Nicole Benson

Nicole Benson in the Exeter stock room

"I’m humbled that I get to be part of a huge tradition like working at Exeter."

Seated on a stool sandwiched between racks of red and white jerseys, Nicole Benson P’20, P’23, P’25 thumbs through a binder of dog-eared pages. “We call these our bibles,” she says. “We’re working out of the winter one now.”

Contained in the well-worn folders: all the essential information Benson, the newly appointed athletic equipment manager, needs to outfit 60 Big Red teams across 23 sports over three terms. “I would love to integrate some technology into our process,” she says, “but for the day to day, this system really is valuable and simple.”

The no-tech method is a holdover from recently retired Donald “Mac” McElreavy, who held the post for four decades. Benson trained under McElreavy for a year, soaking up the tools of the trade. “Mac made it look so effortless, but the hamster in my brain is constantly running,” Benson says. “He always seemed to keep on top of things and have everything ready to go seamlessly. I’m just sitting here like, ‘When’s the shoe going to drop?’”

Inspired by field trips to equipment rooms at the University of New Hampshire and Harvard University, Benson has begun implementing her own approach to the position, which includes managing an endless stream of laundry and patching gear. “You’re thinking of three things at one time, all the time,” she says. “You’re thinking about what we need to do for the day, what needs to be done for the week, what needs to be done for the season, and then for the year.”

Before taking on her current role, Benson was well acquainted with Exeter and the athletics department. As a former Division I swimmer, she began coaching junior varsity boys in the pool in 2015. A short while later, three of her five children, Andrew ’20, Amy ’23 and Ali ’25, talented swimmers in their own right, enrolled at the Academy. Around that time Benson’s husband, Tom, was given the option to retire early, prompting her to seek a new opportunity. She says: “My friend Kate told me about the opening and said: ‘No one’s more organizationally based than a mom of five. This looks like it could be a good match.’”

 Now entering her third term working out of the stockroom in the George H. Love Gymnasium — while also coaching girls varsity swimming and diving — Benson continues to settle into the role at the school she has come to know from many angles. “I’m proud to be here, and I’m also humbled that I get to be part of a huge tradition like working at Exeter,” she says. “If I get to leave a little bit of my own stamp on that in some way, that’s fun.”

—Adam Loyd

Editor's note: This article first appeared in the winter 2023 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.