The COVID-19 pandemic pushed this student exercise club to the top of Northeastern’s Columbus Avenue garage

Reese Bauer who studies psychology and linguistics, runs a workout class on top of Columbus Parking Garage. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Reese Bauer is the first to admit that if it weren’t for Northeastern’s Chaarg fitness club for women, she wouldn’t have a set workout routine.

Every Wednesday on the basketball court in the Fens by the Boston campus, the third-year psychology and linguistics major from California joins a group of other students for workouts led by professionally-trained fitness instructors from around the city. Sometimes they get together over a livestream, or a small group will head out on their own for a run on weekends.

“You get to meet a ton of people who maybe you wouldn’t have gotten to otherwise, and who have the same interest in maintaining a healthy lifestyle,” she says of the club’s appeal.

Other than that set-in-stone, one-day-a-week get-together, there was nowhere else she could turn to let off some steam and develop close friendships. She could have exercised at gyms around campus, but Bauer said that with coronavirus safety protocols, that would have meant working out alone.

Reese Bauer who studies psychology and linguistics, runs a workout class on top of Columbus Parking Garage. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

“I find working out in a group definitely keeps you motivated, and they hold you accountable to make sure you’re getting in your work out and you’re pushing yourself,” Bauer says.

Bauer went on to become the lead instructor for a smaller subset of Chaarg students, seven in all, who assemble without fail on Thursday afternoons on the uncovered roof of the Columbus Avenue parking garage. The view is hard to beat. Iconic highlights of the Boston skyline, including the Citgo sign near Fenway Park and the Prudential Center skyscraper, make for a backdrop no gym could come close to matching.

“I just love the buildings and some sunshine while it’s still out, so that’s why I chose up here,” says Bauer.

Left to right: Olivia Coxon, who studies industrial engineering and Annie Reed, who studies international affairs work out on top of Columbus Parking Garage.

The students’ regimen on a warm, sunny day in late October has a boot camp feel to it, with lunges, trunk twists, and deep knee bends. They switch things up each week with different workout routines to stave off boredom and keep things fresh.

Everything about the workout is low-tech and low key.

There are no kettlebells or battle ropes. Some students have yoga mats, others have beach towels. Some are in stretchy yoga pants, others wear shorts. Everyone has a face mask and keeps a distance from others to limit the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. 

There are water bottles of varying shapes and sizes. A small black wireless speaker keeps the group engaged with Galantis, Lizzo, and Dua Lipa.

Their exercise “studio” is made entirely of concrete and lined with yellow parking stripes. With few students driving to campus, there are no cars nearby. The students have the entire top floor to themselves, where it is open and airy.

The garage is sandwiched between the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Complex on one side and SquashBusters and athletic fields on the other.

“It’s flat, which is really nice. And we like the fact that it’s a little more secluded than the fields,” says Annie Reed, a second year student from New Jersey who is studying international affairs.

The rooftop may be off the beaten path, but that doesn’t mean it’s invisible.  

In fact, Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern, whose office is on the top floor of a nearby building, was looking out a window and saw the students exercising. When he walked over to say hello on one recent afternoon near the end of a workout, the group initially thought they were in trouble.

“We saw him walking over here slowly and we were like ‘Oh no, we’re not supposed to be here,’” says Bauer, laughing. “He was very nice and asked us our names, but our hearts were definitely racing.”

Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern, visits with a yoga class on the top of Columbus Parking Garage. Photo by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University

Reed said he spoke to them for about 15 minutes and asked her questions about a co-op that she had obtained the prior week. The president also posed for pictures.

“It was such a fun surprise to get to speak with him and it was definitely the highlight of the workout,” says Olivia Coxon, a second year student from Connecticut who is studying industrial engineering.

The weather in New England will soon turn colder, and darkness will be setting in right about the time their one-hour class wraps up.

Reese Bauer who studies psychology and linguistics, runs a workout class on top of Columbus Parking Garage. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

The students will soldier on as long as they can before turning to Zoom workouts.

“I have a lot of trouble motivating myself to go alone to the gym, and I’ve just always liked working out with a group of people,” says Coxon.

In-person gatherings in dorms is another possibility since Northeastern has relaxed social restrictions that now allow students living in university housing to have one guest in their unit at a time, as long as the guest lives in the same building.

The news has Reed and Coxon, who live in separate suites in Douglass Park, excited.

“We can actually do things together now, which is so nice,” says Reed.

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