Evangeline Lupanov, who interns at the Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community, hopes to combine her love of music, art, and fitness into a career in recreational therapy. She also plays piano and violin at Slavic Christian Church in Port Republic. (Photos by Randi B. Hagi)

Recreation and sports management intern helps local seniors regain mobility

On Wednesday mornings, you can find Evangeline Lupanov in the Wellness Center at Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community, helping those diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease learn non-contact boxing. Lupanov, a senior at Eastern Mennonite University, interns at the retirement community three times a week.

Lupanov will graduate this spring with a degree in recreation and sports management and minors in art and kinesiology. She aspires to combine these passions, along with her love of music, into a career in recreational therapy. This combines a variety of therapeutic activities into a treatment plan based on the client’s physical and psychological needs.

Lupanov said recreational therapy is typically used for those recovering from surgeries or injuries, anyone from “athletes who are younger, college-level, to middle-aged people, to seniors who had a surgery done, like a hip replacement.”

Gaining experience in her future profession at VMRC, Lupanov also conducts fitness assessments for residents and wellness center members, helps them create workout plans, and walks them through different exercises.

“We do see a big difference,” Lupanov said. “The assisted trainings that we do, for them, it might not seem like a lot. They’re doing some bicep curls, some sit-ups, some little exercises. But the mobility, it just adds to your quality of life.”

Lupanov walks client Donald Moyers through exercises on the wellness center’s pneumatic weight machines.

The wellness center sees about 4,500 visits a month from its members, which includes residents of the retirement community and locals who are over 50 years old.

Besides balance and strengthening exercises, an important part of the wellness center experience are the friendships that form.

“Everybody loves meeting people here,” said Jessica Weirich, wellness center manager. “Eva’s been great with having conversations with them and getting to build those relationships.”

The benefit is mutual.

“I enjoy the interactions with the people,” Lupanov said. “The clients that we work with, a lot of them are just so sweet. They’re very grateful for what we do for them.”

Some of her clients have never been to a gym before, Lupanov said.

“For a lot of them, this is a brand new thing. So we have to introduce them to the whole concept of, exercise is good for you,” she explained. 

Lupanov hopes to stay in the area after graduation, and may pursue a personal trainer certification while she looks for a recreational therapist position nearby.

“Pretty much everything I do is helping me get ready for my future career, because everything I’ve learned in classrooms I get to put into practice here,” Lupanov said.