New Building Promises Better Access to Wellness in Academic Year


Maria Turner

The Patricia ’63 & Merrill ’61 Shanks Health and Wellness Center opened Aug. 28 after two years of construction. Inside, students can find a lounge, a fitness center full of new cardio equipment, and several multipurpose rooms that will be used for spinning, yoga, and other YeoFit classes.

Delta Lodge Director of Athletics and Physical Education Natalie Winkelfoos beamed with pride last Tuesday as students and coaches gathered to celebrate the opening of the Pat ’63 & Merrill ’61 Shanks Health and Wellness Center.

Perhaps she could hear the turning of wheels and Men’s Basketball Head Coach Isaiah Cavaco’s music blasting through the speakers in the new spinning room, or maybe it was the thought of Associate Director of Leadership Annual Giving Lisa Thuer reciting mantras and pacing a yoga mat-covered floor that put a smile on her face.

The 16,000-square-foot expansion to Philips gym permitted the launch of YeoFit, an initiative that offers a variety of free programs and drop-in classes for students, faculty, and staff. According to Winkelfoos, YeoFit will provide endless opportunities to live a healthier, happier life while honoring the history of the College and building community.

Wellness is a long-standing institutional priority that Winkelfoos has emphasized since she was promoted to athletic director by former President Marvin Krislov in 2012. As part of the Oberlin Illuminate Campaign, Winkelfoos worked closely with the Office of Development to raise over $30 million toward the Austin E. Knowlton Complex — completed in September 2014 — and the Health and Wellness Center, which includes renovations to Carr Pool.

Emeritus College Archivist Roland Baumann said the Health and Wellness Center is a welcome addition to Philips gym that fits right in with the College’s background.

“[The building of this new facility] is of some historic importance because the College’s founders — some 185 years ago — seriously believed it was essential for students to exercise both their body and mind,” Baumann said.

According to the May 1941 edition of the Oberlin Alumni Magazine, “Dr. [Delphine] Hanna was the first teacher of physical education at Oberlin, and she was one of the first persons in this country to see the need of scientific teaching of physical education. In 1885, such ideas were very progressive, and few were prepared to teach them.” In 1903, Hanna became the first Professor of Physical Education in the United States.

Although Oberlin’s last physical education majors graduated in 1989, Winkelfoos said she believes the inception of YeoFit will once again arouse students’ eagerness to indulge in fitness.

While student-athletes are encouraged to explore areas of fitness outside of their respective sport, YeoFit classes will mostly benefit students who are not necessarily athletes but are looking for fun ways to maintain a healthier lifestyle.

Winkelfoos commended Head Softball Coach Sara Schoenhoft for the research she has put into coordinating the YeoFit class schedule — which includes offerings such as yoga, spinning, cardio boxing, and more — and highlighted Schoenhoft’s passion for fitness as the reason she was hired as Wellness Coordinator.

“She is someone who really embodies self-care,” Winkelfoos said. “I needed help, and she was the right person. I chose someone who was interested and passionate and wants to create something that is going to leave a lasting impact on the College and community.”

Schoenhoft was an all-conference selection three times as a softball player for the Kenyon College Ladies. She now regularly works out at Orangetheory Fitness and TITLE Boxing Club.

“[Fitness] has helped me through a lot of things,” Schoenhoft said. “It helped me get through depression and anxiety and long transitions [in life]. To me, it’s a coping mechanism. I feel like I’ve had a lot of good coaches and trainers, and now I get to give back and help other people.”

For those who have never had a fitness routine, starting a self-care plan can be intimidating and overwhelming, but Schoenhoft thinks the YeoFit classes will be an inclusive and nonjudgmental environment that will help students gain confidence and a sense of belonging.

“You might meet new people or you can bring your friends,” Schoenhoft said. “People want to belong to something. Once you’re a part of a community, that really improves the way you feel about yourself and how you feel about being at Oberlin — and that’ll positively influence all the other aspects of your life.”

Certified trainer Debra Herzog will be leading a weekly class called First Time Fitness in which students can learn how to take advantage of the Health and Wellness Center, improve bone strength and balance, and set and attain goals. Herzog was a track athlete and cheerleader in college and now coaches clients for a living — including President Carmen Twillie Ambar, who can be found working out every morning before sunrise.

“What I can say about President Ambar is that she is just like many of my clients: [a] goal-minded, hardworking competitor,” Herzog said. “She is definitely a strong leader in the gym and a role model when it comes to fitness tenacity. If she takes that kind of work ethic into her office every day, Oberlin is in great hands.”

One of YeoFit’s goals is to foster relationships between campus leaders and students. President Ambar encourages students to join her Be Bold Presidential Fitness Challenge, which began Wednesday and will end Oct. 5, the day Ambar will be officially installed as the College’s 15th president.

A similar opportunity is Gameday Ride with the Athletic Department, which will kick off Sept. 15 when the football team plays its first home game of the season against the Wittenberg University Tigers. Students, faculty, and staff are invited to participate in a spinning workout with Winkelfoos before heading over to Bailey Field to cheer on the Yeomen. Winkelfoos said the idea came from the Illinois College athletic director, who goes on gameday runs.

“I don’t know if many people understand this, but even as an administrator you get gameday jitters,” Winkelfoos said. “You’re excited and you want your student-athletes to perform well. I will more than likely be working out [before the games] anyway, so why not create that opportunity for people to join me? I love loud music and bike riding. It’s just a different way for me to connect with students.”

Through YeoFit, student-athletes will also have access to more resources and support than ever before. Schoenhoft said she is hoping to bring a few members of the Counseling Center staff into the Health and Wellness Center to hold drop-in office hours, and the Center for Student Success will host time management workshops Sept. 18 during lunch and Sept. 19 at 7 p.m.

Schoenhoft, an advisor for the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, said there will regularly be collaboration between SAAC and YeoFit. A swim-in movie night for student-athletes in the new pool — complete with blow-up floats and snacks — is just one of the ideas in the works.

Along with Carr Pool, the main gym in Philips received a total makeover over the summer — a new floor was installed, the walls were repainted, and the bleachers were replaced. The new court features the “campus skyline,” and the motto behind the project is “bringing the campus to the court.” Winkelfoos said she wants student-athletes to be assured that they are supported and recognized for their efforts in the classroom and in other extracurriculars around campus, not just on their sports teams.

“I can’t think of another college campus that has their academic buildings [designed] on an athletic facility,” Winkelfoos said. “Let’s give a nod to a major reason why our student-athletes are here. They’re here for academics. They spend a lot of time in Philips, but they spend a lot of time in the classroom too, so let’s bring the campus into our facilities.”

In years past, student-athletes had a tendency of taking over the Science Center atrium, Winkelfoos said. Now they will have additional places to do schoolwork and connect with each other and other students: tables and armchairs with built-in desks fill the Health and Wellness Center lounge, and Winkelfoos said that she plans on converting the old cardio hallway in Philips into a student lounge as well — something no athletic facility at Oberlin has ever had.

“Not only do we want you working out, but we want folks taking time to communicate with each other and study together,” Winkelfoos said. “The point of [all of this] is to create more beautiful collisions. You can have a really great facility, but if it’s not producing anything then what’s the point? The more connection and the more collaboration you can create for folks, the more successful the College will be and the more successful the community will be.”