Just as the YMCA, the Boys and Girls Club of America, and other such recreational programs have provided countless young people with a chance at a healthy, productive life, so too has Mary Lou Cappel, professor and program coordinator of Recreation and Leisure Studies at California State University, Dominguez Hills. For her tireless efforts to not only inspire students to live healthy lives and serve their communities, but to achieve student success, upon the recommendation of the Faculty Leaves and Honors Committee, she has been recognized with the university’s 2013 Excellence in Service Award.
“It’s a privilege to receive recognition by my peers. It’s the biggest honor that I could ever achieve at this university,” Cappel said, who has received numerous nods of recognition for community work over the years, including a proclamation from the City of Los Angeles.
During her 27-year tenure at CSU Dominguez Hills, Cappel has helped—through courses in recreation management and leadership, conference and event planning, and those dealing with legal issues—prepare university students for such careers as recreation therapists working with physically or mentally disabled patients in a clinical setting, or as recreation program directors.
Although the recreation and leisure studies, a program she had coordinated since 1987, was discontinued as an undergraduate major in 2010, Cappel’s work is not done. Rather, it has taken a broader approach.
Always stepping up and moving forward, Cappel volunteered to participate in the First Year Experience (FYE) program, an initiative developed by Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Ramon Torrecilha that will begin in fall 2013 and is aimed at improving student retention and mentoring. Cappel is among a team of 20 professors who have been working to create curricula for the two-semester cohort course that will focus on academic success. She brings with her experience in student development, including teaching study skills, engaging students in their university experience, and preparing them to enter the workforce.
Cappel is already addressing freshman from the university’s general student population and supporting their success by teaching Dimensions of Leisure (REC 100) and Personal Social Intellectual Development (UNV 101), a course she has taught more than 30 times since she helped revitalize it in 2000.
“I really enjoy teaching University 101 because you have a lot of students who want to be successful. I encourage them and point them in the right direction,” Cappel said enthusiastically. “And I get so excited about teaching my REC 100 class. I get to introduce [students] to all forms of recreation.”
To support the broader application of UNV 101, she has revised “Leisure for Healthy Living,” a textbook formerly titled “More Than Aerobics” that she first authored in 1984.
As an expert and advocate for youth at-risk, mentoring, leadership, and personal health, she has been a keynote speaker, founder, board member, guest editor, volunteer, program chair, facilitator, liaison, and leader for dozens of on- and off-campus organizations and events. But certain contributions hold a special place in her heart.
She has a long-standing affiliation, serving as liaison and facilitator, with Project Reach—the university’s community outreach programs focused on K-12 students. She considers her work with students and professionals on community projects in Compton and Watts highly effective, including the Friendship Sports League, and Sista 2 Sista, a program she co-founded in 1993, which is centered on self-empowerment for young girls living in Watts housing developments. Subsequently, she initiated and coordinated Sisters 4 Sisters, a similar program for girls in the Harbor City Housing Development.
“I really have to congratulate my students, because they are the ones who bring opportunities to [be of] service in the community to me,” she said. “They are the ones, in turn, that I can give my expertise.”
To say Cappel is energetic in her teaching and service activities would be an understatement. And she is no less energetic when it comes to her own fitness and well-being.
In addition to participating in and teaching everything from tennis to swimming to canoeing to yoga, for the past ten years she has run 5Ks, 10Ks, and half-marathons as well as the New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and Marine Corps marathons.
Beyond being active, Cappel is a living, breathing example of perseverance. Eleven years after suffering an allergic reaction to penicillin and undergoing a tracheostomy, she was diagnosed in 1996 with atrial fibrillation—an arrhythmia of the heart. Later, caused by a different condition—her heart nearly stopped in 2006. As a result, an artificial pacemaker was implanted into her chest. It could control her heart from going below 70 beats per minute, but it would not prevent the rapid heart rate episodes she was prone to experience.
While running in the Marine Corps Marathon she suffered “a-fib” at mile 20, but she refused to quit and walked the last six miles to earn her medal. Medals are a big deal to Cappel.
Of the Excellence in Service Award, Cappel said, “So, now I am receiving [this] medal, which is really an honor and a privilege.”
After three unsuccessful ablation procedures to correct the irregular heart condition, she underwent robotic surgery in 2011. Although, she’s had to put off running for a while due to complications from the surgery, she is practicing yoga in the meantime.
Her experiences have helped shape how Cappel shares her enthusiasm with students.
“I am adamant about being motivational and telling students they can do anything they want [in life] and to not only ‘Just Do It’ like Nike says, but don’t give up. Never give up,” she said.