Our Man in Arlington

February 25, 2014 10:34 AM0 comments

clark-fcnpIf 90 percent of success is showing up, the odds favoring my own gasping efforts at physical fitness may have dropped a few points.

Arlington’s Sport & Health club, home to body-perfectors at North Kirkwood Road and Washington Boulevard since 1977, just announced it will close its sweat-stained doors March 5.

More than a few lives and limbs have been thrown out of joint. Not just us workout-addicted members, but trainers, desk staff and towel service providers have been heard expressing bewilderment.

“From the beginning our vision has been to create a ‘third place’ between home and work where people can come together to join a healthy lifestyle while enjoying the community,” Sport & Health CEO and President Mark Fisher wrote to members. “The market conditions have changed and the facility that was created decades ago will not allow us to continue with our vision.”

But fear not, he continued. “While these market conditions and physical plant concerns have affected our ability to continue operating the Arlington club, we have built new clubs and reinvested in others.”

To encourage the transfer loyalty to one of the 22 other S&H locations in the D.C. area, Kirkwood Road members are offered free access to other clubs, a 10 percent dues discount, and free membership for family. Staff, I’m told, have been reassigned.

For me it’s a tough call. Arlington boasts 85 health clubs, according to Yelp, brand names like Gold’s Gym, Curves, Exercise Nation, and LA Fitness. The other Sport & Health locations are semi-convenient to me at Ballston, Crystal City and McLean.

But attachments are hard to break. In four years as a regular on the edge of Clarendon, I faithfully executed my stubbornly self-designed thrice-weekly workout on treadmills and weight machines, all settings memorized. I came to depend on the club’s chipper staff who make you feel part of a movement. I got with the program via the energetic music and healthy peer-pressure from members crunching alongside me – showing up even on mornings when I was tempted to sleep in or when the weather is warm.

I collected numerous new friends among the crowd ranging from ages 16 to 90. I networked with PTA pals, a state delegate, a former school superintendent and a high school football coach. And I rewarded my exhausted self with a steam bath and sauna visit – things I can’t get at home in the bosom of family.

Members and staff at Kirkwood together went through the tragedy of the 2009 murder of S&H employee Carl Diener.

So whether I can recreate such a third place elsewhere is up in the air.

The company announcement, which came after years of full parking lots and locker-room refurbishments, was rumored to be prelude to a land deal with some developer. Nancy Terry, an S&H senior vice president, assures me no land deal has been reached (a statement echoed by the owner of the State Farm insurance office on the same lot).

The site’s “physical facility is not conducive to renovation and does not match our new model club of 50,000 square feet,” Terry said, characterizing the old club’s three-story structure as “very narrow.”

Left unspoken is another likely factor. The aging building for some seemed slightly dingy. One member who’s been playing racquetball there for 34 years commented, “Young people like something glitzier.”

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