Degree: Bachelor of Physical Education, Master of Physical Education
Graduated: 1980 (BPE), 1982 (MPE)
Employed as: Executive Director, Reh-Fit Centre
Attention, health and recreation types: Do you need someone to develop and design a brand new fitness facility for you, shepherding the project literally from conception stage to completion?
How about someone to organize, oversee and then operate an already-existing facility as it sets up shop in a much larger, much more community-oriented location?
Or maybe you're looking for someone who's come full circle in her career, by returning to the same facility she got her start at years earlier to supervise a $13-million expansion and set the blueprint for future industry excellence?
At any rate, Sue Boreskie's got you covered. The University of Manitoba alum — a graduate of the Faculty of Kinesiology and Recreation Management — boasts three such achievements on her resume, first as the visionary behind the Wellness Institute at Seven Oaks General Hospital, then as director of fitness and health (and assistant/associate executive director) of the Rose and Max Rady Jewish Community Centre, and currently as executive director of the Reh-Fit Centre.
So what’s the secret to her success? A former competitive swimmer and lifelong fitness enthusiast, Boreskie says she's always applied the skills she learned as an athlete to both her academic and professional careers.
"I learned how to set goals for myself," says Boreskie, who in 1982 became the recipient of FKRM's first-ever Master of Physical Education degree. "I remember my first (swimming) coach taking me aside and saying, 'Sue, what do you think you can achieve in two months?' And I remember setting a time, and he'd say, 'No, I think you can do better.' So he'd stretch me and I would achieve it. It was a great metaphor for me, for how I should be thinking of my life and my career."
Having once considered a major in physiotherapy, Boreskie switched her focus from science to phys. ed. during her second year at university, later earning her Master's (and eventually kicking off her career) under the tutelage of advisors Dr. Wendy Dahlgren and Dr. David Mymin, the latter a Faculty of Medicine professor and founder of the Reh-Fit Centre.
"There were only three sites in the country that used exercise as a form of rehabilitation, and Dr. Mymin's was one — they were using the basement of the Frank Kennedy building, the Gritty Grotto," she recalls. "In those days, they thought we were taking great risks exercising heart patients. Doctors certainly weren't referring people as we see today."
In 1985, Boreskie returned to the U of M as director of Target Fitness (she'd worked there previously as a student), also serving in teaching and research capacities and as Director of Recreation Services until 1994, when her connections led to her being approached by reps ffrom Seven Oaks, who wanted her to develop a business plan for a vague-sounding health promotion strategy.
After pairing with FKRM professor DR. Mark Searle to study how hospitals across North America were incorporating exercise into their delivery models (a process made possible by a research grant through FKRM’s Health, Leisure and Human Performance Research Institute), Boreskie tendered a business plan proposing an on-site fitness centre — an idea that went over so well with Seven Oaks brass, they offered her the chance to make the concept a reality.
"My role was not to run the Wellness Centre, because there was no Centre yet, but to take my business plan and implement it," she says.
"It was the first time in my life I had to research architectural features and electrical systems, or to learn how to design the perfect space for different physical activities. I was taking the physical activity I'd done as an individual ... and the administration skills and research skills I'd learned in university, and here was an opportunity to tie it all together."
Boreskie stayed with the Wellness Institute until it opened in 1997, at which time she got the chance to again put her project management skills to use by helping move the Rady Centre (YMHA) to its new digs on the Asper Jewish Community Campus.
After fine-tuning design plans, hiring new staff and putting her stamp of approval on everything from fitness equipment to furniture, she settled in for an eight-year stint as associate/assistant director, before being offered a third leadership role — back at the Reh-Fit Centre — in 2005.
"Here was a chance to come back to the place I'd started," says Boreskie with a smile. "Of course I had no idea how big the renovations would end up being."
Having helped to expand the Taylor Avenue facility by some 36,000 square feet, Boreskie now heads up a team dedicated to providing the best health and fitness services in Canada, by combing critical components like assessment, education and exercise while targeting patrons of all ages and fitness levels.
It certainly helps that the medical community is now on board, having warmed to the idea of partnering health care with exercise in the years since she got her start.
"What the Reh-Fit is doing now is positioning itself as being very integral to keeping the health of the community where it should be, because health care's not going to be able to do it anymore," she says. "We can't keep treating people when they're sick — we have to keep them well."
A self-described risk-taker for whom nothing is impossible, Boreskie believes the health and fitness community can only continue to flourish in the coming years.
"We have a health care system that's crashing, and we know physical activity is the key to preventing chronic disease," says Boreskie, who remains connected to the athletic community through her volunteer work with the Canadian Olympic Association, the Commonwealth Games Association of Canada and the Pan American Games, among others.
"To me, if you position yourself well, there's going to be a huge opportunity for our field in the future."
For more information on the Reh-Fit Centre, check www.reh-fit.com