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Atlantic gym owners await weighty decision about operations


Gyms await the go-ahead to reopen

Rob O’Brien’s business is based on group activity and so is his advice for businesses pondering how to reopen.

O’Brien owns Osprey Athletics, a CrossFit gym in Bedford, one of 15 across the province.

“We all came together and signed the same plan, all agreed that we’d adhere to these rules and regulations that were recommended by the CDC in regards to spacing of athletes,” said O’Brien who, along with other gym owners, took part in a conference call with chief medical officer Dr. Robert Strang last week.

They didn’t get any indication of when they might get the go-ahead to open their doors.

“It’s not going to be a matter of them signing off on any plans, it’s going to be that you need to have a plan and make sure to abide by all of these conditions,” he said. “It’s not going to be up to them to approve each individual company’s plan.”

Banding together

Rob O'Brien, owner of Osprey Athletics CrossFit + Weightlifting, at his Bedford gym. - Ryan Taplin
Rob O'Brien, owner of Osprey Athletics CrossFit + Weightlifting, at his Bedford gym. - Ryan Taplin

O’Brien said the CrossFit gym owners banded together to approach the province because they feel their model is unique.

“We don’t want to fall under the same umbrella as a large gym in terms of controls and constraints because we have a better set up, I think, to be able to control our environment,” he said.  “All of our classes are coached, so we know who’s going to be in the gym and when they’re going to be here. And if it came down to contact tracing afterwards, we’d be able to tell who was there with that person, and at what time.”

O’Brien has loaned out barbells, dumbbells, weights and rowing machines to his members, and stayed in touch with them while his gym has been closed.

“They’re dying to get back in the gym,” he said.  “We have been doing online training but it’s just not the same. People are desperate to get back in the group thing and to be able to work with barbells again.  It’s hard to do strength training at home unless you have a really good setup.”

O’Brien says it is clear to him and his colleagues that when it comes to discussions on reopening the economy, the government wants to deal with organizations, as opposed to each individual business.  His advice is to have a formulated plan and band together.

“There are all sorts of samples of plans that you can look at to define how you’re going to operate when it opens back up,” he said. “And then once you come up with that plan, I would submit it to the government and it would help if you were submitting it under an umbrella group.”

A different approach

Ten or 15 minutes away in Burnside, David Rafuse has taken advantage of the pause caused by the pandemic to renovate Blended Athletics, a high-end gym with 800 members.

Contractors have redesigned the bathroom and shower areas, which are now co-ed.  The lobby area has been revamped to keep people further apart and there are now sinks in the lobby.

David Rafuse has renovated Blended Athletics in Dartmouth to prepare for reopening. - Ryan Taplin
David Rafuse has renovated Blended Athletics in Dartmouth to prepare for reopening. - Ryan Taplin

“As soon as people walk in, instead of going to the washroom to wash their hands, they’ll have the option,” Rafuse said. “We’ve ordered disinfecting mats. One of the top ways that a virus is contracted in an environment like this…is through your shoes.  We transport the virus from one area to another, by someone sweating on the floor and that sweat being transported through a shoe. This isn’t a new design, they’re mats used in agricultural and processing plants that hold disinfectant. We’re going to install that under the sink, so you wash your hands and your (shoes) at the same time.”

Rafuse also bought a fogger to help keep the 11,000 square foot facility clean. He has also loaned equipment to members, and said gym owners have talked quite a bit as a community about the way to move forward.

“To discuss best practices that everyone is coming up with.  Our objective as a fitness community is help protect our members and the greater community by making them healthier.  That only works if we can actually make the space itself safe,” said Rafuse, adding he has no idea when he will reopen. “We have to trust our leaders, not just on the political side but the scientists that are involved and the underlying research on COVID and the damage that it can do.

“As entrepreneurs we got into this knowing there would be ups and downs.  It’s kind of part of the excitement of being an entrepreneur, you get to solve a problem. And this is a really big problem. For me to push for opening from just a business perspective would be really immature, and selfish.”

Rod Snow, the facility manager and high performance director for the Newfoundland and Labrador Sports Centre in St. John’s, says he has been in discussions with his Canadian Sports Centre Atlantic counterparts, but just to share information, not as preparation for gyms reopening in N.L. anytime soon.

The province will move to Level 3 in its COVID-19 public health guidelines on June 8 and while that should loosen some restrictions when it comes to field sports, it won’t change the current inactive status of gyms.

With a change in levels coming every four weeks at the earliest, Newfoundland and Labrador could go to Level 2 in the first week of July, but while the expectation is that would lead to gym doors opening and the resumption of some sports at those locations, there still will be restrictions. That means the earliest the province could expect to see a return to what might be seen as mostly normal activity at facilities like the training centre would be early August.

With Brendan McCarthy in St. John’s, N.L.

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