Area parks play big role in locals’ mental and physical healthJun 24, 2020 15h14 ● By Drew Crawford
By Drew Crawford | [email protected]
As a therapist for the blind and visually impaired, Mike Berger’s work requires the best version of himself. Part of this entails being in good mental shape, so he makes sure to take frequent runs in Sugar House and Fairmont parks[LL1] .
Five times a week he will run from his place located near 2200 South and 900 East near the Smith’s and loop around the park[LL2] . He will then make his way downhill and do a loop around Sugar House Park, logging about 4 miles in total. During the uncertainty of COVID-19 running has been a constant that anchors Berger to Sugar House.
“I love seeing people out. It feels like a city and everyone’s active. I think in some ways COVID has made people want to be out and be active, exercise and be healthy and try and take care of their mental health,” Berger said.
Berger is an avid runner who has previously ran three marathons. He feels like the running has been hard on his body but has been worth it. His advice for running a marathon is suggestive of the measured consideration that he has exhibited in his training. “Run at your slow pace for the first 18 miles and if you feel good, just go with what you’re comfortable with. Don’t push yourself for your first one.”
Through the process of getting his bachelor’s in sociology from The University of Utah his eyes were opened to systemic issues. Learning about these led him to want to focus his attention on helping people who are marginalized.
After graduating, he moved to Chicago to get his master’s in social work from DePaul University and get his certified social worker credentials.
When Berger moved back from Utah, he received a grant to get another master’s in teaching for the visually impaired.
All of this work and experience in school led Berger to find his calling.
As a practitioner at Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind, Berger is as devoted to the health of others as he his own. He does early intervention for young kids, ages 3 to 5, and teaches families and parents how to be effective in finding and using resources and learning skills that will prepare the kids to start becoming independent.
“You have to really know how to teach a kid that’s blind. You have to know a lot of behind the scenes of what these kids really need to be independent,” Berger explained. “Seventy percent of adults that are blind are unemployed or underemployed. That’s adults that aren’t cognitively delayed, and they should be able to work. I’m trying to change that. I want to give them their independence.”
An essential part of being a therapist for Berger is to make sure that he is taking care of himself, and being at the park helps him to follow his self-care regimen.
“A lot of what I’ve done is mentally straining, so I try to pair that with taking care of my body and being healthy, so I’ve always tried to be active and be a part of my community. I love Salt Lake and I was raised in Sugar House and I love the community feel and my neighbors,” Berger said.
Kerry and Mike Magiske
When you’re an avid outdoors family like the Magiske family is, it can be incredibly difficult to receive the news that the Alta Ski Area is closed for the entire season because of COVID-19.
Since moving here from Colorado 10 years ago, Liberty Park has always been a place where Kerry Magiske’s kids could enjoy the outdoors, bond together as a family, and even hit certain growth milestones for motor skills like riding a scooter.
So, it was a natural place to take her 11-year-old daughter Kiera and 7-year-old son Tristan as Hawthorne Elementary closed, Alta closed, and The University of Utah, where Magiske is studying to become a nurse practitioner, stopped offering classes in person.
“We love to do outdoor recreation. That’s probably one of our family’s favorite things to do. We do a lot of skiing in the winter. We’re just outside a lot of times at Liberty Park because it’s a 10-minute walk from our house,” Magiske said.
“As some other things closed, we found that we were spending more time there walking, biking, skateboarding, rollerblading, games of walkie-talkie hide-and-seek in the park. We bring the slack line sometimes or the hammocks.”
On the days that they would play hide-and-seek, each family member would bring their own walkie-talkie and play the game, limiting the boundaries to just half the park.
Family members would hide in clever spots such as the nooks and crannies of the Chase Home Museum. On other occasions, to try and trick the others, Mike and Tristan would hide inside of the porta-potties.
When somebody wasn’t successful during their search, a family member could chime in over the walkie-talkie and taunt the seeker to let them know that they weren’t close to being found.
Magiske says that the greatest benefit of going to the park for her family has been the psychological benefit and the value of being in nature. Being able to move around and exercise has provided a much needed break.
“The outdoors to our family is intrinsically tied to our health,” Magiske said. “It’s probably one of our most important things that we do together as a family.”
Rachel Wright moved to Utah from Washington, D.C. to try something new. She moved here to do an accelerated program at Westminster College to get her teaching credentials and make a switch from the nonprofit world.
“It was an intense year, but a great program,” Wright said. “I teach up in Davis County, and I’m a fourth-grade teacher.”
She and her husband moved from Tremonton to Sugar House because of the appeal of the area’s walkability.
“When you go for a walk, you’re looking at beautiful architecture, and it’s just a unique feel which we really like,” Wright said. She lives near I-80 and the new University of Utah Sugar House Health Center.
Wright has had to spend most of the days during quarantine teaching her kids over Zoom technology, so walking to local parks with the family’s border collie has become important for her.
“I think for me in particular it was a way to decompress. I would take my dog, we would go on a long walk circling the neighborhood, through Sugar House Park, and down through Fairmont Park,” Wright said.
“It was probably twice a week that I would go before quarantine. I would get my exercise other places, but once quarantine happened and the gym closed, those daily walks became my go to for movement.”
For Wright, the park is a constant in her life during unpredictable times.
“I can put in my podcast and walk, have the beautiful view of the mountains, and people around,” said Wright, who has started walking with friends who are also teachers.
“Being here during a pandemic has sort of solidified that we really like Utah and having the outdoor spaces is really key for getting through a situation like this.”