Over the past seven years, heavy lifting has been commonplace at the MaxxFit Sports Performance gym in Columbia. Although, on Sunday, the type of lifting that took place was far from typical.
Owner Chris Miller, along with a handful of friends and fellow trainers, spent the day clearing out the remaining pieces of exercise equipment from the facility and transporting it to storage units. It was the culmination of a two-week move-out process and an emotional moment for Miller, who recently decided not to renew his lease on the location.
“[There were] emotions,” said Miller, a 1989 Oakland Mills graduate. “It was sad to leave a facility we’ve been at for almost eight years, but considering the COVID-19 pandemic and lack of help from the landlord and property management, I felt relieved. A new chapter is on the horizon.”
Miller cited a $3,000 per month lease, combined with capacity restrictions and the facility being shut down for several months this spring because of the coronavirus, as playing major roles in the decision to close the doors of the facility just off Dobbin Road.
“For us to operate — per [Gov.] Larry Hogan’s mandate — at 50%, we’re barely operating at 30-35%. So, it doesn’t make sense to pick up that and continue that overhead of renting,” Miller said.
Miller is quick to point out, however, that this isn’t the end for MaxxFit.
For now, the plan is to continue the business by training athletes at his home. Miller will be keeping all of his clients, storing the equipment and revamping his approach to marketing. The idea is to ride it out, recover and find a “forever home” by 2021.
Miller became a certified personal trainer in 1994 and subsequently started MaxxFit Sports Performance before graduating from Hofstra in 1996. The Columbia native majored in business at Hofstra before getting a masters in organizational management from the University of Phoenix in 2001.
In addition to the training side of things, he’s also served as the defensive coordinator and defensive line coach at Atholton High. At 49 years old, Miller has now been a mentor to generations of athletes for over two decades.
“When I came home in 1996, I sat on my certification,” said Miller. “I started coaching Pop Warner football from 1996-2000. Then, in 1998, I really got started with training young athletes. When I transitioned to high school in 2000, I really got into training the high school athlete. From there, it escalated from high school to college kids, to professional athletes, to where I’m at right now.”
His pay-it-forward approach has attracted several athletes to train with him and continue to assist him in creating a hospitable environment for learning. James “Tre” Aikens, who played linebacker for Oakland Mills High and began training with Miller during his junior year of high school in 2010, is one of those who have hung around.
“The year before I graduated from Towson, in 2014, I got my certification to become a personal trainer and since 2015, I’ve been working with Chris,” Aikens said. “It’s been great helping everybody out. If I got to Chris sooner, it would’ve been more beneficial, but the work that we put in definitely makes a difference. Working with my linebackers coach, they definitely saw the difference in the drive, speed, performance and technique.”
Dante Hooker Jr., a defensive end for West Virginia Wesleyan and a former St. Vincent Pallotti standout, is among the athletes currently developing under Miller’s guidance. The 6-foot-1, 241-pound sophomore has trained with Miller for the past six years, since the age of 12.
He saw himself go from a self-described “short and extra fat” player at Oakland Mills before transferring to St. Vincent Pallotti to the college player that he has become today.
“If you don’t have someone that’s invested in you on the field and off of the field, you’ll mess up and he keeps you focused on sports and academics,” Hooker said. “On the field, he’s like, ’You’re never going to play bad’. He always tries to get you to play your best at all times.”
It’s that desire to continue making an influence that has Miller thinking big. His goal is to still one day have a state-of-the-art sports training facility in Howard County, one that will allow him to provide opportunities for training and rehab — ranging from chiropractic services to cryotherapy.
In the meantime, he’s going to continue his role as a visible Black sports performance coach in the community. Miller said it is a sense of pride for him to be able to assist athletes who are in similar situations to him growing up — being Black, growing up in a single-parent household.
“Growing up without a father myself — I grew up with a brother and sister and we all played sports and we were active, a single mom raised us. We didn’t have all of the resources, but we still played the sports,” Miller said. “To be that active role model in the community right now is to take on kids that I’ve mentored and a lot of kids come back to me years later and even currently that are in middle school, high school and appreciate what I do for them.
“To be that role model for someone that can look up to me, especially a single parent, kids that I train come to me like I’m their extended family. That’s very, very important. That’s worth more in gold than anything [with] coming in and making a dollar for somebody training.”