Western Courier

Faculty Spotlight: Milly MacDonell

Director of Campus Recreation

Talis Shelbourne

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 Milly MacDonell is coming into her tenth year as the Director of Campus Recreation at Western Illinois University, hoping to meet the challenges of bringing fitness into the lives of college students.

 Athletics has always been a part of MacDonell’s life. She played several sports in her youth and later coached before becoming director of Western’s campus recreation.

 “Growing up, I was always athletic,” MacDonell said. “I was in sports all the way through high school from track and softball to all the field events—jumping, throwing—to volleyball.”

She received a full volleyball scholarship to Mississippi University for Women where she studied to be a doctor.

 “I had gone into sciences—I love science—and I thought about pre-med and went into exercise science because that kind of combined both,” MacDonnel Said.

 She later chose to major in biology and her next 15 years after college involved coaching volleyball and softball at several different universities; the loss of this career eventually brought her to Western.

 “Then, that career ended and I thought, ‘What am I going to do? I’m in my 30s and I really thought I would have kids and a family by now.’ So I really stepped back and evaluatedmy life.”

 A friend at the University of Tennessee told MacDonell about a sports management program at Western Illinois University. Here, she earned her Master’s and was given an assistantship at the recreation center.

Then after 7 years doing campus recreation elsewhere, MacDonell became the director of campus recreation at Western. However, she said it is daunting that there are at least 10 different areas she is responsible for within the recreation center alone. “And then if you come all the way downstairs,” MacDonnel said, describing one of the supervised areas, “we have a brand-new power lifting, Olympic strength training room.”

MacDonell emphasized the recreation center’s important role in maintaining student health.

 “I think it’s critical,” MacDonnel said, “It’s very stress-relieving to have some other activities to be involved in (and) it’s very engaging. There are several studies that show when students are engaged and involved, they are much happier (and) their retention rate on campus is better.”

Yet she admitted that one of her biggest challenges is motivating students to exercise.

 “It’s hard when you’re young and you’re fit and you don’t feel like you’re hurting by not doing it,” MacDonnel said. “But if you guys get into the habit of doing it now, you’ll realize how much better you feel. You’ll sleep better. You’ll be more bright-eyed in class. You’ll have more energy. And it’s all the things that feel good, but  hard to know until
you feel.”

“So our challenge is try to create awareness to (show) it’s really not that bad. It’s really fun,” she said assuredly. “We’ll show you how to use the equipment. We’ll even get you a personal trainer if you need it.”

 MacDonell had a few tips from her own personal experience to make exercise more appealing. For example, she urged people to
start gradually.

 “I think a lot of people make the mistake and I did it because I’m older and not as fit as I was and just go out and say, ‘Oh, I should be able to run 3 miles.’ And you just go out and you collapse or feel terrible or you’re extremely sore the next day that discourages people right off,” MacDonnel said.

 Planning events to build student relationships and working with graduate students were some of the things MacDonell described as her favorite roles.

 “It’s the fun side that I had of coaching and putting the whole team and making everybody work together,” MacDonnel said, “but it’s also sort of that personal/counseling side of coaching where you really care about the individuals and you want to see them succeed and help them go to that next level.”

 Looking toward the future, she hopes to continue providing students a resource for health and fitness.

“When I really need a pick-me-up, it’s like I’ll walk around and see what we’re doing,” MacDonnel said, “And it’s just fun.”

 “For me personally, I just want to enjoy every day, appreciate every day, and feel like I’m doing something to serve others and help people,” MacDonnel I love to help college students and that is what gives me my joy.”

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The independent student newspaper of Western Illinois University. Serving Macomb since 1905.
Faculty Spotlight: Milly MacDonell