Feeling Good

SU's new Fitness Center takes wellness to the next level

Written by Annie Beckmann
Photography by Chris Joseph Taylor
November 30, 2011

At the opening of Seattle University's new William F. Eisiminger Fitness Center, President Stephen Sundborg, S.J., told a rapt audience just how important a fitness center is in creating a full and rich educational experience.

Just as the Chapel of St. Ignatius is the spiritual center of campus and the Lemieux Library and McGoldrick Learning Commons the intellectual heart, the fitness center fulfills the wellness part of the equation.

"The fitness center was the piece missing from providing that great college experience," Father Sundborg said.
Wellness is integral to Seattle University's commitment of "educating the whole person." In addition to a first-class fitness facility, the university offers a host of programs and services, from counseling and assistance in mental health matters to healthy food choices and more, to promote wellness.

Walking into Seattle University’s new fitness center, you get the feeling this is anything but your typical gymnasium or dimly lit weight room. The high ceilings, wall of windows that flood the space with natural light, the views looking westward to Championship Field and beyond, and the impressive array of the latest and greatest workout machines signal a 21st century fitness facility.  Like so much of Seattle University’s campus, a transformation has come to the university’s exercise facility.

The shiny and new two-story center, officially named the William F. Eisiminger Fitness Center in honor of alumnus and generous supporter Bill Eisiminger, adjoins the existing Connolly Center. While SU’s athletic teams will continue to practice and workout in Connolly, the fitness center will serve as the meeting place for exercise for the greater campus community and alumni.

The high-end fitness center reflects a host of changes to Seattle University’s campus: the Lemieux Library and McGoldrick Commons, the Douglas with new student housing and retail space, nationally recognized campus food, more of a focus on sustainable building designs and even some you don’t see, such as high-speed wireless connections. All are indicators of the marked physical changes to the campus. The fitness center is the largest investment in campus recreation in more than 40 years.

"The fitness center was the piece missing from providing that great college experience."—President Stephen Sundborg, S.J.

Campus exercise has come a long way from the days when you arrived in sweatpants, pumped iron and quickly went elsewhere. Today, students see exercise as an element of a campus experience, as much social as physical. Prospective students often regard a fitness center as a factor when they choose a college.

The Eisiminger Fitness Center meets that demand in a way that also reflects a distinctive Seattle University education and mission.

“With a campus fitness center like this we provide an anchor point for our students,” says Derek Hottell, director of university recreation. “They become happier, healthier and lead more successful lives.”

Early reviews on the fitness center, which officially opened in late September, are full of raves.
Cayla Olsen of Spokane and Noah Campbell of Park City, Utah, were just finishing their workouts on side-by-side treadmills. The freshmen roommates were giddy with enthusiasm for  the new cardio equipment as they stepped off the machines.

“It’s so high-tech compared with anything I’ve experienced,” says Olson, a little breathless from her workout..
Campbell, who says she devotes five days a week to her fitness regimen, didn’t mince words. “This is the nicest gym I’ve ever been to,” she says, with enthusiasm as she looked around the room with a smile.. 

The new facility has everything you’d expect from a modern fitness center, including nearly $300,000 in cardio machines and strength equipment. The 21,000-square-foot center has loads of new features, from the rain garden outdoors to the soothing sage-colored mind-body studio with its hardwood floor and dimmable lights, suitable for yoga and other fitness classes. Two big group exercise rooms provide the space for salsa and spinning classes. There’s also a dedicated space for martial arts. The cardio floor includes enough electrical outlets to accommodate as many as 120 pieces of equipment.

The weightlifting area has nearly doubled in size. One distinctive feature that isn’t found in many fitness centers is artwork, which is displayed throughout the building.

“With a campus fitness center like this we provide an anchor point for our students. They become happier, healthier and lead more successful lives.”—Derek Hottell, director of university recreationFor those who want some distraction while working up a sweat—and don’t want to be too far from their technology—the fitness center has it covered. There are several large flat screen TVs high against the back wall on the second level, allowing visitors to get their cardio workout in on a treadmill, recumbent bike or elliptical while catching up on the news, a sitcom or reality TV show. There are also viewing screens on several of the machines and plug-ins for hand-held music players.

“I love the fact that I no longer have to wait to use an elliptical or treadmill during what’s considered the building’s peak times, lunch and afternoons,” says Leilani Balais, assistant director of Alumni Relations. “There are a variety of machines that allow you to diversify your workouts, both on the cardio floor and the weight floor. And of course, who wouldn’t want to watch the Redhawk soccer teams defeat our opponents while going for a run on one of the new treadmills.”

The way Hottell sees it, the fitness center is an important element in SU’s commitment to educating the whole person.
“The Chapel of St. Ignatius was the embodiment of the education of the spirit. The Lemieux Library and McGoldrick Learning Commons was the embodiment of the education of the mind,” he says. “Now we have the Eisiminger Fitness Center, which represents the education of the body.”

The wellness movement that’s unfolding at the nation’s colleges and universities indicates the timing is right for a facility like this on SU’s campus, Hottell points out.

Deb Hinchey, SU’s director of wellness and health promotion, agrees. A spring 2011 assessment by the American College Health Association indicates 58 percent of Seattle University students do moderate-intensity cardio and aerobic exercise for at least 30 minutes one to four times a week, Hinchey says.

More than 40 students and three professional staff members are on hand during regular hours to assist visitors, provide quick tutorials on the different equipment and make sure you have the correct athletic shoes for the machines—that means no ballet flats or flip flops. For the weight lifters, they’ll also spot you.

Alumnus Ernie Dunston, ’64, was one of the first to use the fitness center. Dunston, a former member of the SU Alumni Board of Governors and SU basketball player, had worked out at Connolly for longer than he could recall.

“This is great,” Dunston says. “Bill Eisiminger must be very proud.” (See accompanying story on Eisiminger, the fitness center’s namesake.)

Another plum is that the fitness center achieved a gold ranking from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). The LEED Gold status “reflects the university’s widely recognized commitment to sustainable practices and green building design,” Vice President Leary notes.

For those who use the facility, Hottell hopes new habits will form. He encourages visitors to try things they’ve never done before such as an exercise class or a new workout regimen.

“We want students to have the opportunity to try new forms of recreation, and we hope through this process, they discover positive recreational pursuits to serve them throughout their lives,” he says.

Alvin Sturdivant, assistant vice president for Student Development, emphasizes that navigating stress—both physical and emotional—is part of the student experience that can’t be overlooked. He sees the fitness center as a way to expand strategies for greater self-care.

“The habits our students develop now are likely to be held for a lifetime, whether bad or good,” he says. “We’re not saying, ‘What you’re doing is unhealthy,’ we’re just giving them a different perspective on it.”


Think you can guess how many pounds of strength equipment are in the new William F. Eisiminger Fitness Center? (Think free weights as well as the iron you pump on the weight machines; skip the heft of cardio machines.) The prize is one three-month pass (worth $90) to the center. Enter your guesses in the comments section below. Deadline for entries: Friday, March 2, 2012. Open to alumni only. Entrant who comes closest to the total pounds without going over will win. Be sure to include your full name and contact information in your entries.

The William F. Eisiminger Fitness Center is open:

Monday–Thursday: 6 a.m.–11 p.m.
Friday: 6 a.m.–10 p.m.
Saturday: 9 a.m.–10 p.m.
Sunday: Noon–9 p.m.
Get more information on the fitness center and purchase a membership (alumni memberships available quarterly or annually) here.

Exercisers who opt for the treadmills get not only a great workout but also a front row to an amazing view of downtown Seattle.
Want to workout and watch some TV? The new fitness center has it covered with several flat screen TVs showing a variety of programming.
Being a first-rate fitness center means having the latest equipment from cardio machines to weight stations.
There is ample space within the facility for working out alone, with friends or in a larger group setting (the center offers various classes from dance-focused to yoga.)