for everything you have done during the pandemic to keep facilities open, to keep people healthy, both physically and mentally and to work as hard as you can to give people opportunities to continue participating in the incredible programs that you offer. So honestly, on behalf of everyone at UVA, you have my deepest gratitude.
Erika Perkins 13:40
Thank you so much. I appreciate that. And I have the kudos really go to the team and our students for sure. So thank you.
Mary Garner McGehee 13:52
Inside UVA is a production of WTJU 91.1 FM and the Office of the President at the University of Virginia. Inside UVA is produced by Mary Garner McGehee, Brooke Whitehurst, Matt Weber, and Nathan Moore. We also want to thank Erica Perkins, Monika Shaq, Athena Hani, and McGregor McCants. Our music is Turning to You from Blue Dot Sessions. Listen and subscribe to Inside UVA on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. We'll be back soon with another conversation about the life of the University.
Erica Perkins, an avid athlete, has been working at the University of Virginia’s Division of Intramural and Recreational Sports in various capacities since 1995 and is now its executive director.
It’s a massive operation that has broad responsibilities, including running four large athletic centers, including two with aquatics facilities, plus the McArthur Squash Center and all of UVA’s outdoor fields and courts.
What makes it all go, she said, is student employees.
“Our students are lifeguards, rock climbing instructors, tennis instructors – so our students are the backbone of our operations,” Perkins said during her appearance on the newest installment of “Inside UVA,” President Jim Ryan’s podcast about how the University is run. “We are one of the largest student employers on Grounds.”
IM-Rec Sports offers fitness classes including indoor cycling, dance, strength training and yoga, plus competitive sports leagues and even cornhole tournaments.
There’s also an outdoors component. “We do hikes, paddling, kayaking, backpacking, wilderness first aid, and we have a rental center,” Perkins said. “So, you know, a group wants to go camping on a weekend or whatnot, they can get all the gear they need to be able to do that – sleeping bags, tents, all of it.”
Perkins said she and her staff welcome students with open arms and even tailor experiences for student groups or even students living on a hall in a dorm. The sky is the limit.