Hilo gyms and exercise-deprived patrons happy to be back in action

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Megan Caoagdan works out June 11 at Penn Training and Fitness Center in Hilo.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Marvin Nagtalon lifts weights on June 9 at Spencer Health and Fitness Center in Hilo.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Itula Suafoa cleans the boxing ring and equipment on June 11 at Penn Training and Fitness Center in Hilo.

After a months-long closure, many fitness centers, gyms and studios have reopened to their enthusiastic members with new regulations and rules.

Aloha Fitness Club and The Brave Fitness are two of the many East Hawaii gyms that reopened since June 1 after Mayor Harry Kim authorized indoor exercise facilities to resume business.

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The separate fitness centers operate out of the same building and had been itching to reopen for their members.

“It was almost like January 2, the first day we opened, again,” Aloha Fitness Center owner Tunya Sytsma joked. “People were very ready to be back.”

Although they have not made masks mandatory for people visiting the gyms, only 10 members are allowed inside Brave and Aloha at a time. Sanitizing stations have been put throughout the businesses, and all gym members must disinfect everything after use.

“People don’t seem to mind the rules, because they are just happy to be back,” The Brave Fitness owner Dharma Shay said. “We’ve been staying as flexible as possible to follow regulations while keeping our members safe and comfortable.”

Aloha and Brave have had to make changes to some of the programs offered at each gym. With the constant changing regulations and information, flexibility has been key for the fitness centers since reopening.

“When we were first told we could open, it was hard to decipher a clear set of rules that we had to follow,” Shay said. “However, we focused on our procedures and how we could change them, which ended up helping our transition.”

At Aloha, many members kept up their online payments despite not being able to exercise at their gym.

“Paying rent worried me the most, but many of our clients kept up payments to help keep us afloat,” Sytsma said.

About 20-25% of members have not returned as a result of financial strain or continued caution regarding COVID-19. However, there have been new members joining Brave and Aloha.

“A lot of parents are trying to get their kids to do something, like go to the gym,” Sytsma said. “They’ve been stuck inside, and parents want them to get the exercise they need.”

The fitness centers each look and feel different to regular members eager to get the exercise they have been lacking since March 25. There are more rules, fewer classes and not as many workout machine options, but it hasn’t stopped people from continuing to visit.

“People that come to the gym form communities before and after work here,” Shay said. “People have missed those relationships and the atmosphere at the gym, so I’m glad we can get back to some normalcy.”

Whittney Anela, an instructor at Brave, was one of many employees out of work during the stay-at-home order.

“It was really hard. I lost some clients, and I wasn’t able to do what I love,” Anela said. “The only positive was finishing renovations we had been planning for a long time.”

On the first day of reopening, Anela was excited to see a line of people ready to work out at Aloha and Brave.

“I am stoked to be back,” Aloha member Malati Shinazy said. “I was waiting and waiting, and now I’m building that strength I lost over time.”

Ashley Lynn worked out with Anela in a one-on-one setting at Brave on a recent Wednesday. The two had been waiting on pins and needles for the gym to reopen.

“I needed them to reopen for my mental and physical health,” Lynn said. “I needed to find that balance again for myself.”

After 71 days of closed doors, employees and members returned to Spencer Health and Fitness on June 3.

“It was tough,” manager Shelby Hoota said. “All the staff was laid off, including myself, until we qualified and got a (Paycheck Protection Program) loan.”

After receiving the PPP loan, staff began repainting the gym, deep-cleaning the space and machines, and constructing new showers in preparation for an eventual reopening.

“We wanted to take the time to make the space fresh for people coming back,” Hoota said. “Most are happy to be back, but some are feeling frustrated with wearing masks.”

Spencer requires anyone exercising to wear a mask while they work out unless they have trouble breathing. The gym has also closed its showers, sauna and has limited classes to 10 people per class.

“We’re hoping we don’t have to require masks for too much longer, because it can be hard on people,” Hoota said. “Other than wearing masks, most people are happy to follow the rules and ready to be back on a regular basis.”

Penn Fitness and Training Center opened on June 3 to members who have been determined to get back to the gym.

“Working out is my way to de-stress and bring my blood pressure down,” member and sales director Alika Medeiros said. “After coming back, my rising blood pressure went down in about four days.”

Medeiros was unable to acquire the equipment needed to keep himself in shape during the stay-at-home order.

“There weren’t any weights at the stores or even online, so I had to focus on my diet instead,” Medeiros said. “Going to the gym is the way I take care of my physical and mental health, so I really needed it to open again.”

Owner J.D. Penn, along with his staff, sprung into action to get the gym ready as soon as they knew they could open.

“I was shocked when I learned we could open on June 1,” Penn said earlier this month. “We scrambled to see when we could open and had no idea what to expect.”

While closed, some employees were able to collect unemployment benefits to supplement their income. Penn made sure to pay the staff who did not receive unemployment.

“I had them working as much as possible,” Penn said. “We deep-cleaned the machines, the ceiling and floors and set up a tent with equipment outside to allow for more social distancing.”

Penn allows 40 people, including staff, inside the building at a time and everyone is required to wear a mask.

“We have a designated room for kupuna, so they don’t necessarily have to wear a mask if they can’t,” Penn said. “There are some kupuna and other members that haven’t returned and are waiting to see if we get hit with a second wave.”

To ensure member safety, Penn increased his cleaning staff to guarantee there was someone constantly cleaning the gym.

Penn and his staff were excited to get the gym ready and welcome back members that have been deprived of exercise through the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“People don’t know how important exercise is, especially right now when it’s so helpful in strengthening the immune system,” Penn said. “If you work out your body, you can efficiently rebound from sickness, not just physically, but mentally.”

Email Kelsey Walling at kwalling@hawaiitribune-herald.com

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