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All Pumped Up for New Gym Equipment

No more torn cushions, squeaky pulleys, or tarnished barbells. A complete overhaul of the workout facilities at all three University of Southern Maine campuses has them looking like new.

USM invested about $625,000 in renovations and new equipment at Costello Sports Complex in Gorham, Sullivan Recreation and Fitness Complex in Portland, and the fitness center at the Lewiston-Auburn College Campus.

“You feel much more appreciated as an athlete,” said Jake Peavey. “It’s nice to have that support from the school. They want to see you do well both academically and athletically. It’s nice to see the upgrade.”

Few students spend more time working on strength and conditioning than Peavey. He’s pursuing a master’s degree in Leadership Studies. Outside of the classroom, he’s a captain on the wrestling team.

Peavey dropped about 20 pounds from his target weight during the off-season. He wants to be competitive in the top weight class, which maxes out at 285 pounds. He’s in the gym six days a week, building up his pull muscles, push muscles, and legs on a rotating schedule.

Prior to this year, a lot of the equipment used by Peavey first arrived on campus before he was born more than 20 years ago. That was fine for free weights. But aging treadmills had a tendency to break down, forcing Peavey to wait in line for the handful still in operation.

“Every day, got to work on the cardio, too. That’s just as important as the weight training,” Peavey said. “You can be strong, but if you’re only strong for a minute and a half, that doesn’t help you in a seven-minute match.”

The new treadmills are not just exercise machines, they are full-blown entertainment centers. Each one is equipped with a monitor that can stream video by wi-fi. The monitors can also display comprehensive information about the workout in progress, including miles run and calories burned.

The ability to track reps and other metrics is now a common feature in everything from stair climbers to stationary bikes to cable crossover machines. That information can then be shared directly to a user’s cell phone or Apple watch. It’s a major improvement from the old equipment that predated the boom in wireless technology.

“In my situation now, where I’m tracking all of my calories, weighing all my food out, being able to connect to your phone and log all of that I think is awesome,” Peavey said. “It helps to give you an edge that we didn’t have before.”

Another new addition is the massive monkey bar rig at the Costello Complex. At 20-feet long, it’s big enough for the full 30-man wrestling team to climb on board for group pull-up exercises. Coach Mike Morin is excited to try it out as soon as the season starts on October 10.

“We can get creative as coaches,” Morin said. “That’s a unique piece. We didn’t have anything like that before. We had one pull-up bar in our wrestling room, so if someone wanted to do pull-ups, they had to wait until someone else was done.”

That option wasn’t available to Morin in his years competing for USM from 2006 to 2010. He was a two-time All-American and three-time NCAA Division III New England Champion. While he got the most out of his gear, today’s athletes enter the gym with different expectations. Morin noted that cutting edge equipment can even be a deciding factor with recruits.

“Give us some weights, give us a mat, we’ll find a way and we’ll make it happen. But it certainly doesn’t hurt to have brand new equipment,” Morin said. “It looks good. It’s more functional. It’s going to be better quality.”

The excited reaction to the new equipment is exactly what Kevin Normand was hoping to see when he began lobbying for gym upgrades about five years ago. Normand is Manager of the Sullivan Complex. He watched the equipment wear down over the years since his own graduation from USM in 2007.

With the support of Athletics Director Al Bean, Normand won over leadership and hoped to see work begin in 2020. Those hopes faded with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the easing of restrictions on public gatherings, the process resumed this year.

Clearing out the old equipment was also a good excuse to renovate the rooms themselves. The walls got a fresh coat of paint. LED lighting replaced old fluorescent bulbs to make the space brighter and more energy efficient. New flooring erased decades of scuffs marks from all the dumbbells that slipped out of sweaty hands.

Even with new wiring to accommodate all of the added electronics, there are fewer cords in the way. Old television monitors with their bulky cable hookups are gone, made obsolete by streaming and wi-fi technology. Normand hopes the extra space will encourage regulars to bring their friends.

“All you need is 30 minutes. Bang, let’s do group exercising,” Normand said. “That’s the trend that I hope we’re going through, especially with the new equipment that we have because we can do it now.”

Even while the rooms were under construction, the workouts never stopped. At Sullivan, the old equipment spent its last few weeks in operation on a spare basketball court. The indoor track at Costello was likewise lined for weeks with all the soon-to-be-retired contents of the weight and conditioning room.

With the arrival of the new equipment in the finished rooms, the old gear disappeared. The installation and assembly work was part of the purchase agreement with the fitness company Matrix. All of its products were customized for USM with school colors and Husky logos.

Matrix technicians will return next week for a series of training sessions at the gyms on each campus. They will demonstrate the wide range of features on the new equipment and answer questions about how to maximize the technology on a personal level.

Sullivan Gym in Portland will kick off the training series on Sept. 20 from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. Technicians will next visit the LAC Campus on Sept. 21 from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. They’ll finish at Costello in Gorham on Sept. 22 from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. RSVPs are required and a sign-up form is available online.

The training sessions, like the gyms themselves, are open to all members. Membership is automatic for students, faculty, and staff. The general public can pay for access to Sullivan and Costello like any private gym.

The upgrades come at a pivotal time for Sullivan, in particular. Costello has historically seen the most traffic from students because of its proximity to the dorms in Gorham. That imbalance may begin to even out next year when the new Portland Commons Residence Hall opens next door to Sullivan.

Even if it means more work for them, gym staff say they’d be thrilled if the renovations led to a wave of new interest all that they have to offer. Their mission to promote fitness isn’t limited to just a few die-hards. Their invitation extends to new and returning members, athletes and novices, first-year students and senior citizens, and anyone else who wants to lead a more active life.

“It’s come out phenomenal,” Normand said. “We’re happy to have all this new equipment here. I think the students are going to be thrilled.”