Devan McNeill, program coordinator and instructor, Therapeutic Recreation, Faculty of Health Sciences

Where are you from and what got you interested in therapeutic recreation?
I grew up in Kingston, Ontario but have travelled and worked across Canada. I have a special connection to the Maritimes where I have lived twice and visit often. I have also enjoyed the busy streets of Toronto, the hippie life in Guelph, and an introvert’s dream of Cloyne, Ontario. I received a BRLS in Inclusive and Therapeutic Recreation from Brock University in 2008. I worked in the field as a recreation therapist for a few years in Ontario, mostly in mental health. I received my master’s degree in 2014 from the University of Waterloo in Recreation and Leisure studies, focusing on a sense of community and identity of persons living with schizophrenia. I have been a certified therapeutic recreation specialist (CTRS) for over 12 years.

I come from a large immediate and extended family. We lived close by, which meant that we spent a lot of leisure time together. My love of leisure started with my family’s adventures, whether it was a road trip to Florida or a drive to the local pool. Leisure was exciting and social. It strengthened my relationships with my siblings, cousins, and parents. I always had something to do, something to explore, and a family member to join me. Many of my greatest memories are participating in leisure activities with family.

How long have you been at the U of L and what do you do here?
I arrived in Lethbridge for my interview in February 2015, and when I left to go back home it nearly killed me. When flying back to Halifax, my appendix felt the need to burst, just over Winnipeg. We circled back and landed. I was rushed off the plane and into the operating room in less than an hour from landing. I guess I needed to see Winnipeg as part of my travels!

Feeling wary about losing any other internal organs, I decided Lethbridge would be my new home. I packed up my car, drove across Canada in June 2015, and have never left since. I love it here!  One of the most rewarding outcomes of this role is collaborating with my peers to deliver an exceptional learning experience for students in the program. I instruct theory and practicum courses in the same program. In addition, I am a PhD candidate in the Population Studies in Health program.

What’s the best part of your job?
The best part of my job is watching the students walk across the stage at convocation is the most rewarding part of my job. In those brief moments, I see the celebration of years of hard work with their smiles. I know the years of dedication, passion, and self-discovery of each student as they carry their parchments off the stage. I hear the cheers from their peers, loved ones, and friends in the room, celebrating their accomplishments. I cheer with them. It’s a special day for all students and I am so lucky to witness that moment.

With February being therapeutic recreation awareness month, what tips do you have for finding meaningful leisure activities during the COVID pandemic? Why are leisure activities important?
Leisure is an umbrella term that often includes recreation, play, sports, travelling, and more. Leisure celebrates living—to enjoy a free and meaningful life by engaging in activities that are fun to do. Leisure activities can provide purpose and identity. It has the potential to the enhance the quality of life and well-being of those who are fortunate to have leisure time in their lives. When I think of my identity and sense of self, it’s tied to the many leisure activities that I engage in.

With COVID-19, there’s a shift to more home-based leisure activities and a reliance on virtual connections. Some people might like this shift because they already engage in many activities in their home or by using a screen. Others might find it difficult to have extended time in spaces that they usually don’t use for leisure activities. There are thousands of leisure activities to choose from, many that can be home-based or by following the safe outdoor health measures. If you are tired of Netflix or staring at a screen all day, explore activities that involve hearing, touch, smell, and other senses. Try a new recipe with aromatic smells, repot a plant to get your hands dirty, start an art project that uses your hands to get messy, and try listening to an audiobook on a walk through the coulees.

Moderation is an important factor to consider in your leisure time—not just a discussion for work moderation. When we exhaust our eyes on screens all day or sit in one position for hours on end, we neglect other body parts and functions. Create a goal around giving attention to your other body parts. I have a personal goal of spending at least 30 minutes a day outside, no matter the weather. This goal is a celebration of my legs instead of punishing them by sitting more. This usually involves walking in the coulees, a walk around Henderson Lake Park, a visit to Waterton Lakes National Park, or snowshoeing in the Crowsnest Pass. A search on Google comes up with more than 800 million results when looking for leisure activities and if that doesn’t help, please reach out to me and I can provide more ideas.