It’s a very cold winter morning in Baltimore, and Ray Rice is up early for a training session. Heavy overnight snow has brought traffic to a standstill, so Rice travels slippery roads to reach Sweat Performance, a concrete box of a gym with Astroturf flooring and exposed ductwork in an industrial park outside the city.
As pop music blares over a tinny sound system, Rice does box jumps and burpees, pulls sleds and tugs ropes, with minimal breaks, alongside his training partner, Mary Clare “M.C.” McFadden, a 50-something former U.S. National Lacrosse team player who’s now a strength coach at a nearby college. When Rice lags, McFadden barks.
Oddly, there are no other football players in sight.
Instead, the morning “boot camp” class is filled with all sorts of regular people, some quite fit, others less so. Here’s a three-time Pro Bowler accustomed to state-of-the-art NFL facilities sweating to Katy Perry alongside lawyers, stay-at-home moms, and at least one grandfather. And the weirdest thing is how normal it all seems. At one point, Rice gets distracted between drills, slowing up his effort. McFadden will have none of it. She yanks his shirt. “Come on, Ray!” she yells, just inches from his face. “Focus!” The class’s oldest member, a septuagenarian lawyer with bad knees, cracks a joke about Rice’s form.
If you’re wondering where the sports world’s foremost pariah has been, the answer is here, in this gym, in this class. Over the fall and into the winter, when he had no football job to report to, this was the closest thing to a team Ray Rice could find. He came to Sweat Performance every morning, and sometimes twice a day, to be just another face in the fitness crowd.
“This is the place that got me out of the shell,” Rice says at the end of the session. His suburban boot-camp classmates stop by on their way out to bid him farewell. One asks Rice about a rumor that he’s leaving town for good. Rice nods, and they bump fists as the guy quietly shuffles out the door. It’s a difficult thought for Rice, leaving town, because these are some of the first people he saw as he started to emerge from a self-imposed exile last fall.
“They gave me an opportunity to be me,” he says, looking away. “Literally, this place saved my life.”