Jay Iorizzo Focuses on More than Fitness at the Rec

From video games to snowshoeing, the campus recreation director leads students and staff toward better health.

Jay Iorizzo Focuses on More than Fitness at the Rec

From video games to snowshoeing, the campus recreation director leads students and staff toward better health.

Jay Iorizzo, director of TCU's University Recreation Center, photographed at the Rec with sets of free weights in the background. Photo by Glen E. Ellman

Jay Iorizzo, director of the Campus Recreation Center, says healthful living is more than exercise. Photo by Glen E. Ellman

Jay Iorizzo became TCU’s resident fitness guru in 2004, one year after the university opened the 232,000-square-foot Campus Recreation Center.

The facility serves students and more than 1,500 employees and community members with an Olympic-sized pool, a weight room, a jogging track, cardio machines and workout classes. But the “Rec” is not just about fitness options — the facility and programs are leading a campus push for holistic well-being.

With an average of 2,500 visitors each weekday, the recreation center is a high-traffic corner of campus. What role does it play in university life?

Recreation provides a place where people can come and take care of themselves in multiple ways. Most commonly, people think about physical fitness when it comes to the recreation center, but there’s so much more that someone can take advantage of to further their overall well-being. We all need to take care of ourselves and take care of each other. It’s all about the choices we make that help keep us healthy, and putting our best foot forward with a positive perspective will bring us the sense of wellbeing we all deserve.

The recreation center has a climbing wall, yoga classes, even video game tournaments. What are your most popular offerings?

Our intramural program is very successful. We had 120 basketball teams playing in our intramural league, which is our major sport for the spring. We serve more than 25 percent of the student body in intramurals, which is slightly above the national average.

We have more than 600 student-athletes who participate in more than 20 club sports. They represent TCU across the country.

Our outdoor program is highly successful. It leads different trips across the country, whether we go to the Florida Everglades or Hawaii, which we did during spring break.

Also I would say our group exercise programs. We offer more than 40 classes each week where people can come for a variety of high-intensity classes.

What are some of the center’s most unexpected activities?

The video game tournaments are a trend, especially in collegiate recreation.

During spring break, we did a snowshoeing trip where you basically snowshoed to cabins located in the middle of nowhere in Colorado. There is always a twist or two that we offer to the TCU community that they have never even thought of potentially trying.

When we look at recreation, it isn’t just about working out. Recreation is about re-creating one’s mind, body and soul. So for some folks, recreation is playing a musical instrument; some people it’s playing video games; some people it’s lifting weights. We try to provide as many different recreational outlets as we possibly can.

You do a survey every year to ensure you are meeting student desire for recreational opportunities. What are students saying?

A lot of times it comes down to having more cardio equipment because during our peak hours, from 3 to 7 p.m., a lot of our cardio pieces are taken. So that’s always a typical concern for our students. They also want more individualized workout spaces to do pre-scripted workouts that they can find through apps on their phones. So that’s something that we are looking into—providing more spaces for students to do that.

Are there advantages to having an in-person instructor versus streaming a workout video?

The biggest thing for me about in-person classes is that there are also other people, most likely, with you during the exercise. The social aspect is very important for someone’s commitment to continuing the exercise as well as just enjoying their time with other people while everyone’s working on developing their physical selves.

How often does workout culture shift?

I think the trends shift quite frequently, whether it’s the next greatest fitness app or a different type of workout. But cardio, weight and flexibility training are always going to be the staples of taking care of your physical being.

The trendy thing we are seeing these days is what is known as functional training, where you’re doing exercises that are based off of functional movements that we see in some of these TV shows such as American Ninja Warrior that we saw emerge from the CrossFit craze.

Jay Iorizzo, director of TCU's University Recreation Center, photographed at the Rec. Photo by Glen Ellman, January 30, 2018

Jay Iorizzo, director of the Campus Recreation Center, leads students, faculty and staff toward balanced choices and a better life. Photo by Glen E. Ellman

Do you have any thoughts on designing an ideal workout regimen?

We call it personal training because you need to make it personal. We all have to realize and understand that we have different likes, that we all are going to respond differently to different modes of exercise. So if you know running isn’t for you, don’t force yourself to run. It’s all about you taking a look at what is going to work best for you, and then from there following a certain regimen that will keep you active, keep you going, that’s going to be sustainable, hopefully for a lifetime. But I would say that it is important to hit all the components of fitnesssome form of cardio, some form of weight training and also working on your flexibility.

Have you noticed an increased student demand for comprehensive wellness education in recent years?

Yes, and I think it is crucial that we deliver holistic wellness programs so that their development can set them up for success for a lifetime. Because I know for me personally, those messages I learned about taking care of myself hit home when I was in college, and I’ve held onto those ever since. I think it’s important that we do the same for students.

Our big-umbrella campaign for general wellbeing is Frog Life: Empowering a Culture of Wellness, which we deem is the way a Horned Frog should try to live. That campaign encourages individuals to make balanced choices toward healthy options that will eventually create a sense of wellbeing throughout their lives.

You are working on a doctoral degree in higher educational leadership. How does that program in the College of Education apply to your role at TCU?

It’s crucial that anyone involved in higher education understands the big picture of our role so that we can best serve our students and best work together to deliver the experience and the education that our students want and deserve.

Being a part of the doctoral program has allowed me to gain knowledge that I have been able to bring back to our department and pass down to our professional staff, who then can pass it down to our student workers.

Some of the [doctoral-level] classes cover basic administration systems: theory, organizational management, student-development theory and also assessment. And quantitative and qualitative research is a huge part of understanding how you are doing and then guiding you in why you do what you do.

— Caroline Collier

Editor’s Note: The questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.