Just A Fitness Class: One Year Later

March 26, 2021

Kari Merrill

It’s been over a year. A full year since I last wrote a blog expressing how lost I felt without Group Fitness classes running, expressing how it felt when we were not seeing our members on a regular basis, not hearing the bass drop in the studios, not watching my Instructors doing what they love every day, numerous hours a day. Over 80 classes a week of Group Fitness ground to a halt. A wide variety of modalities all created by my staff of 50 went suddenly -poof!-  A staff and a schedule that we built, studio by studio, class by class, year by year. We were so proud of that schedule. We brought in the education for each format, purchased the best equipment, and practiced a lot so we could give our members that absolute best Group Fitness experience.


Throughout the year, we (over)used the word "pivot" and I admit I probably added some words before "pivot" that I won't type out in case my Mom is reading this. Our members took our pivots in stride, stood by our side, cheered with us, cried with us, and were game for anything as we figured out how to do Group Fitness in a COVID-19 world.


If you followed our journey in the Group Fitness Department since March 2020, you might think "wow, they did this with such ease, such grace."  Well, I am here to give you a "behind the scenes" look at the many pivots (and somersaults and ‘I don’t wanna’ tantrums) that happened to me more times than I can count this past year.


Heres' the blog I wrote for Western when we had to shut down last spring: https://old.westernracquet.com/its-just-a-fitness-class/

I signed off with a short story about it being "just a fitness class" because I felt foolish crying so many tears and stressing out SO much over "just a fitness class" when so much was happening in the world. I remember always saying "the world is so dark, people are dealing with so much, it’s just a fitness class." But if you know me, my heart, my passion, I was freaking the heck out. I didn’t want to lose all that we had built. I didn’t want the relationships and the community to end. I wanted people to find any way they could to stay healthy, sane, and fit but also didn't want anyone to forget about us! I could see Pelotons being bought, memberships put on hold, some cancelling and I had to roll with those punches. If I am truly in this for the right reason I shouldn’t care HOW people are staying healthy, sane, and fit - just that are! But in my mind I was thinking, "Don't leave Western! Pick me. Choose me. Love me. Come back to me and my staff!"


I remember when we truly thought it would be just be two weeks to flatten the curve and then we'd be back. We closed Western and posted that we would be back soon and that we would take this on a case by case basis and we did! Every week. Then every 2 weeks. Maybe next month. With each passing day, we knew things would be so different. We could feel a shift in our world and it was hard to imagine starting over and rebuilding, much less trying to figure out how we work in this new world - this world when so many found fitness through technology and away from their community gyms.


Throughout the first few weeks, we posted "homework" for you to do on your own. I remember seeing other clubs jumping on Facebook Live, Youtube, and Zoom providing their members with live classes and I thought "I’m not doing that. I am not opening that can of worms - what if they never come back!" I remember my wonderful instructor and Western's Corporate Director, Katie Dubois, telling me each day, as nicely as she could, that members wanted some live classes. After stomping my foot, I said FINE but I am NOT teaching in my house. I have no space, my husband works nights, my stepdaughter is home from college trying to do her senior year online. There is no way I could make this work!


Guess what? I figured it out along with a dozen other staff. We upped our wi-fi game, bought different cables we never heard of, mixers, microphones, lights, and someone even bought a cat hammock so her 4 hairless cats could hang out while she taught (I know, weird, right?).


We found our niche. We magically found ways to connect over the computer. We added different, creative, classes and we even team-taught with coordinated outfits and all. It actually…..wasn’t that bad!


Fast forward to when we could open. Once again I thought, "No way am I going to teach in a mask and I will not make my instructors do that!" I believe I also said "Making people stand on an ‘x’ and spread people apart? NO!" <insert Kario stomping her foot> Well, the need to be with you all led me to create an in house schedule, measuring spaces 6 feet apart, throwing classes outside, renting a tent, a storage pod, buying speakers, more microphones, AND teaching in a mask.  It actually….wasn’t that bad!


Now that things are moving forward quite nicely, it was recently suggested that we could teach our Zoom classes from the club if we wanted. Here’s me “I am not going to pack up all my gear, drive ALL the way to Western, to set it all up, and teach when I have an entire studio in my living room.” Oh, how things continue to PIVOT even a year out. Besides, how would that girl with the hairless cats show them off to her Zoom peeps?


So I'll leave you with the take away from this little look into the raw and vulnerable emotions I've felt through this past year - if you want something bad enough, if you love something enough, if you want success, you will make it work. Recruit help, ask for shoulders to lean and, well, shoulders to cry on and you'll often find out…the things you thought could never work turn out to be "not that bad". Virtual, masks, spacing is all worth being able to do the job that we love for the people we love….YOU!


I am in constant awe of my staff. I admit, most were ready and willing before me. They helped me move forward and take the steps I knew I needed to take because we just wanted to be a part of your lives no matter HOW that looked.


Thank you for sticking by us and pivoting….no….EVOLVING to bring the magic inside (and outside) our walls once again. We are moving forward and we have big, big plans.

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