New year, not open: Fort McMurray gym owners frustrated by COVID-19 shutdown

The start of a new year can be a busy time for gyms, but this year Alberta gyms will be empty. 

Some Fort McMurray gym owners are frustrated this holiday season, as crowds of people go to malls for Boxing Day, while their gyms stayed closed due to Alberta’s current COVID-19 restrictions.  

Judy Dredge, owner of 9Round Fitness in Fort McMurray, is getting ready to celebrate her second anniversary owning the business this January. But there will be no one in the gym to celebrate. 

At 9Round Fitness, no one is working out and no one is punching, kicking or boxing. 

Typically, this would be Dredge’s busiest time of year, as she offers specials for the anniversary and people like to start working out in the new year. 

“It’s frustrating,” said Dredge. “This is usually our busiest time as a fitness centre.” 

Gyms in Alberta are closed until at least Jan. 12, as a result of the provincial public health order. 

Dredge says she’s put at least $40,000 from her savings to keep the gym open, but she’s not sure how much longer she can wait for restrictions to lift. She said she doesn’t have as much income coming in and she had to lay off her staff right before Christmas. 

“I’m all for supporting the health-care system,” said Dredge. “The blanket approach that they have for the region doesn’t make sense.” 

Dredge has had some success offering workouts online, but that doesn’t quite cover the rent. 

She said people like coming in to the gym for the environment and the equipment. 

Dredge said her members have been reaching out in recent weeks, trying to support the gym in any way they can. 

Before the pandemic, Dredge had 400 members, now she’s hovering at just under 250. 

Dredge says typically the January deals would bring in another 50 to 100 members. 

“Closing small businesses will not kill COVID, it’s going to kill small businesses.” 

She says afraid the government will extend the closure for gyms. 

‘We’re not the same as a big box gym’

Dredge is not alone in her frustrations. 

Andrew Bambury owns Infinite Strength with his partner. Bambury normally offers one-on-one sessions at the small gym in his basement.

Even though physical distancing is easy in the space, Bambury has had to close his doors because he’s classified as a gym. 

Bambury said he would like the province to look at each business individually when talking about shutdowns. 

“We’re not the same as a big box gym,” said Bambury. “We’re such a small business … For us, we know that we’re not contributing to any numbers or rise in COVID cases.” 

Bambury said his business is very different from a large gym, and shouldn’t be roped into the same category.

He was also not impressed with the long Boxing Day shopping lineups. 

Infinite Strength is run out of Andrew Bambury’s basement. He said it was easy to follow COVID-19 restrictions because he only does one-on-one appointments. (Submitted by Andrew Bambury)

“It’s very frustrating to see big box stores being open. They’re the ones that are going to survive,” said Bambury. 

He added that fitness contributes to mental health and well-being. 

‘Just another hardship’

The government’s recent COVID-19 restrictions have also affected personal trainers.

Chris Reiter, owner of Pump Fitness Academy, contracts out his services to gyms in the area, but right now he’s doing predominantly online coaching. 

With gyms opening and closing over the course of the pandemic, Reiter said many people have lost the motivation to work out, and subsequently aren’t wanting to hire a trainer. 

“The income has been drastically cut,” said Reiter. “Just getting clients for us has been very difficult.” 

To try and get through the pandemic, Reiter also started selling clothes and supplements. 

He said he’s torn because he would like to run his business as per usual, but he’s also putting his trust in the health officials to do what’s best for the community.  

“It’s just another hardship that we’ll get passed,” said Reiter. 

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