Covid landed some heavy blows early on in the fight, but Stanley Boxing Gym and Fitness is still on its feet and ready for the next round.
As a business whose basic operations involve close physical contact, the 54 Avenue gym was closed for almost three months after the pandemic arrived in the NWT.
Healthy meal service
However, the gym has rolled with it and found a new, flexible technique as it prepares to send out the first orders for its new Fit Foodie Meal Prep program on Sunday.
The healthy meals are made to order from scratch for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
“John (Stanley) and I had been doing a lot of brainstorming. If Covid closes us down again, how do we continue to be doing sales?” said Scott Thomson, trainer and gym co-owner. “There aren't a lot of healthy grab-and-go options in Yellowknife. We want to fill that void and that's why we started it.”
The pair have teamed up with Robin Wasicuna, owner of the former Twin Pine Diner, who will cook all of the meals. Stanley and Thomson have rented out some kitchen space at Northern United Place, where Wasicuna will work his culinary magic.
Customers can have their meals delivered or pick them up. They'll also be sold at Gastown.
So far, 12 people have signed up for the new meal service, Thomson said.
Fit Foodie will be their second run at a healthy food service. From 2016 to 2018, the duo ran their Performance Meals program but the new project is aimed at a broader customer base.
“We want to have more of a gourmet kind of feel to it and something that's not just healthy food, it's something that's actually good and you're going to enjoy it as well. Robin has put a lot of time into the recipes,” Stanley said.
In assessing the situation the gym has faced due to the pandemic, the owners realized that in their nine years and 11 months of business, the three areas that worked best for them are boxing, fitness and healthy meals.
“These are the three things that we're going to focus all of our energy on right now and we feel it's going to bring our business to where we want to be,” Stanley said.
Down, but not out
The new move comes as the gym has started to regain momentum after the tough months of March through June when the facility was closed and lost more than 50 per cent of revenue.
In-person classes couldn't be held. Even though some off-site classes gave the owners a bit more to do, it didn't compare to training with people in the gym.
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“Not being able to be here (was hard),” said Stanley. “It felt like we weren't doing anything. We were still operating and we were still doing outdoor classes, but it was one a day and we were doing some online stuff, but it just felt like we weren't being productive. The camaraderie in the gym and talking to people in the community, it just wasn't there.”
It was also difficult for Stanley to see that the progress made among some kids doing boxing was lost when they shut down.
“We were just starting to build some camaraderie with the kids," he said. "Some of them were doing the online stuff, but it's hard for a kid to stay motivated doing an online class.”
“I'm a social person,” said Thomson. “And not only did you take away my business in one fell swoop, you took away my social encounters. I teach four classes a day with 10 to 15 people per class, and I went to being stuck in my house with my two kids. That was a big change.”
While not seeing customers was hard on the owners, the spring months gave them the opportunity to finally undertake gym renovations that they had planning for a long time.
Their landlord's staff overhauled the entire space: repainted everything, put in new flooring, replaced old equipment and installed new bathrooms.
Back in the swing of things
People started to come back to the newly-renovated gym when it reopened on June 23, just over a week after the NWT entered phase two of the Covid recovery plan.
The number of memberships has almost returned to the pre-Covid level and some programs are at maximum capacity.
“The boxing and kickboxing programs are full. We started the kids program and kids kickboxing took off. Twenty-five kids registered right off the bat. Everything's really picked up well for us,” Thomson said. “We're starting our after school-program with school starting back up.”
But pre-Covid normality is still a ways off. Sparring or making contact in combat sports isn't allowed. Athletes must wear masks when they practice striking the boxing pads. Class sizes have been capped to facilitate appropriate physical distancing – that means no more than 12 for fitness classes, 18 for boxing and 20 for kids kickboxing. Only one person is allowed in the bathroom at a time.
“(And) we've got a brand new, shiny shower and no one can use it!” Stanley joked.
But he explained that their new kids boxing classes have shown him a side of training that he hadn't previously experienced in his decades of work as a professional boxing coach.
“I've always mostly coached people who wanted to be high-level athletes. I never really worked with regular people. And now my favourite class to teach is the kids from six to 12. I've never done that before, and they're fun. It's not about achieving a goal or anything. It's not about winning titles. It's just kids having fun learning the sport.”
The owners are grateful that they can again regularly meet with their members who supported them while the gym was closed.
“Community support kept us in place. It's as simple as that," Stanley said. "When the community stepped up, the people who could afford to continue to pay and continue to support us did. It kept us open. It made a huge difference.”