Orford — Last week was February vacation at Rivendell Academy, but Zack Gray and Jacob Perkins didn’t mind being on campus.
The seniors were taking advantage of the newly christened Rivendell Fitness Center, which opened Feb. 15 and features an array of donated and repaired equipment.
It’s now open to all students and faculty from 6:30-8 a.m. and 3-5 p.m. on school days or by appointment with Rivendell physical education and health teacher James Graham, who has sought to improve the facility since arriving at Rivendell at the beginning of the school year.
Tucked on the north end of the middle school building, the area simply known as the “weight room” had been underutilized and lacked sufficient equipment, Graham said. Dusty dumbbells, old benches and a squat rack weren’t used very much, and demand was similarly low for an older-model treadmill and elliptical machine that had mechanical issues.
A recent campaign spearheaded by Graham and Gray to gather donated equipment and promote the facility has helped it become functional again. A row of operational treadmills and an exercise bike now face the room’s bay windows, the preexisting elliptical has been fixed and a new one has been added, along with a bodyweight resistance machine, hanging and stationary boxing bags, and new weights.
The improvements have incited something akin to a workout renaissance at Rivendell as student-athletes such as Gray and Perkins — along with plenty of their peers — utilize the facility with increasing frequency.
“There’s a lot of traffic in here now, and most of them have never worked out here or even seen this room before,” said Graham, 46, a master personal trainer who doubles as the Raptors’ junior varsity boys basketball coach. “You’ve got young kids, like guys on my jayvee team, who’ve never worked out before, and now they’re getting into it. You’ve got guys on the varsity team who never would have dreamed of coming to school early who are now in the parking lot at 6:30 in the morning, waiting for the door to get unlocked. There’s still some work to do, but there’s been a great response so far. We want to keep it going.”
Graham, a 6-foot-7 Boulder, Colo., native who played hoops at the University of Northern Colorado and for a Dallas-based adult developmental league, now hopes to help student athletes at Rivendell accomplish their own goals.
Gray, a burly forward who led the Raptors with 16 points per game this season, aspires to walk on to the men’s basketball team at Plymouth State University next winter. Perkins has more immediate goals, looking to perfect his swing entering his senior season for the Rivendell golf team this spring.
Working with Graham, and with the new equipment at school, has been a big help so far.
“You can find routines online and join a gym, but it really helps to talk with someone about your specific goals, bounce ideas off of them and get advice,” Gray said. “Mr. Graham is very good with that kind of thing. He knows his stuff.”
One of Graham’s goals with the facility is to help students feel comfortable using the equipment, mitigating what he calls “the intimidation factor.” He’s purchased padding to help alleviate the squat bar’s pressure on the shoulders and back, for example, and is available on-site during the facility’s scheduled hours to offer guidance in the way of movement patterns, weight-load and endurance targets and general technique tips.
“A lot of the idea is just being there for the kids and being supportive as they hopefully develop lifelong fitness habits,” said Graham, who obtained a masters degree in clinical counseling at Dallas Baptist University after studying physical education and kinesiology as an undergraduate. “Every student is going to have different goals. You’ve got guys like Zack, who want to play college basketball, and guys like Jacob who want to get better at golf. You’ve got kids just working out for the first time, so there is going to be different approaches for everyone.”
Graham hopes the facility will expand to include an adjacent room now used as a storage closet, perhaps for stationary bicycle classes. Aesthetic improvements are in the works for mirrors, brighter paint and a television or two.
He also plans to soon open Rivendell Fitness Center’s doors to the public, a way of giving back to a community that has been so generous donating equipment.
“We’ve gotten a lot of stuff just from talking to people and posting (donation requests on public listservs),” Graham said. “The principal here, Keri Gelenian, has been very supportive and on board with what we’re doing, and (school maintenance personnel) John Jakubens and Steve Page have been great. We wouldn’t have a lot of the equipment up and running without them.”
Gray, who has helped transport and install much of the new equipment, feels like it’s the start of something great at his school.
“Just thinking about how there was hardly anything in here before and no one was in here, and seeing what it is already now. … I can picture coming back here in 10 years and being, like, ‘Wow. This is awesome. I’m glad I was a part of this.’ ”