Finding Their Place at Gilman's New Fitness Center
Fitness has always been top of mind at Gilman. The School’s mission statement says it is “dedicated to educating boys in mind, body, and spirit” and includes an “emphasis upon … athletic participation.”
In support of that mission, for the past several decades, Gilman’s weight room had all the basics a weight room should have: free weights, benches, treadmills. Many athletes of Gilman’s past remember spending countless hours there, encouraging their teammates and pushing themselves toward their personal fitness goals.
“I spent every summer of Upper School lifting there to prepare for football season, and I lifted with the football, basketball, and baseball teams during the season,” says Director of Athletics T. Russell Wrenn ’96, who returned to Gilman as Assistant Director of Athletics in 2016. “I remember the space as a place where I got to know and become accepted by older boys and where we developed bonds with each other through hard work and perspiration.”
But over time, the School has grown and the athletic programs have evolved and expanded. More recent graduates and current students may recall having to wait to use a popular machine or feeling cramped in the tight space situated above the pool when a large team, like varsity football, trained there together.
“The room upstairs was not originally designed to be a weight room,” says Wrenn. “As things changed over the years, we had to shoehorn what we could in a space that wasn’t built for it.”
Focus on Wellness
Recent years have renewed focus on not just athletic participation but on wellness as a whole at Gilman. To that end, the start of the 2022-2023 school year brought with it the opening of the C. Markland Kelly, Jr. Health, Wellness, and Fitness Center, located in what used to be known as the auxiliary gym on the south side of the Redmond C. S. Finney Athletic Center.
“We equipped the space to meet as many of the boys and other constituents exactly where they are,” Wrenn says. The center features performance turf for agility and power exercises, a large strength and conditioning area, open space for team training, TRX, kettlebells, bands, and a mezzanine level with cardio and metabolic training equipment.
“Boys doing team workouts are fairly advanced but we also have folks who are in there for the first time,” Wrenn says. “We try to make it accessible for everyone. Fitness is a lifetime sport.”
The center is used, as Wrenn mentions, by the many groups that make up the Gilman community. Interscholastic teams, Upper School students enrolled in intramural sports or a fitness class, and Middle Schoolers participating in an interscholastic sport all utilize the offerings of the center throughout the school day and into the evening. Even fourth and fifth grade boys in Lower School have taken advantage of the new facility to do a functional movement unit during physical education class. Faculty and staff members often squeeze in a workout during their lunch breaks, and alumni have been spotted lifting on weekends and during holiday breaks from college.
“A Complete 180”
Diego Matorras has been the head strength and conditioning coach at Gilman since 2016 so he spends a lot of time at the fitness center. “The difference between the old weight room and the new fitness center is a complete 180,” he says. “The atmosphere has changed. It’s enjoyable to be here.”
Gone are the days of crowded areas and delays in using desired equipment. “The center is great in terms of space. We don’t need to worry about the number of boys — there are no limitations,” Matorras says. “And we are flexible in terms of what they can do, too. Sometimes they have their own programs. Sometimes they come to me with goals, and we figure out a plan to meet those goals.”
Besides adding physical space for more activity, Wrenn noticed that the new environment has also expanded the capacity for more social connections. “During the alumni lacrosse game, a few college alums stopped by and worked out with current Upper School students,” he says. “It’s a great place to create community among different sports. Teammates often spend their time only with each other, but the larger space has allowed for various athletes to mingle together.”
And it’s not just interscholastic teams who are benefitting. Matorras has worked with a group of boys this season who are not affiliated with fall team sports but who he says have “found their place” in physical activity at Gilman through weight training at the center. “They are very motivated. They want to be here. They are seeing results. And I’ve watched their confidence grow.”
One of those boys is Cole Randall ’23. “Originally, I was an underclassman who joined the fitness intramural only to fulfill the athletic requirement. Over time, I became motivated by the kindness and dedication of the weight room staff, especially Coach Matorras,” he says. “The good energy in the fitness center is contagious, and it inspires me to spend time there.”
Supporting the Whole Boy
Wrenn and Matorras are excited to be able to better support both the physical and mental aspects of wellness through the opportunities offered by the fitness center. They have plans to continue to educate the community about how to use the various equipment available so that even more people feel comfortable coming in for a workout.
“Having a physical outlet is so helpful to give the boys a break from daily stresses. It gives them another chance for camaraderie with their coaches,” says Wrenn. The path to wellness, Matorras adds, is through “nutrition, exercise, and rest. We provide the space and time for the boys to do that.”
And Randall is the embodiment of that notion. “Working out has helped me gain the endurance to enjoy the sports that I love. It has allowed me to make new friends and has provided me with a break from schoolwork to clear my mind,” he says. “There is a reason that Gilman requires athletics.”
article published January 18, 2023