Gary Riekes created the Riekes Center for Human Enhancement to build self-esteem in young people through a strength-and-fitness academy. Along the way the model expanded into a mission statement that includes, “Providing each student with the best possible opportunity to define and accomplish individual goals, build character and learn transferable life skills through Creative Arts, Athletic Fitness and Nature Awareness, in an environment on non-judgment and mutual respect." A nonprofit organization, the Riekes Center offers a large selection of classes, monthly gym memberships and a wide range of customized fitness programs. About a quarter of its participating students receive financial aid or scholarships to participate at the Riekes Center.
Examiner: What is your definition of human potential?
GR: I think human potential is the acquirement of your quality of life in terms of the joy and love that you bring to your life and passion in attainment.
Examiner: How does a participant at the Riekes Center achieve that?
GR: The idea of the Riekes Center exists for an individual student. Can anyone come - yes. Can anyone join - no. The concept isn’t about a student becoming a part of something, they are already there. They are a human being. It’s hard to describe on energetic terms as opposed to concrete terms. We ask, what does a student want? There are programs offered in creative arts, athletic/fitness and nature. We are not trying to get students to join something, they are not becoming part of a club. To me any person is as important as anyone in the history of the world. Participants here can come whether they can pay or not, we offer scholarships. In terms of what they want to do once they are here, we can create curriculum in whatever is the easiest to learn and provide a mentor for whom they are comfortable to implement it. So a participant should be happy in terms of what they are doing because they can also say, “I don’t want this.”
At the Riekes Center honest communication is one of the things that is mandatory. For example, “I don’t want to learn to play the drums or I do want to learn to play the drums.” Whatever it is they have a goal of something they want to attain. Often in life the process by which you are accomplishing your concrete goal is more enjoyable than actually obtaining it. It’s the way those processes happen, through human relationships and the methodologies and all those lessons that you learn. Navigating that path is one of the keys to what we provide for people here. The ability to navigate their life with quality in terms of those connections, interactions and the methodologies that are used to acquire something are so beautiful and often that’s lost by an outcome.
Examiner: It’s the process of setting a goal for themselves and the gift of developing a relationship with a mentor who actively engages in the process with the student.
GR: Yes and I think if I were just interacting with a machine I wouldn’t have fun. I like playing with people. I used to have a pinball machine in my basement and I became bored with that quickly because I found out how to cheat because I had a key. I could set pinball records but it became meaningless. People admired me for having these large pinball records but the win had become more important than the playing. I love the “doing” with other people.
Examiner: If you win all the time there’s no learning involved.
GR: There was no quality to the experience. At the Riekes Center we are about helping people accomplish their goals and they have to have specific goals. That’s the premise of the Riekes Center. For example, “I want to be a better tennis player, or musician.” In some areas we have programs that can help someone all the way to the world class level. There’s a smile that comes over someone when they are accomplishing their goals. A smile that they feel inside themselves and that’s what I’ve always loved. That’s the thing that fuels me the most. It’s like a nuclear reaction inside of me. It doesn’t matter the age or whether the student won a contest or whatever. If we didn’t have our mission come to fruition from the smile from the inside of someone else then this wouldn’t affect the quality of my life. But it does all the time.
Examiner: Because you see it all around you.
GR: Yeah all the time. I guess it’s maybe caring, but how people accomplish their goals is the standard outcome and that’s wonderful.
Examiner: It’s also having people find the achievement within themselves. The Riekes Center provides mentoring around that. You’ve created a network of mentoring.
GR: It’s a different mentoring formula. We have specialized programs and at times we have a world class or highly accredited teacher telling a student what to do because the student needs that information. That’s very expensive and we can scholarship some people but we don’t have world class coaches in all the areas because most people can’t afford it and aren’t that serious that they need that level of instruction all the time.
So we can take the curriculum and use someone who’s vibrant and who can relate well, generally someone that’s younger who can teach the information. We create modules
so a student learns “A” than “B” but then can teach “A” to someone else. It becomes a peer/mentor formula and it creates a lot of friendships.
Examiner: Who have been the major influences, people and or events in your life that helped formulate your ideologies?
GR: I know it’s my mom and dad. My mom and dad were opposites. My mom was a virtuoso musician and attended music school. My dad was a business man and played football at the University of Minnesota with Bronko Nagurski. My mom and dad were totally different people. My dad was a very serious academic. My mom was wild, wooly and a rebel of her age. She was a classical violinist who worked her way through school as a waitress and singer. Her stage name was Valentine Lee. She was a boopity boop singer. They were so supportive and so loving that’s the reason the Riekes Center exists, to provide that same feeling.
Another influential person in my life was football coach Mouse Davis. I worked for him for about ten years. He had a huge impact on my life. Mouse was football coach at Portland State and invented an offensive called the “run and shoot.” I think he’s one of the greatest football coaches of all time. He’s also the toughest man I’ve ever met.
Examiner: Toughest mentally, broad vision or expectations?
GR: Tough in terms of everything. Tough in expectations, work ethic, getting the job done, just a very amazing brilliant genius with a huge heart, courageous and really knows how to yell. He’s a larger than life character.
What I learned from Coach Davis is a brilliant way of doing things that allows for things happening on multiple levels. For example, instead of using one quarterback throwing one football to one receiver he used four quarterbacks, four receivers and four balls. I always thought he was a wizard because he would correct mistakes by the receivers and quarterbacks without looking at them. At the time I thought it was impossible and it took me years to understand his offense well enough to see it was in the timing. Things happen at given timings so you can tell by the timing that things happened correctly or incorrectly. It was one of the most brilliant things I’ve seen in my life.
Examiner: Through your experience with Coach Davis what did you bring back to the Riekes Center?
GR: What I brought back was infinite. I brought back a perspective that was totally different from what I’ve ever been taught before. The dimension upon which he was actualizing things was totally different. Earlier you said, “You have to be bright enough to learn Coach Davis’s system.” No, not really, but the players had to be rapid enough to learn it. It takes years and players don’t learn it in a day. They have to do the same thing over and over again.
Examiner: Eventually the process becomes part of you.
GR: Right, you have to keep doing it until you can do it and it takes time. It’s not immediate gratification. But what people don’t realize is that the experience, the camaraderie, the friendships of the person mentoring them while they are striving to learn it is the beautiful experience. It’s a big life lesson. So that’s what I brought back to the Riekes Center, not just the “run and shoot” which I teach, but that the process is the art.
Examiner: The process becomes the ballet of the sport.
Examiner: Name a few things that you are proud of that the Riekes Center has achieved in the last five years.
GR: The thing I’m most proud of is that even though the majority of participants at the Riekes Center are youth, we have a huge program for the elderly. So many older people go, “I’m ninety-two years old and can’t do xyz.” The truth is we taught my dad to rap in his eighty’s. There’s so many things older people can do like singing and music. They have time to study and and come to classes. For me when a group of people have preconceived ideas of what someone doing rap looks like and then you put a ninety year old in a class, it’s neat to see the bonding and collaboration between people in the group. The class may be made up of youth just starting out learning to rap, or more advanced put in with some seniors just learning. It’s a nice collaboration. We create a place where everyone can feel welcome and comfortable. There are people of all different abilities and ages. At times we pair people who are tremendous musicians with people who are not very skilled and that’s great. I am most proud that we have been able to accomplish real world diversity and have it work. I am proud that we are trying to not intellectually break stereotypes but in energy/spirit and values. You feel it when you come in here.
Examiner: The beauty of the what the Riekes Center strives to create is that a person is asked to create goals for his/herself in terms of what they wish to achieve/learn. That achievement is not tied to worth. A participant is asked to achieve what they want but not say, “But I’m not good enough because my results aren’t as good as someone else’s.” The student is asked to identify the goal for themselves not in comparison to another. If the person wants to win some event for their sense of accomplishment then work harder or acquire the skills to accomplish the goal. That authenticity differentiates your perspective from most human beings.
GR: Well I had a long period of my life when I had a lot of time to think about these things.
Examiner: What are the future goals for the Riekes Center?
GR: We currently rent our building and we are working to own it. We are going to do a capital campaign for an urban and rural center. We also have begun Riekes Philosophy and Methodology (RPM), where we train people on how to build a culture. So far we’ve worked with a group of teachers from an academy in Kenya who came here for several trainings. It’s been very interesting.
Examiner: Are there any upcoming events at the Riekes Center you would like to mention?
GR: Our “Rally for Riekes” fundraising event will be held on Sept. 20th here at the Riekes Center. Interested individual can check our events calendar on-line to learn more.
Examiner: Gary your influence on tens of thousands of people’s lives in the bay area over the years in so many ways is extraordinary. Thank you for taking the time to chat with me about the Riekes Center.