by Jessica Henry

Here's a real shocker: college students don't pick a school for the classes or academic programs it offers. Okay, maybe some students do, but most students pick a school based on the extracurricular activities it has to offer. Students need a break from the tedium of college life. They like to be able to ski the slopes of Schweitzer, pump iron in the gym and swim laps in an Olympic size pool. And, of course, recreational activities are important to a student's mental, emotional and physical well being, whether those activities take place in a state-of-the-art fitness center or in the great outdoors of the Pacific Northwest.

Outdoor Eagles

Eastern Washington University's EPIC Adventures is one of the top outdoor recreation programs in the state, if not the whole Northwest.

"We are committed to providing positive, challenging, meaningful and affordable experiences that encourage you to explore your potential and embrace learning as a lifelong pursuit," says Chris Pelchat, director of EPIC Adventures.

EPIC offers a variety of activities, from climbing, skiing and snowshoeing, to kayaking, rafting and mountaineering, with all activities being taught and guided by EPIC's qualified and enthusiastic staff. It is this staff that makes EPIC adventures truly unique.

"Our organization is student-led," says Pelchat. "My whole staff is made up of students that I have personally trained to teach all aspects of outdoor recreation. Most outdoor programs have contracts with professional instructors; our program allows students to learn from students."

Utilizing all that the Inland Northwest has to offer, EPIC Adventures is continually creating new adventures for the students, staff and faculty of EWU. Most recently, a group of EWU students headed out on a rafting trip on the Riggins section of the Salmon River in Idaho. It is these rafting trips that draw the most people.

"The white-water rafting trips are definitely one of the most popular activities we offer," Pelchat says. But EPIC also serves the off-campus community in Cheney. With equipment rentals, classes, trips and special events, the whole town benefits from what's going on at Eastern.

Cougars Getting Fit

As far as fitness facilities go, the Student Recreation Center at Washington State University in Pullman is tops.

"This facility is truly unique and state-of-the-art because of the thought and design processes that went into it," says Sharae Randall, marketing coordinator for Recreation Programs. "It is rare to find a fitness facility with natural light and natural materials: we believe that these things draw in the students because they create a more appealing fitness environment with a great atmosphere."

It seems like there's nothing you can't do at this facility. It houses the largest weight and cardiovascular center among U.S. colleges, a four-lane track, racquetball/squash courts, three multi-purpose rooms for fitness classes, a five-lane lap pool, a leisure pool, a spa and seven courts for basketball, volleyball, badminton, roller hockey and indoor soccer. Whoa. And when you get hungry, there's a bistro offering light and healthy snacks and meals.

For those into low-impact activities, the rec center also has lounge areas with shuffleboard, ping pong and television. And if you get hurt, health and wellness services are in the same building as well.

Regardless of all the options, the basketball courts are still the most frequented, but with more than 3,000 patrons each day, the whole facility is utilized. The most patrons to use the facility in one day was a whopping 4,300.

"It is a place where students can be healthy, stay healthy and burn off excess energy and tension while doing something productive," Randall says.

A fact that no doubt is appreciated by the brass at WSU, which has been working hard to get rid of both the nickname "Wazzu" and the college's reputation as a party school.

"The Student Recreation Center has every option for recreation and conditioning. You could not find a club in the U.S. with such choice and luxury," says V. Lane Rawlins, president of WSU. "And, the best part is the open, friendly and skilled people who make it work. It is a real asset to WSU and reflects our 'world class' environment." It's hard to argue with that.

Whipping the Pirates into shape

One of the highlights of the beautiful Whitworth campus is the Scotford Fitness Center.

"It provides the Whitworth community the opportunity to pursue one's personal physical fitness and wellness in a spacious non-intimidating environment," says Todd Sandberg, Fitness Center director.

This facility has proven to be a very important addition to the Whitworth campus. Before it opened in December of 2000, all of the students had to share the varsity weight room. And we mean all the students -- football players and chess champions, men and women, swimmers and runners.

"The building of this facility," says Sandberg, "has created a personable, non-intimidating environment in which students, staff and faculty can coexist without the threat of an athletic team taking the facility over."

With all of the amenities of a large gym, Scotford Fitness Center provides an opportunity for patrons to condition both their bodies and minds. The facility includes a wide variety of cardiovascular equipment, free weights and weight machines.

"What makes the set up of our facility different is that it is a circuit that allows a person to do both weight training and cardiovascular work together," says Sandberg. Sun, rain or snow, the Scotford Fitness Center is a great place for students to gather, escape the books, get a great workout, and have some fun.

Throughout the Pacific Northwest colleges and universities offer great recreation programs. Hopefully the great facilities and adventurous trips are helping the students relax and refocus, as they take time out from their studies. If the hand weights pull more than the books, however, universities offer recreation degrees for those students who would rather play than study. So play away!

Dreamworks Animation: The Exhibition @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through Sept. 11
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