People of Preston AARON HUGHEY

By: Hayley Robb

People of Preston is a campaign created to share the stories behind the faces that have shaped Western Kentucky University’s Raymond B. Preston Health and Activities Center over the years. The regular patrons and students are who make up the face of our facility. This campaign allows for our program to build trust and relationships with already loyal members to hopefully connect personally with even more of our Bowling Green community.

With a tempo to his stride and no music or headphones to help keep the beat, he runs on, planning the rest of his day and counting lap after lap. From one to 35.

Besides being a frequenter of the Preston Center, Aaron Hughey is a professor and Student Affairs Program Coordinator for Western Kentucky University. He also works as WKU’s own selfie photographer, spotlighting students, faculty, staff and various others across campus through his infamous one-armed, soft smile photo posted on social media.

Hughey joined the Preston Health and Activities Center the day of its opening in 1991. Since then. he has held a consistent routine in the outer lane of the fitness center’s indoor track and weight room.

“I can’t come at the same time every single day but the first thing in the morning I look at my schedule and look at my meetings and look at what I got going on and I figure out when I’m going to come over and do my run and workout,” Hughey said.

“This is a priority for me.”

Five days a week, typically around lunchtime, Hughey heads to the men’s locker room and laces up his grey Nikes for his penciled in “mental break.”

With each swift step, his full, brown hair somehow stays perfectly parted to each side, the only difference, sweat droplets begin to populate with each lap. His short, tempoed stride is unmistakable to Preston Center employees and is typically accompanied by a nod and a wave to familiar faces on the basketball floor below.

At least two days a week, he incorporates weight training into his regimen and adds core work to his run days in the stretching area adjacent to the track.

He said he actually didn’t start working out until he was a senior in college. He said he used to be the guy who made fun of the people running and working out at the gym. Now, he practices that person.

Hughey received his undergraduate degree in Biology from the University of Tennessee at Martin in 1980. In the fall of 1980, he enrolled in the Educational Psychology master’s degree program while pursuing a minor in Zoology at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

While completing his master’s degree and through his position with the Student Housing Services, he stumbled upon his passion for Student Affairs.

“I was never an RA or anything, but about halfway through the year I started noticing I was really enjoying what I was doing in the halls and working with the students more than what I was studying so I went to my Hall Director and I say, ‘Can you do this for a living?’” Hughey said. “And he goes, ‘Yes, it’s called Student Affairs.’”

In 1981, he took a job as a residence hall director at WKU, left for a brief period in 1984, and returned to Bowling Green’s campus in 1986 as the Associate Director of University Housing.

He said in the five years he was working for WKU’s housing office, he didn’t practice a healthy lifestyle but instead focused on the adjustment to a new job.

The University Distinguished Professor appointment went to Dr. Aaron Hughey, 2018

“I fell into some kind of bad habits so when I came to the faculty in ‘91 I decided I was going to renew the emphasis on taking care of myself,” he said.

Since coming to the faculty in 1991, Hughey said he has found his niche.

“I really like what I do,” he said. He enjoys “the constant renewal” of watching his students get their master’s degree, find a job and then report back that they were well prepared for the real world.

“I do a lot of consulting and training in the private sector and I haven’t run across a company yet that caused me to want to leave higher education. You don’t get rich quick, but you get a tremendous amount of flexibility and have better conversations than you do in some of the companies I’ve been to.”

The conversations and the people are what led him to his next unaccredited profession – the selfie king.

A few Preston Center faces that have been featured with Aaron Hughey. Pictured from left: Hayley Robb, Xzaveion Price, Todd Misener

Hughey began taking photos with people on his outdated Blackberry cell phone in 2011 and said, like a lot of things, he just kind of fell into it. It wasn’t until three years ago that he began adding the quotes to the selfies and customizing phrases on the images to match the person he posed with.

“I like Facebook,” Hughey said. “I think it gets misused a lot. People use it to tear people down and so I figured why not use it to help build people up because people need encouragement.”

Allie Bogard

"When you turn your problem into passion, your solution becomes success." – Janna Cachola

Martha and Monica

"Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much."

– Helen Keller

Rutuja Chinchankar

"That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence." – Christopher Hitchens

When he goes to meetings and outings, people have now begun to expect a photo with Hughey. He said it has only gotten time consuming a few times but overall he has enjoyed encouraging others through the power of social media.

“People really, in a small way, really appreciate that because they get so much criticism and so much negativity about stuff, it’s nice to remind them every now and then there are people out there that support them and believe in them,” Hughey said.

Hughey has gotten to know so many people over the years which is what has made the Preston Center so special to him.

“I’ve run through several of my graduate students being here and graduating and having jobs,” he said. “I guess being here from the beginning when the place first opened also kind of makes a difference because I feel like I’ve kind of grown older with the place here.”

The Preston Center's indoor track features three lanes and seven laps to a mile. It is synthetic rubber and open to all patrons during regular operating hours.

He wants to continue running for as long as his body will let him enjoy the seven-lap track at the Preston Center.

“That’s my goal,” he said. “I’ve upped it a little bit over the last couple of years. I used to do run about 30 or so (laps) and so what I try to do is a little more mileage this year than I did last year and I keep pushing it.”

Hughey glanced down at his hands and said another goal may be to “write a book.” He hopes to write more, jotting down all of the ideas he collects during his daily 35-lap course.

“Maybe a tell-all about Western,” he laughed. “But you have to retire when you do those kinds of things.”

Aaron Hughey runs 35 laps in the outermost lane five days a week. “I’m not the fastest runner in the world but I’m pretty consistent," he said. "I can do 5 miles in about an hour. That’s kind of my speed. And the only time I ever get aggravated is when the walkers don’t stay in their designated lanes and you have to go around them every time. But that’s not bad.”

Hughey said he came to the conclusion a few years ago that you have to make health and wellbeing a priority for yourself for others to respect it too.

“The Preston Center is more than a gym to me because it’s a part of my life,” Hughey said. “Sometimes coming to the Preston Center is the highlight of my day.”

Created By
Hayley Robb


Photos by: Mariya Merkley & Hayley Robb

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