Exercise exorcises demons

Posted: Thursday, April 19 at 07:03 pm ET by Petra Cahill, MSNBC.com

The gym in Virginia Tech’s McComas Hall has been unusually busy considering the campus is largely deserted in the wake of Monday’s deadly shootings, providing an aerobic outlet for stressed-out students.

“I actually think it’s been really helpful,” said Mordecai Harvey, a 22-year-old senior who both works and works out in the weight room at McComas Hall, one of the two main student gyms on the Virginia Tech campus. “It made sense, I guess people were trying to blow off some steam, get rid of the stress, and take their minds off of things.”

Ali Arner, the gym’s fitness development coordinator, said that the staff decided to keep the gym open specifically to help students struggling to cope with the tragedy.

Given that Virginia Tech was listed no 21 on Men’s Fitness magazine's list of the “fittest colleges in America” for 2006, it should come as no surprise that students are using the gym as a way to get through this tough time, Arner noted.

McComas Hall was crowded on Wednesday night – with two large basketball courts being used by students playing pick-up games. Cathy Kropff, the facility’s marketing manager, said roughly 400 students used the facility on Wednesday.

Harvey said the benefits of the exercise extend beyond a toned body. “It has a good emotional effect on you because it takes your mind off of things and it makes you feel like, ‘OK, I can move on,” he said.

Despite media reports indicating that Virginia Tech gunman Cho Seung-Hui worked out intensively in an effort to “bulk up” before Monday’s massacre, neither Harvey nor any other staff members or gym rats interviewed Wednesday recalled seeing him at the gym, the closest facility to his Harper Hall dorm.
But they noted that since McComas Hall gym is one of just two major recreational sports centers for the roughly 26,000 students on campus, it’s difficult to monitor who comes and goes. And no one has combed through the records of student IDs used to gain admission to determine if Cho was a frequent gym-goer.

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As officials, students and families struggle to come to terms with the tragedy at Virginia Tech, a team of MSNBC.com reporters and editors and NBC News producers and correspondents is on the scene.