It was 12:36 p.m., and I was wheezing like a beached whale. Metallica blasted from one corner of the Edge athletic complex in Williston. In one of its facilities — a large AstroTurf field house — a dozen guys in white and black pinnies were sprinting to and fro. Yours truly was doing his best to keep up with them while not puking.
An hour earlier, I’d absconded from Seven Days’ Burlington headquarters to participate in the pilot phase of Recess, a web-based platform for people in the area looking to play recreational sports at lunchtime. Now I was booking it to one end of the field house. My teammate had hucked a Frisbee over the end zone, and I was closing in on it, readying to pluck the disk out of the air.
Out of nowhere, the long paw of a 6-foot-something defender swooped in front of me. With a LeBron-like wingspan, he smacked the Frisbee out of the air, and it flopped onto the fake grass. My opponent picked it up. Back on defense, I jogged off to guard someone else.
That fast-paced game of Ultimate Frisbee quickly reminded me how much my fitness has declined in recent months. But winning wasn’t the point; we weren’t keeping score. Just as jogging can reinvigorate you after a night of drinking, the game turned out to be fun in a cathartic way, making me work up a sweat in the heated field house despite arctic temps outside.
To sign up for the game, I’d visited the website of Burlington-based Recess and chosen Ultimate Frisbee from a menu that also included soccer on Tuesday and basketball on Wednesday. The attendees came from locally based companies, including LORD MicroStrain, Seventh Generation and Dealer.com. Each paid $5 to participate. Most wore shorts and running shoes. A few simply rolled up their jeans and played barefoot.
“It’s always good to get some other companies together for some social exercise,” LORD employee Ryan Mills explained as he made a beeline to the water fountain after our game. Mills has been using Recess since late summer, he said, when the service first started and the weather permitted outdoor activities. (In our game that day, he was the one who smacked down the Frisbee en route to my hands.)
The idea of Recess came to cofounder Alex Consalvo after he graduated from Middlebury College in 2009. He’d played soccer there but always preferred pickup sports to regimented exercise. So, after graduating, Consalvo said, he looked for a resource that could set him up with spontaneous rec-sports opportunities, the way mobile apps such as Uber connect travelers with taxi drivers.
Consalvo approached Andy Rossmeisl, a fellow Middlebury grad who founded the mobile app Faraday. “Are there any apps for pickup sports?” he recalled asking Rossmeisl. “And he said, ‘I don’t know, but if there are, they’re not very good, or at least people aren’t using them.’”
Consalvo and two others decided to use Burlington as an incubator for their concept. They set up a website and began working with venues such as the Edge to store equipment and reserve space during lunchtime. The noon-to-1-p.m. time slots are convenient not just because athletic facilities are quieter in those off-peak hours, Consalvo said, but because they allow people to fit exercise into busy schedules and return to work refreshed in the afternoon.
Now Recess’ advisers include Rossmeisl, former New York City parks commissioner Adrian Benepe and Sports Illustrated staff writer Alexander Wolff. Several local companies subsidize the cost for their employees. One of the those companies, Dealer.com, already offers exercise classes for its employees. But for Jeremy McKittrick, 39, a front-end web developer there, the appeal of Recess is the healthy element of competition it adds to his day. He has used the service to find soccer and Ultimate games.
“Chasing a Frisbee around, getting the endorphins going, it’s more of a sport than exercise,” McKittrick explained. “I have newborn twins, which is pretty hectic. What’s cool about Recess is I’m not carving out time after work.”
As with any start-up, the challenges now facing the Recess founders involve forming partnerships, securing more investment and adding innovation to their product. Currently, people who use the service pay $5 to support its facility and operating costs. For now, someone from Recess — last Thursday, it was Consalvo — must attend each game to hand out the equipment. The founders are toying with the idea of recruiting users called “captains” to manage those tasks instead.
As Consalvo and fellow cofounder Ward Wolff look to expand outside Burlington, they’ve been in talks with the San Francisco parks and recreation department. They plan to add yoga and rock climbing to their Burlington menu, and they’ve partnered with City Sports, which markets special offers to Recess participants. Recently, the lacrosse company Warrior donated a set of reversible mesh pinnies.
Those were the shirts on our backs as we tossed the Frisbee around last week. Consalvo (who would be laundering them) was happy with the 12-person turnout. “That was a good run,” he said after the game, when the other attendees had taken off. “Sometimes we don’t have enough people, or we have too many, and people have to sit out.”
So far, Recess has seen 350 total participants since it started setting up games in September, and participation is growing by an average of 60 percent each month. As Consalvo looks to grow the enterprise, he acknowledges that it might be tough to sway people who are reluctant to — or simply can’t — escape from work at lunchtime.
“Instilling culture is incredibly difficult,” said Consalvo, and added that he’s considered establishing an additional 7 a.m. recess. But when it comes to making time at midday, “All we’re saying is, instead of paying $10 for a Coke, a sandwich and Facebook, you could be paying $5 for the chance to run around.”
The original print version of this article was headlined "Lunchtime Recess"