At 4 a.m., some UM students are just heading to bed. However, Wellness Center director Norm Parsons is just waking up. Though most would cringe at the idea of a 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. workday, Parsons feels that his 39 years of early mornings have been worth it.
“I love the students. I also love to help our patrons understand how to live a higher quality life,” he said.
Parsons started his fitness career as a member of his college ROTC at West Virginia University. After getting his masters at WVU, he decided to stay and work with intramural sports there. He then worked for two years at the University of Michigan before deciding to leave the snow behind and move to Miami.
When Parsons first arrived at UM, he had a much smaller fitness area to work with.
“Our Department of Campus Sports and Recreation was basically only intramurals, special events, club sports, and an old gym called the Lane Recreation Center which had two basketball courts, two saunas, two small weight rooms and locker rooms,” said Rhonda DuBord, the associate director of the Department of Wellness and Recreation.
Now, weight machines line the walls of the center. Indoor basketball courts share the same floor as classrooms that hold programs like zumba and yoga. The center has been making great strides since 1972; most recently, an 18,000 square-foot expansion opened in February 2011. The Wellness Center added 7,000 square feet to the fitness room. The expansion also includes two new multi-purpose rooms, a Pilates studio with five reformer machines, and a cycling studio with a video wall, special lighting, and a state-of-the-art sound system.
Though the new addition is a major change Norm has brought to the Wellness Center, he has always strived for continuous improvement through numerous smaller changes.
Senior Eric Hahn, who used and worked at the Center, experienced Norm’s passion for the Wellness Center firsthand.
“Last year I was really frustrated with a lot of things at the gym. People would walk underneath cables when I was doing cable crossovers, no one was re-racking weights, and I almost lost a toe because someone came close to dropping an 100-pound dumbbell on my foot. I filed a complaint card, and about a week later Parsons replied asking how the Center could correct some of these problems. It made me look at him in a whole different light,” Hahn said last year.
Parsons has also pushed for programs that do more than just tone muscles.
“A wellness center should help students spiritually, intellectually, socially and emotionally,” he said.
Programs unrelated to exercise, like cooking classes and smoking cessation courses, promote the importance of a healthy lifestyle outside the gym.
Though the center has gone through significant changes, Parsons’ dedication to exercise has not. Despite having knee surgery, he continues to play golf and cycle.
As a member of Iron Arrow, Parsons understands the importance of academics.
“Students can get a good education at the U, but they can get their life at the Wellness Center. Students have to be selfish-if they don’t take care of themselves, no one else will,” he said.
Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Pat Whitely has worked with Parsons for 15 years.
“Norm has changed the vision of wellness at UM,” she said.