The Malkin Athletic Center (MAC) is a virtual Mecca for athletes and fitness gurus alike—Harvard’s Adonis-like men, health-conscious freshman girls and many in between are regular patrons of the MAC’s multiple weight rooms and coveted “Cardio Room.” But when demand for fitness equipment far exceeds the building’s supply, Harvard students can get a little too competitive.
Just a few hours after late night party crawlers crash in bed, the varying breeds of health nuts vie for first dibs at MAC machinery. “You have to be waiting outside the door for a chance to get one of the machines,” says Kennedy School student Gloriana Echeverria. On early February mornings, it’s everyone for themselves. “It started to get bad this month,” says staff member Lisa Tingley. “People are getting ready for spring break and trying to keep New Year’s resolutions.”
One nippy morning, within ten minutes of the first contestant arriving at 6:45 a.m., 13 women and 5 men wait anxiously at the door, IDs out and ready to be swiped when the clock strikes seven. None of the athletes make eye contact with each other.
7:00 a.m. Eighteen heads look up in unison as the lock clicks undone. It is clear that at first, everyone tries to maintain composure. But as they close in on the Cardio Room, the crowd decides to get a head start on their workout, sprinting up the stairs and literally jockeying for position around turns as they race to secure a station where they can run in place.
“It’s horrible,” says Echeverria. “Everyone does a mad rush to get one of the machines. The stairs is the place to establish dominance,” she says.
By 7:02 a.m., a line extends out the Cardio Room door. Those at the front of the line fashion a look of utter triumph. Three minutes later, most of the machines are booked until at least 8:00 a.m. The treadmills and elliptical machines are all reserved until 8:30 a.m..
“It’s like you’re at some incredible discount sale fighting suburban mothers for red-tag exercise equipment,” says Kevin M. Haninger, a fifth year student at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences who was not fortunate enough to secure a machine. “Except that it’s everyday.”