Local gym owners push for reopening amidst pandemic

If you're thinking of burning off that Thanksgiving meal you just had, instead of hitting the gym, you're going to have to work out at home, online, or outside. That's because, since mid-November, gyms and fitness locations have been closed because of the state's "Stay Home, Stay Healthy" requirement in an effort to battle COVID-19.

However, just like restaurant owners or smaller retail businesses, gyms are barely hanging on. And this second closure may be permanent for some. It's also affecting gym members who rely on gyms for fitness and in some cases for their life.

Hal Mady is one tough guy. He had to be, playing football for the University of Iowa. 

 "I played offensive line there in the early '90s," he said.

Once his college career ended, Mady went into the workforce. He also said that he 'lost his ways' and even gained a few pounds.

"For a lot of people like me who took 20-plus years to get back into the gym, once you find something that really matters and is helpful, to have that go away again, has been rough," Mady said. 

According to Mady, he found a kickboxing gym in the Issaquah Highlands and was able to get back into shape, even losing 120 pounds in the process. But just a couple of months ago, the pandemic struck.

"I'm hit with COVID in October. I'm diagnosed with COVID. Had a pretty severe case. My lungs got pretty bad. I didn't have to go to the hospital, but it certainly affected me quite a bit," he said.

While it was bad for Mady, he said his fitness helped him get through it.

"I'm convinced, and my doctor's convinced, that my physical condition played all the difference in the world. Had it been two years earlier, I might not be talking to your right now," he said. 

That's the message gym owners want state leadership and the governor to hear. Some argue they're part of the solution, not the problem. 

"If you think about it, we actually take more precautions than most businesses," said Lionel Balland, owner of Academy Athletics in Seattle's Belltown neighborhood. "Over at my gym, it's temperature checks, you have to wear a mask, hand sanitizer when you walk in. We disinfect and clean before-and-after the workout."

Troung Luu, who is a franchise owner of 9Round Kickboxing gym in Issaquah, invested in steam cleaning equipment, cleaning supplies, and staggered gym times for members.

"You go to the grocery store, you don't want the ingredient, you put it back, not somebody is there wiping it down like they are at my gym," said Luu. 

Lindsay Lambert owns One Mind Yoga in Issaquah. She has a 3,000 square foot facility, with well-ventilated areas and requires members to follow state protocols of wearing masks and social distancing. Now, her members are forced to do yoga outside or online.

"I'm cleaning like a madwoman. It's nothing that I was already not doing, but I was holding those standards. And then it's like a gut punch when they say it's not good enough," she said. 

All three have said that they've lost members and it will be tough for them to gain the business back.

"It's nearly impossible to gain news business. Nobody wants to sign up for online. They don't. The people that do online are people who have a connection with us. New business is what keeps us afloat," said Balland. 

A November 10th report issued by the Washington Department of Health and the state's Department of Labor and Industries that explored COVID outbreaks by industry sector found that in the category of "Arts, Entertainment and Recreation," less than one percent of cases were reported in that sector.

"Health is important right now. Keeping your immune system strong is vital and getting your exercise in, is crucial. It's just a shame to be closed when you're trying so hard," said Balland. 

And while a vaccine is in sight, for owners and members, they hope to convey that working out is essential for your mental and physical health during these difficult times.

"It probably helped save me. I’m concerned that we’re walking away from that as a whole," said Mady.

The current "Stay Home, Stay Healthy" requirement, is in effect until December 14th.