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'A little lost': Fitness fanatics waiting patiently for Cayuga County's gyms to reopen
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'A little lost': Fitness fanatics waiting patiently for Cayuga County's gyms to reopen

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Accustomed to specific weightlifting routines, exercise equipment and encouragement from fellow gym-goers, those typically consumed by personal fitness have had to adjust to life in quarantine.

Fitness centers — whether it be the local YMCA, national chains such as Planet Fitness, or privately owned gyms — were not immune to New York state's pause due to COVID-19. When such businesses were forced to close in March, workout warriors scrambled to find equipment and new routines. 

"I think everybody, including myself, felt a little lost," said Stacy DeForrest, who typically lifts at Swagler Strength and Performance in Auburn. 

'Get creative': Cayuga County fitness centers adjusting to closures

There's been no clear indication from Gov. Andrew Cuomo when fitness centers will be allowed to reopen. Gyms, as well as malls and movie theaters, are among businesses originally thought to be included in the fourth phase of New York's reopening plan. Not so fast, said Cuomo, as his office is still gathering information on when businesses such as gyms can safety reopen. 

As of Thursday morning, there is still no indication of when that will be. 

Lack of facility availability and lack of clarity on when gyms can return has forced gym owners and other fitness leaders to find different ways to accommodate their athletes. Jamie Swagler, owner of Swagler's, told The Citizen in March he was renting out equipment for clients to take home during the pandemic. 

DeForrest, who has trained at Swagler since 2014, was one person who took advantage. An Olympic-style weightlifter, DeForrest set up workout equipment in her garage, where she trains roughly five days a week.

Mimicking her typical workouts, even with borrowed equipment, and finding motivation every day has been more of a struggle. 

"I'm still hanging in there and still lifting weights and training, but it's not the same," DeForrest said. "'Better than nothing' has kinda been the slogan for the last couple months. I've talked to other members along the way and I think everyone was struggling. I was struggling for sure. Getting up and doing the workouts seemed harder. You don't have people around you, you didn't necessarily have the music and the noise and the motivation. It's a lot harder to get out of bed, go out into a cold garage to work out without anybody there. Teaching myself how to workout by myself was the lesson."

Jeff Gardner, who has been a trainer at Swagler for two years, also had to change up his routine. Under normal circumstances, Gardner said he was getting in some form of exercise five to seven days a week, whether it was CrossFit-style workouts, strength training, stretching or even a visit to the sauna. 

Gardner also set up a gym in his garage, where he invites small groups of people over to "get in a good workout and motivate each other."

Instead of constantly hitting the weights, Gardner's workouts have honed in on range-of-motion exercises and some running, which he joked he's "not a big fan of."

"For me, (the lesson is) don't take the gym for granted and respect it, because when it's gone your whole world gets flipped upside down," Gardner said. "Not being able to work out for three months is a long time. It was an eye-opener to be grateful for what we have."

Questions remain not only on when gyms will reopen, but what they will look like when they do. Champions for Life in Sennett began a phased reopening Monday that will allow members to enter the facility for singles tennis, but the arena and fitness center remain closed indefinitely. According to its website, the Auburn and Skaneateles YMCAs opened their pools for swimmers to swim laps, but other areas of the facilities like the fitness centers and ice rink remain closed. 

After entering both buildings, members are required to wear masks and maintain 6 feet of distance. 

Swagler offered online workouts on Zoom, but those were only a mild success, according to an email from Jamie Swagler. In late May, the gym started outdoor classes without use of equipment, limiting participants to 10 or fewer. As the state increased the allowable gathering size, the classes have grown, and now workout equipment is being phased in. 

Because of his status as a trainer, Gardner expects to return to Swagler on day one of the facility's true reopening. While it's unclear exactly what rules will be in place, his main concern is ensuring that clients feel safe inside the facility. 

"It all really comes down to what the client wants," Gardner said. "Before we get into any types of training, we'll see what they are comfortable with and that's how we'll proceed. I don't know what Gov. Cuomo is gonna put in place, but I assume face masks are gonna be a priority, especially being so close while spotting. You don't want to be breathing on the client, or vice-versa. I would say face masks would be a good start, and just making sure after helping someone you are sanitizing (the equipment) and sanitizing your hands as well."

Regardless of the difficulties of closed gyms and uncertainty about reopening, there have been positives. For some, that could be refining workout techniques, trying something unfamiliar or reassessing why fitness is important.

"Working out by yourself forces you to find discipline and motivation that you didn't realize was there," DeForrest said. "It forces you to think about why you're really working out in the first place. Is it because there's other people around, or are you working out to stay healthy? What is your 'Why?' or your goal? For me, it was a good learning exercise and it was a good way to focus into why I'm working out the way I do."

Sports reporter Justin Ritzel can be reached at 282-2257 or at justin.ritzel@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @CitizenRitz.

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Sports Reporter

Justin Ritzel is a sports reporter for The Citizen. Justin has been covering high school sports and minor league baseball in Cayuga County since 2015.

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