New Recreation Services director applies disaster experience


Photo: Rebekka Brown/Iowa State Daily

Director of Recreational Services Mike Giles talks with reporters about the damages done by the flood on Friday, Aug. 13 at Lied Recreation Athletic Center. Giles is trying to stay positive throughout the cleaning process and will be working with the university to communicate with insurance adjusters.

Stefanie Buhrman

Michael Giles never thought his experience with natural disasters would come in handy as soon as it did. But Giles put it to use when flooding hit Ames in August, just after arriving to campus on June 1 as director of Recreation Services.

“My father is actually the director of recreation services at University of Southern Mississippi,” Giles said. “So in a sense, it’s kind of been a family business.”

Although Giles spent his time between the South and the Midwest, he describes himself as “a southern boy, through and through” and is familiar with a college atmosphere.

“I grew up in an environment where my father worked on a college campus, so I guess you can say I’ve been around it my whole life,” he said.

Even though Giles ended up on a similar path with his father, he did not always know what he wanted to do. Although he had a family history in recreation services, Giles started down a different path.

“I kind of started off in college really not even thinking about it and started off like most freshmen … in general business,” he said. “After a little time of taking some classes I didn’t really enjoy, I naturally just moved into it. “

Giles started as a student employee within the department of recreation services, working with intramurals, aquatics and lifeguarding. After graduating with a degree in commercialized recreation, he spent about 18 months working for the American Red Cross in Washington, D.C., in a national lifeguard training program as an analyst.

Giles then returned to school to get a masters in recreational administration from the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

“I guess you can say the rest is history from there,” Giles said.

In 1997, Giles served as assistant director of recreational sports and aquatics director at Bowling Green State University. In 2000, he moved to Baton Rouge, La., to be the associate director of operations and project management at Louisiana State University, where he dealt with the day-to-day operations related to university recreation.

At LSU, Giles dealt with the aftermath of both Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Gustav in 2008.

“Fortunately, unfortunately, however you want to look at it, if you look at my past experience at LSU, I basically went through two hurricanes at LSU that had a dramatic effect on recreation services,” Giles said.

“Katrina was a different animal. It didn’t affect the LSU campus as far as destruction goes, but because of how it affected New Orleans, LSU basically became the main hub for a lot of the recovery efforts that happened down in New Orleans and our facility became a hotel for two weeks.”

They were not so lucky when it came to Hurricane Gustav. Strong storms tore off the roof to the gymnasium, allowing massive amounts of water to rain upon the inside and causing the gym to be out of commission for about 14 months.

On June 1, Giles came to Iowa to begin his job as director of Recreation Services. Just two months later, Ames was seemingly under water.

“It’s not something I wanted,” Giles said. “It’s not something I looked forward to. The flood to me, like everything else, is very unique. You start off by trying to stop it from getting into the building. Once that didn’t work out quite like we wanted, then you start with the recovery. The first eight hours you basically have to look at a lake around your building. There was really nothing you could do about it. So we had to wait until the water receded to a point where we could actually get into the building. “

To prepare for the upcoming flood, Giles, staff and student employees worked in to the early hours of Tuesday morning filling sandbags to help prevent water from getting in to Lied Recreation Athletic Center. After a mere few hours of sleep, Giles was called to return to work.

“At that time, there wasn’t anything you could do once the floodwaters hit,” Giles said.

A fellow staff member and Giles were able to drive up to the front of Lied and parked right next to the sandbags guarding the building’s main entry. They got out on to the hood of the car and stood on top of the sandbags and looked toward Lied.

“That first visual of seeing it flooded inside the building, it really did take my breath away,” Giles said.

Giles recalled feeling a “punch to gut” when he first saw the aftermath.

“You couldn’t describe it any other way; you saw water where it shouldn’t be.”

Giles and his staff then met to discuss the next step. Later that Wednesday afternoon, they were able to let some of the water drain out.

Giles has expressed his immediate goals to get Lied functional and getting State Gym reopened in the next year. He also wants to spend the next year evaluating all policies and procedures within the Department of Recreation Services in order to have the highest quality they can offer.

Giles’s ultimate goal is to have one of the nation’s best campus programs. He plans on challenging his staff to be creative and innovative, even after the completion of current renovations.

“Once that door opens, we can not and will not rest.”they can offer.

Giles’s ultimate goal is to have one of the nation’s best campus programs. He plans on challenging his staff to be creative and innovative, even after the completion of current renovations.

“Once that door opens, we can not and will not rest.”

Meet Mike Giles:

— Giles would be a firefighter if he wasn’t in recreation services, but has never considered it a regret.

— He has been married for 13 years, and has two kids — ages 3 and 6.

— “The Color Purple” is his favorite movie.

— Giles’ favorite authors are Tom Clancy and John Grisham.