Following her husband’s surgery, Gunnison resident Kathie Powell set out to help him in his physical recovery, which led to her own journey to better health. Together the couple learned about Western Colorado University’s Wellness Elevated program and soon found themselves lapping the track in the Mountaineer Field House on campus.
“I loved it,” Powell said. “They gave me an exercise program and I really enjoyed it. I’ve been coming ever since!”
Wellness Elevated is a 12-week exercise program that pairs students with community members seeking to improve their health. It was first formed with referrals from a single physician in Gunnison. Since then, other physicians in the valley and as far as Montrose are sending patients to the program—which has grown from eight clients in its first year to nearly 80 enrolled each semester. In total, about 600 community members have participated thus far.
Gaining Hands-on Experience
The program allows students in the Exercise & Sport Science (ESS) program to have hands on experience with clients while collecting scientific data. Clients are given an initial evaluation on fitness and blood chemistry, including lipid profiles, and then are prescribed a fitness routine. They are checked regularly on the progress they make during the 12 weeks.
“I’ve participated in two (previous) master’s thesis projects and am currently in my third,” said Powell. “This is fun because you get to help out a second-year master’s student and, depending on their thesis, learn even more!”
But when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Gunnison and gyms had to close, the Wellness Elevated program was canceled and refunds were given from money provided to the university from the federal government. Wellness Elevated Manager Angie Dalleck was forced to recreate a program minimizing contact to keep everyone safe.
Adjusting to New Circumstances
Beginning in the fall of 2020, most clients exercised at home. Only 13 people signed up for the revamped program, exercising outside on porches, with some at the field house, being routed through side doors.
“We had to get creative in what we could use, we had to use what we had: body exercises, spin bikes, weights and a track,” said Dalleck. “I really put it on the students to be creative—what can you do?”
But despite the constraints imposed by a global pandemic, without exception every client made major improvements in their health, Dalleck said. Additionally, there was much she learned about the core of the program itself.
“I learned to trust the students because they weren’t under my physical supervision. I couldn’t see always what they were doing,” Dalleck said. “I think it’s probably taught us all the same lessons, one way or another. We have to be flexible; we have to adapt. If you want to have a program, it has to look different.”
Building Better Communication
That trust placed in the hands of students opened up a whole new level of learning. For ESS senior Robert Gerlock, who has a clinical emphasis, those lessons were timely.
“Communication was a big key between me and my clients, as well as learning to adjust my schedule to help my clients progress in their exercises,” Gerlock said. “I learned how to create exercises for my clients that had specific limitations and at-home workouts when the pandemic shut us down, along with helping them to adapt to exercise they didn’t enjoy or could not do.”
The strategy paid off for clients like Powell.
“They really took our safety seriously. Of course, my program was great and rigorous, but I still missed using the equipment in the gym,” Powell said.
Taking Advantage of the Program
Currently, she is working with a new student and is exercising in the field house. But, she said, all the work she is doing could be done at home too.
“I am so thankful for this program for me and my husband,” Powell said. “I also feel great that these students are gaining some real-world experience while they are in school and I enjoy furthering this cause as well! This is one of the best programs that seniors have available to them in this community. I encourage anyone and everyone that can meet during their hours to take advantage of this program.”
Learn more about the Exercise and Sport Science Wellness Elevated Program.
Photo (above): Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, a student is seen above working with a participant in Wellness Elevated in the Mountaineer Field House.
Author Credit: Chris Rourke
Photo Credit: Courtesy Western Marketing