The Calgary Journal
The Calgary Journal

mrurecThe front entrance of Mount Royal Cougars and Athletics and Recreation. Photo by George Potter.

Some people have the assumption that you have to be a jock to enjoy the gym. However, Mount Royal Cougars Athletics and Recreation have been focusing on creating an inclusive environment for everyone, and it’s been paying off with more public membership.  

Recreation manager Bjorn Billehaug says public membership has increased by 15 per cent in the past year, with about 1,800 community members coming to use the facilities.

Billehaug says this is a sign their program is working.

“You don’t have to be a jock or a sports lover to show up at Recreation,” says Billehaug. “You can show up as yourself because you belong here, and we will have something for you.”

 Mount Royal Athletics and Recreation opened in 2002 and offers a weight room, four gyms, a rock climbing wall, a swimming pool, running track, and squash courts. Club sports such as rugby, squash, and badminton are also available.

According to the Huffington Post, Mount Royal University has one of the best sports and recreation facilities in Canada, ranking third in the country.

To become more community-focused and sell the Cougar brand beyond athletes, Recreation merged with Athletics in 2018 and was renamed Mount Royal Cougars Athletics and Recreation. 

“All those students are in one place in having pride in their school, and that is definitely unique but also intentional,” Billehaug says.

The facility also hires students, providing them with a space to work part-time during the semester while continuing their studies.

Billehaug says it’s important to have diversity among the students on staff because it better represents Mount Royal’s community.  

“I’m not always worried about if they come with the skill set right away,” says Billehaug. He adds that recreation software and fitness knowledge are all skills that can be taught.

Chad Van Dyk, sports recreation supervisor, says having students work for the facility is a top priority because it helps other students feel more comfortable to participate in the activities offered.

“Whether you are an intramural referee, lifeguard, personal trainer, or a fitness instructor, we’re trying to have students in those positions, and make that barrier be less intimidating,” says Van Dyk. 

Owen Lindsey, a student who works at customer service, says his job is to encourage students to find activities at the facility that align with their interests.

“I know, before I started working here, I would kind of come near recreation,” says Lindsey. “But not enter because I was intimidated. And that is our role, to create a welcoming environment for everybody else.”

Mount Royal Athletics and Recreation not only welcomes students on campus but also embraces the community outside the campus walls.

 The facility focuses on meeting people’s needs regardless of being a student or a member of the community. Billehaug said it’s important to listen to customers to help understand them better. 

“Programing means listening and asking, ‘What are those things we like to do, and what are your barriers to coming, and what would work better for you?’” says Billehaug. “When we do that, I think we can develop programs that meet people’s needs.” 

One of these programs is the Flex Fit Pass, which allows users to drop in to fitness classes any time during the day. The pass is available to students, staff, and members of the public.

Billehaug also says a new annual public membership coupled with a weekend and evening parking pass has contributed to an increase in membership. 

According to Van Dyk, there are many advantages to using  Recreation facilities.

“You will find a lot of our programs are cheaper than other areas across the city, whether it is Fitness Boutique, City of Calgary, etc.,” Van Dyk said. “We are always trying to keep our prices low to hopefully entice or engage our students across campus.”

Though it is important to make things affordable for students, the priority for MRU Recreation is to create a sense of community on campus.

“I think we provide a sense of belonging through the different activities we offer here. You can find community here,” says Billehaug. “That is really powerful when we talk about retention of students.”