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Kyle Shewfelt isn’t looking to open his gymnastics centre immediately. He’s willing to be patient.
The Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast fully understands that some time is still needed before sport, dance, fitness and recreation facilities like the one he owns can start welcoming guests back.
Shewfelt would, however, like the provincial government to reconsider whether those businesses can reopen before the third phase of Alberta’s relaunch.
That’s when the province has them scheduled for reopening, at the same time as big festivals, concerts and nightclubs.
“I don’t want to open my facility tomorrow and I’ve talked to dozens of other business owners who don’t want to do that either, but what we do want is sport, recreation and fitness to be a higher priority than its current classification in Phase 3,” Shewfelt said. “I think health and fitness are essential for the overall health and well-being of Albertans, and that’s why this is important.
“It’s about facilities being open so we can help keep Albertans happy and healthy.”
Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said last week that the province is considering whether gyms could open earlier than originally planned, and she reiterated something similar Monday.
“We do recognize that sports, recreation and fitness are very important and we are working on frameworks to be able to facilitate opening various sports, fitness and recreation options for Albertans, because we know that’s critical for both physical and mental health,” Hinshaw said.
Gyms were included in Phase 2 of British Columbia’s reopening and many opened last week with new physical-distancing procedures in place.
That’s something that fitness facilities in Calgary say they would happily do.
Pete Estabrooks, a personal trainer and owner of The Fitness Guy, contacted Alberta Health Services to try to figure out what services, if any, he could offer his clients. He was told he could do classes outside with everybody staying 2.5 metres apart, but under no circumstances was anybody allowed to go into his facility, even to use the washroom.
Estabrooks knows all his clients and understands exactly what equipment they’ll need for a workout. He says it would be pretty easy to ensure everything was washed down and sanitized before any new client stepped through the doors of his facility.
“I also teach fitness classes and I understand completely the rationale behind no fitness classes,” Estabrooks said. “I have a 3,500-square-foot training area, and on a typical Saturday morning I would get 60 people in there for a circuit-training class and it’s totally rock ‘n’ roll fun, but it would be disease-spreading mayhem. I’m perfectly willing to step back from that aspect of my business.
“The one where I can control all the variables, though, is personal training.”
There are notable differences between the sorts of facilities operated by Shewfelt and Estabrooks and the festivals, nightclubs and other businesses that are also listed in Phase 3 of Alberta’s relaunch strategy, for which no date has been set.
For one, Shewfelt said they can easily and effectively trace every person who enters and exits their properties. That would make contact tracing much simpler if there ever was a COVID-19 transmission.
They also actually contribute to community health, something that Erika Serbu, owner of Absolute Dance, says is critical.
“I think it goes beyond just the formality of taking a dance class or a gymnastics class. It’s also about trying to get the community back together,” Serbu said. “As a parent, I hope for that, too.”
Like so many businesses, those in the health and fitness industry are struggling. There’s still rent to pay and lots of expenses, with very little revenue coming in. Many facilities are on life support and might not last until Phase 3 of Alberta’s relaunch.
It doesn’t have to be tomorrow, but Shewfelt is hoping the province will give businesses like his a shot. Not just to survive, but to prove they can safely operate.
“When people are active and moving their bodies and they’re healthy, they do have stronger immune systems. When people have strong mental health, that contributes to overall health,” Shewfelt said. “I think right now Alberta needs to put the sport, rec and fitness industry into a higher-priority tier, and I think that will (in turn) relieve some pressure on the health-care system.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020