By: River Plouffe Vogel, Sports Editor
The University of Southern Maine is a vibrant part of the greater Portland area. Its roots run deep into the city, making it a network of connections from Maine Medical all the way down to Wharf Street in the Old Port. At the heart is the Portland Campus. Here the term “student” differs from what’s generally thought of as a “traditional” college kid. Classrooms are full of people of all ages, professions, backgrounds and cultures. Yet somehow, amongst a group of such vastly diverse people, there is community. At the center of this heart is the Sullivan Sport Complex.
Now this might be hard to believe, but nothing makes faster friends and builds stronger community, like sweating and grunting through any number of physical activities. One can find themselves benching opposite their political science teacher, or taking yoga with that random person you see walking down town all the time. It’s a place where age and status are thrown right out the window. Everyone, students, faculty, general public, is treated the same. The Sullivan Complex holds a key role in linking the Portland community to the students.
Joseph Baum is an Administrative Specialist at the Sullivan Center. Baum is an easy guy to remember. He is usually engaging with the student workers or patrons at the gym, and his relaxed personality and witty sense of humor makes him a favorite of so many who walk through the gym doors. As he puts it, “The interesting part about Sullivan versus the rest of the USM, we play to the capacity of students having access, as well as staff and faculty, and the outside community members. That integrates something special that no other space of the Portland campus has. We are all created equal when it comes to exercise, so true honest conversations tend to happen that way.”
Baum sees what everyone else there sees and feels everyday, and that is something so much more than just fitness. It’s a place where challenges are overcome, friendships are made, and community is built. It’s a place where a teacher from SMCC whose in their 60’s can still embarrass a young portland local on the basketball courts. Or on Thursday nights when there is pickup soccer there must be 10 different nationalities represented, all playing under the same roof, all playing the same game together. And perhaps the most impressive thing of all, this is maybe the only gym in the world that doesn’t make people feel self-conscious, awkward or just plain uncomfortable. At Sullivan, you don’t have to be the Rock, or Wonder Women.
Elly Baubonis is a student in the Marketing program at USM. She works the front desk, and like everyone else the works there, is friendly and outgoing. When asked what she liked the most about working there she said “ I like the people we get to meet, everyone is so nice and you get to learn their life story, and that doesn’t happen everywhere else on campus.” Both Baubonis and Baum bring up the same point, at this gym people really open up and talk to each other about anything and everything. It’s a place where people go to mentally and physically unload, to escape the busy work day, or unwind at the end of a long week. Pierre Dillon is a Maine native who just moved back into the Portland area. He isn’t a student but just got a membership. He is a regular for afternoon pick up and has made fast friends with the other’s that attend. All of who are a mix of students and community members brought together for a little basketball. “I’ve got a good group of friends already living in the Portland area, but the few weeks I’ve been at the gym I’ve met so many wonderful people and now know so many new faces that I see all over the city, it’s awesome!” Says Dillon, who now makes getting to Sullivan once a day part of his routine.