If you walk around Lake Montebello near Hillen Road, you have likely seen them.
Marcus Hatten has a big smile plastered on his face. The former professional basketball player is surrounded by what he calls his regulars, some of them friends he grew up with in Baltimore, people he knew through pick-up basketball as a young boy in the 1990s. Others he met because they saw him at the park working out every day. Yes, Monday through Sunday, even when he really did not want to. And always at that same spot.
He was there on Sept. 15, a monumental day, a milestone he wanted to celebrate. That Thursday morning had perfect weather. Sunshine reflected on the reservoir, but there were still enough clouds to hold a breeze. His regulars knew about the importance of the date, which marked his 100th consecutive day of working out. There was a group with him every day during that time, creating a close-knit community of Baltimoreans with the same goal of improving their health while having fun.
Hatten decided to treat everyone, himself included, with a challenge that few people liked — they had to do 100 burpees, which are squat thrusts that include a jump and a pushup.
Hatten was legendary in the Baltimore basketball scene in the 1990s when he played in the city’s neighborhood basketball league. Kids like Sam Brand tried out through this league to represent the city in what’s known today as the Amateur Athletic Union, a national basketball tournament. These players, who got to compete all over the country, were among the best in the city, said Brand, who is now the director of Carmelo Anthony’s AAU program, Team Melo.
And Hatten, known as “Mo,” was one of them.
”People in our city knew that he would potentially be an NBA guard,” Brand said. Hatten played for the Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets, but was cut before the regular season rosters were finalized.
It surprised Brand when Hatten did not end up getting drafted. As a point guard for St. Johns University, Hatten was a prolific scorer, with an average of over 21 points per game. There was an electricity about him that was unbeatable. But Hatten enjoyed a “great” career overseas, Brand said, performing on some of the biggest stages internationally.
“I’m a huge advocate for the Baltimore community. I grew up here, I want to see us thrive,” he said. “And the major reason why our community in the city will thrive has to be because people like Mo and other people that do well from here come back and pour back into the Baltimore community.”
Hatten began to exercise at the park about six years ago, when he was still playing basketball professionally in Germany. It was where he worked out when he was back in Baltimore — for about two months during the summer — at the park just a mile away from his alma mater, Mergenthaler Vocational Technical High School. After he retired from basketball in 2018 to stay with his family, he gained a large following — at the height of the pandemic, as many as 60 people of different ages, genders and fitness levels formed a community that wanted to stay active, he said. They would see him working out and just join in.
Kids who played football and basketball showed up during summers to stay in shape for the upcoming school seasons. Teenagers and young men from Hatten’s mentor program often joined him. A man who is hard of hearing has been working out with them for three years now, communicating by typing messages on his cellphone.
It’s a good energy, and a breath of fresh air, Hatten said. He said the workout group has developed into a community that keeps each other in check, one that listens when someone is going through a hard time.
“It brings you peace of mind,” he added.
Hatten was the first one to complete the 100 burpees on his workout anniversary and about seven others also reached the goal, he said. People paced themselves, so they could finish together. It’s an easygoing group — beginners can go at their own pace, and those who are more advanced will happily help them or hype them up when they get tired and want to quit.
Poppy Medley knew Hatten from his East Baltimore neighborhood; they grew up a couple blocks away from each other. They lost touch after Hatten moved overseas, but reconnected through the workout community. It started with Hatten and a few other friends, Medley among them, who met up, hung out and worked out. They pushed each other, convincing each other to try a new exercise, do one more round, one more rep. They called each other if someone didn’t show up, too, to keep up their motivation.
It’s that camaraderie that keeps Medley going, that encourages him to keep his heart pumping. That and Jamal, Journee and Zaria.
“I want to be able to run around my kids,” Medley said.
People pass the group, which usually works out in the mornings, and eye it with curiosity. Initially, Medley said, they might feel discouraged, unsure they would be able to keep up with the men and women they see on the bars or with weights. But as they begin to recognize faces — especially Hatten’s, who greets them as they walk by — an internal barrier is broken. Hatten encourages them to do some exercise, Medley said.
“Anybody can fit in,” he said. “Anybody, no matter the age.”
Noemi Basso, a personal trainer, moved to Baltimore from Italy in January on a work visa. She had been going to a gym, she said, until she went to the park in June and saw the group. She’s been working out with them ever since, describing the community as a family.
It’s been a change for her. Working out next to Hatten, Medley and others have pushed her to do things she didn’t even know she could do, such as doing high reps of exercises.
“It’s like high intensity training,” she said. “Which I like; I didn’t know my heart was that strong.”
The 100-day mark wasn’t necessarily planned, Hatten said. He said he was going through depression after he was let go from a job he wasn’t passionate about.
“Let me get myself back together,” he told himself back in June. “Let me just come back to something that I was comfortable with … that I love doing.”
That, he said, was moving his body, taking it day by day and sticking to a routine. Basketball had been his “escape” as a young boy in the 1990s, a pastime his father Robert, known as “Mojo,” encouraged. He was a fitness fanatic, Hatten said, who ran from Montebello to Druid Hill Park. Fitness is natural for Hatten, and he wants to keep building the community.
“A lot of these guys don’t know, but as much as I inspire them, they inspired me to get out of that place,” he said.
Hatten would also like to start doing family days in the park, organizing races and other activities that children can attend. But that’s for summer. And what will he do when he hits his 200th exercise day? He isn’t quite sure yet.
Hopefully for all of those involved, not 200 burpees.
An earlier version of this story referred to the area where the workouts happen as being near Hillen Street. It has been corrected to Hillen Road. The Banner regrets the error.