Lessons learned: A fitness center owner shares what he’ll take away from COVID-19 pandemic – Lansing State Journal

Friends, colleagues and clients have asked me about the past 12 months. Here are some things I believe are worth sharing.

Twelve months ago, we were notified Conquest Fitness needed to close both Lansing-area locations for a few weeks, to “flatten the curve” in the opening weeks of the pandemic. We had no way of knowing the fitness industry would remain closed by government order until after Labor Day Weekend.

Andre Hutson

Conquest invested heavily in protections for our employees and clients, and we’ve had remarkably few COVID-19 associated with our gyms since we returned to business. As members of the Michigan Fitness Club Association, we have worked hard to help our members and the general public recognize that properly run fitness centers are among the safest companies open for business.

I’ve experienced the pandemic not just as a business owner but personally — as a father, husband, son, neighbor and friend. COVID-19 has forced me to reconsider everything I do, everywhere I go. It’s on my mind every day. I respect everyone’s risk tolerance in light of the many remaining unknowns. I hear regularly from Conquest members who remain afraid to return to the gym, despite all the safety measures and protections we have implemented that are working.

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However, as a lifelong sports and fitness advocate, I am concerned by the unreported public health crisis I see unfolding as a consequence of the pandemic response measures — in Michigan and beyond. After a year locked in our homes, emerging data indicates we are significantly more obese, depressed, isolated, addicted and suicidal than we were just 12 short months ago.

I think Michigan’s fitness community can play a key role in helping people recover from the side effects of surviving the pandemic, but only if our leaders can recognize gyms offer a comparatively safe place to restore their bodies and minds. 

Approaching the one-year anniversary of our closure, gyms recently were allowed to resume business — at 30 percent of normal capacity. This limitation does not reflect our efforts or our documented results, and it sends a chilling, inaccurate message about gyms and risk. It certainly is not sustainable for any business.

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Conquest’s Bath location will close permanently this month. National fitness groups predict a quarter of all gyms and fitness centers, in Michigan and around the country, will go out of business in 2021.

Perhaps the greatest lesson I take from the COVID-19 pandemic is one we all have learned in some way: the measure of us, as people, is found when we are tested by tough times, when the only way forward is to endure and remain grateful for our blessings and remember that brighter days lie ahead.

We are determined to make it through this challenge and continue to serve the community, and we are grateful for the many members who have supported us and allowed us to help them pursue personal health goals during the past year.

Andre Hutson is a partner and CEO of Conquest Gyms in DeWitt.

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