In the last few days it has become public knowledge that Baltimore’s Meadow Mill Athletic Club is closing July 30 after almost 30 years in business.
And we’ll get back to lamenting the woes of the Baltimore Orioles another time, because this week I’m stealing some space here at PressBoxOnline.com this week to let you know how unreasonably sad I am about that.
Disclosure: PressBox is headquartered inside the same Meadow Mill complex as the popular squash facility. Further disclosure: I was invited to join the gym immediately after I started with this company in 2014. I did not immediately take advantage of that opportunity. But as fatherhood begat lack of sleep and worsened habits and a general feeling of unhealthiness, I decided to become a member in early 2017.
And I promise you that there has not been a week since then that if I was in town, I didn’t spend some time at the gym in at least three of seven weekdays.
I cannot begin to explain how much I have loved Meadow Mill Athletic Club. I am not capable of conveying the depth of the impact the facility, the facility’s staff and the MMAC community has had on my life and my physical and mental health.
“I’m kinda bummed because my gym is closing,” I told my friend Jason Herzberger recently when he generically asked me how I was doing. “There was a racquetball gym in the same building as my office and I started going there a few years ago and it just had such an overwhelmingly positive impact on my life at a time I needed it.”
“Wait. A racquetball gym?” Jason asked. “Did you go to Meadow Mill? MEADOW MILL IS CLOSING! NO! I used to go there all the time! I love Nancy! I can’t believe it.”
This particular Nancy is Nancy Cushman, the owner of the gym and a partner to so many in the community. Events in partnership with Maryland Animal Sanctuary & Rescue in particular were common at the gym pre-pandemic. And when we needed a city drop-off location for our annual coat drive benefitting Helping Up Mission amid the pandemic, Nancy was quick to make her lobby available. She’s on the board of directors for SquashWise, a highly visible charity at the facility that has paired the sport with academic tutoring and life development to benefit underprivileged kids in the community.
She’s as friendly a business owner as I’ve ever come across, active in the lives of members and regularly engaging in conversation.
That positive attitude spread to her entire staff. We’ve joked that MMAC was the Athletic Club version of “Cheers,” as truly everyone knew your name. After starting my membership at the gym, I was regularly greeted with questions about work and my children and various things I had posted on Facebook.
A lot of us have battled commitments to physical health throughout the years. It is so easy, especially as a new parent, to decide that we’re simply too busy on a particular day or that we’re just not feeling inspired to commit to the necessary time. That has been a battle I have waged for the majority of my adult life and the warm, inviting feeling of Meadow Mill not only helped me overcome these feelings, it made me want to cut out entertainment or social gatherings in favor of spending more time at the gym.
It is by no means hyperbolic for me to say that this place had a drastic impact not only on my physical health but on my mental health because of it. I truly looked forward to the time I would spend at Meadow Mill Athletic Club every day. In fact, despite living more than 30 minutes away in Monkton, I was more inclined to commit to activities in the city on weekends because I knew it would allow me an excuse to make a stop at the gym.
Those friends included staff member Nancy Wolf, a truly wonderful person who picked up on the fact that I would typically enjoy a post-workout peanut butter Clif Bar on my way out the door. So when the gym was out of Peanut Butter Clif Bars, she personally ran to the grocery store herself and purchased a box for me to leave in my car until the gym would be back in stock.
Those friends included Lucky Odeh, a Nigerian native and squash pro who is living his own American dream and became a citizen just in the last few years. His infectious smile and zest for life lift everyone he touches. Lucky and I never had a formal introduction or any particular reason to interact with each other. He’s just a reflection of the community that has existed at Meadow Mill Athletic Club.
And I know this community well despite the fact that I don’t even play squash! It’s as close knit a community as I could ever fathom and welcoming and so truly diverse. I could not believe how comfortable and deep locker room conversations were between members in various stages of undress when I first arrived, but it did not take me long to join right in.
SquashWise has found a new home in Mount Vernon that should be open by 2023. The rest of the community will search for a new home.
I’ve belonged to other gyms. There is nothing about the loud “chain” gyms that made me WANT to spend more time there. Even the majority of the stand-alone facilities I’ve belonged to during the years have often come off as overwhelming, pressure-filled or just generally unpleasant.
This place was special. I have truly loved Meadow Mill Athletic Club and I am grateful to have found it and our city will be a little worse come August.
Photo Credits: Glenn Clark/PressBox