GLASSBORO, NJ – When Jess Durnian came to Rowan, she was an Exploratory Studies major. Now, the Health Promotion and Fitness Management graduate is a Moral Welfare and Recreation (MWR) Fitness Coordinator for the U.S. Navy.
The former Prof women’s soccer player works at the Naval Weapons Station Earle. The station’s Mainside is located in Colts Neck, NJ and the Waterfront is in the Leonardo section of Middletown, NJ. The main duty of her job is to provide fitness and sports recreational activities to Active Duty personnel and their families. She started her career as a MWR Recreation Assistant and moved up to MWR Recreation Specialist (Facility Coordinator). Durnian was a MWR Recreation Specialist then a MWR Community Recreation Director before her current position.
“I declared my major at the end of my freshman year because it seemed to be the one topic I could relate to the most and was most interested,” said Durnian. “Once I graduated, I still was not sure what I wanted to do, so I began networking with people in the health and fitness industry to learn about what was out there. I came across a woman who worked for the U.S. Navy, who said she felt like she had a great job opportunity for me and I was instantly interested because I had never heard of a career like this. My education I received from Rowan helped me tremendously to qualify for the position I am currently in and any extra training and skills needed for my career was handled through the Navy.”
In Durnian’s first position, she was responsible for the oversight of the satellite facility and small group training for the sailors. Then Durnian took over as the Facility Coordinator for the Main fitness facility where she was in charge of the maintenance and inventory of all the fitness and sports equipment and supplies. Durnian also became the nighttime trainer which included personal training, group exercise classes and Fitness Enhancement Program (FEP) sessions for sailors who need extra attention on passing their annual Physical Readiness Test (PRT). She also coordinated intramural sports tournaments.
“I started my career as a Fitness Assistant working for the Navy,” said Durnian. “When I first started it was very intimidating because I was a civilian working on a military installation. Once I learned the military side of the position, everything began to fall into place. After a few years of training, advancements and certifications, I am now the Fitness Coordinator.”
The Navy sent Durnian to Millington, TN for certification to become a Command Fitness Leader (CFL) Instructor. Each military base has a CFL Instructor, who takes the most fit sailors on the base and trains them to become CFLs for their command. Durnian took the week long extensive course and had to pass the Navy PRT with a perfect score which included push-ups, curl-ups and a 1.5 mile run. She became the base’s CFL Instructor and was in charge of the CFL/FEP program and was the morning trainer.
“This became much more hands on with the sailors and the physical readiness program,” said Durnian. “My main goal was to provide sailors with workouts, knowledge, group sessions and resources to stay in their standards to stay in the Navy.”
After about a year in the MWR Recreation Specialist position, Durnian decided to step out of her comfort zone and she became the Community Recreation Director. Her main assignment was to provide sailors and their families programs and activities on and off base. This included, but was not limited to paintball tournaments, trips to New York, a recreation center with a movie theater, Fallfests and craft nights.
The Fitness Coordinator position opened a year later and Durnian decided to get back into the fitness field. She was then sent to Norfolk, VA to become a Navy Operational Fitness and Fueling (NOFF) Instructor. The training was a week long and Durnian now can train sailors to become NOFFs certified as well.
In her current position as the Fitness Coordinator, Durnian supervises and schedules all of the group exercise schedules, provides the Command and Departmental Physical Training and oversees the Fitness, Sports and Aquatics program. During COVID, she was the acting Fitness Director for seven months and was awarded the Civilian of the Quarter, which recognizes exemplary performance by the civil service workforce.
“Working in a military environment is different and never something I would have imagined myself doing,” said Durnian. “There are a lot of rules, regulations and instructions that need to be followed at all times. My main clients consist of active duty service members and their families; however, there are a lot of Department of Defense civilian employees and retirees who utilize our programs as well. It definitely took me awhile to get where I am at now, but I continue to learn new things about the military all the time.”
Durnian selected Rowan because of the women’s soccer program and the school was academically what she was looking for. The distance from her home (Brick, NJ) was perfect so her parents could travel to see her play.
Durnian competed four years (2011-14) for the University’s women’s soccer team. A midfielder, she started every game her senior season and contributed with 10 points, three goals and four assists. Durnian was named to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America South Atlantic All-Region third team. She was also an Eastern College Athletic Conference Metro All-Star second team selection. Durnian finished her career with seven goals and eight assists for 22 points.
“Jess was probably the most well liked and one of the most popular players on campus we have ever had,” said women’s soccer head coach Scott Leacott. “If you just walked on campus with her for five minutes, she knew everyone. A very dedicated young woman not only on the athletic side as she was a terrific and versatile player but she was also a great student. When you look at Jess, you know she is not the biggest, fastest or strongest person, but she always played fierce on the field which made up for that. We have had a few laughs over her choice of career, as she is training all these military men and women, and here is Jess all 4’ 11” of her showing up.”
“Throughout my four years playing Rowan Women’s Soccer, there are so many memorable moments and accomplishments I could talk about,” said Durnian. “The best part for me wasn’t one specific moment, but anytime I could play under the lights for a home game, with the stands packed, alongside the group of girls who had the same heart and desire to put everything on the field to win the game.”
“Coach Leacott and I had a very close relationship throughout my college career,” continued Durnian. “He was a coach, mentor and friend to me. It means a lot that we still keep in contact, because collegiate soccer was such a huge part of my life and knowing I can still reach out to him at any time to talk is great. I also still keep in touch with other team members as well. Anyone who plays sports knows that teammates become best friends. I also play in a women’s league with Danielle Macey, where we from time to time run in to ex arch nemesis who we played against in the New Jersey Athletic Conference.”
Durnian finds the most rewarding part of her job is being able to serve the military that puts their lives on the line, uproots from their families and travels the world to serve our country. The military can tend to be an uptight, stressful environment. When Durnian organizes sports tournaments, 5K’s and specialty programs she sees the service members during their off time, out of uniform and having fun, that is the best part of her job.
“Every day is different and we are constantly programming to ensure the sailors have resources to live a safe, heathy lifestyle and are always mission ready, but also have fun in the process,” said Durnian. “I can see myself working my entire career with the U.S. Navy. I absolutely love my job and want to continue growing in my position and help others any way I can. I love that I am not stuck behind a desk all day. I love that every day is different and I love how rewarding this job is.”