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Nemeth Brings Passion for Outdoor Adventure to New Position as Director of Recreation and Wellness

Bridget NemethBridget Nemeth

Bridget Nemeth remembers the exact moment she decided to pursue a career in recreation.

A University of Maryland student, Nemeth was leading an outdoor adventure trip to the Florida Everglades, kayaking, camping and learning life lessons, while experiencing nature close-up. One evening, she stood on white sand, with her toes at the edge of crystal-clear water, and stared out at a spectacular sunset. "I said to myself right then, 'Why would I not want to be paid to do this for the rest of my life?'"

Her life's journey has taken Nemeth, at the time a secondary education major, from Maryland, to Texas, to New Jersey and ultimately to Virginia. Nemeth recently was named Old Dominion University's director of Recreation and Wellness.

Her responsibilities include department leadership for programs and services in the areas of facilities, marketing, membership, fitness, wellness, sport clubs, intramural sports, extramural sports, aquatics, summer camps and ODU's Outdoor Adventure Program (OAP).

Outdoor adventure, Nemeth's passion, was what brought her to ODU in 2008. Working outside of higher education after her husband was transferred to Virginia Beach, she saw the posting for a coordinator position that, essentially, would be tasked with creating an outdoor adventure program from scratch at ODU. "I literally started shaking. It so much represented what I wanted in a career and what I believe in," she said.

When she interviewed for the position, Nemeth said she already was envisioning how the new OAP would be structured inside the then-under-construction Student Recreation Center (SRC). "I remember during my interview, I asked about a space in the room (that would ultimately house OAP) and was told they were going to maybe make a meeting room. I said, 'Why not a bike shop?'"

When ODU's Student Recreation Center opened in 2009, it provided an incredible opportunity to grow the OAP, with the purchase of kayaks, tents, the addition of a climbing wall and, yes, a bike rental shop. Adventure trips led by OAP have gone to Costa Rica, Peru, Europe and across the United States.

"It was an opportunity to come into an outdoor program and implement all the things I saw in other locations that worked, and help build that synergy with the whole campus," Nemeth said.

In 2012, when Nemeth became interim director, she attempted to bring that collaborative culture to all of Recreation and Wellness. "We're not just talking about recreation; we're talking about healthy habits that can be created to last a lifetime," she said.

On Admitted Student Day earlier this month, she hosted activities at the SRC, leading tours for future Monarchs and their parents. Her passion for recreation at ODU shone through. "Three people that day asked me what my major was, and how did I get this job. I guess I was so enthusiastic when I was leading the tours. But it's true what they say: If you find what you're truly passionate about, you never work a day in your life," Nemeth said.

"We are very excited for Bridget to lead the Recreation and Wellness staff. She brings a great understanding of campus recreation, outdoor programming and wellness to this role," said Don Stansberry, assistant vice president for student engagement with ODU's Division of Student Engagement and Enrollment Services.

Nemeth sees more opportunities to tie health and wellness to campus well-being, community engagement and education, using the SRC as a hub. Having academic programs such as exercise science and sport management headquartered in the building helps to forge academic partnerships, she said. The SRC recently hosted an event that celebrated the passage of Title IX, the landmark legislation that ensured equal participation of female athletes in collegiate athletics.

"Before coming (to Old Dominion) I was working in corporate event planning. I was ordering $500 centerpieces for an event, and I was thinking, 'I'd much rather buy a $500 kayak.' I think I'm in the right place for me."