Continuing Community During COVID

Continuing Community During COVID

Idaho’s path toward shutdown was quite a bit longer than many other states’. We watched most of the coastal states shut down and then followed after Washington and Oregon closed. I chose to close Verdant CrossFit and Verdant CrossFit North only after an amendment was made to the original state proposal. We coached the classes in the morning on March 25th and by the early afternoon there was an order for everyone to shelter-in-place. I don’t remember the exact amount of hours, but I believe that we had about 12 hours, maybe a little more where we were socially distancing and limiting class sizes, before the shutdown was ordered. At that point many of our members were already self-quarantining and the class sizes had already been reduced by virtue of people staying home. 

My family all lives on the east coast in the hardest hit areas of the country and as a result I have a lot of ties to that area. I was able to see what other gyms in Boston and New York were doing, so I had a game plan weeks in advance. I spoke on the phone with 5 gym owners in SoCal and 5 in Boston just to get a sense of what they had done. 

Verdant started by loaning out all our equipment. Even though we have 23 rowers there was no way to make loaning out rowers, barbells, and bikes equitable so we kept those items at the gym. Most of our plates, kettlebells, and dumbbells were gone in the first few days. Almost everyone was able to get 3 pieces of equipment, which wasn’t ideal but it was the best we could do. 

I knew that I wanted to keep our operations as normal as possible so that we could keep our community together, keep everyone fit, and keep our coaches paid. We carried our big TV downstairs and set it up for Zoom. In the first week we ran 3-5 Zoom classes a day. Then for the next 7 weeks we coached 7 Zoom classes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and 5 on Tuesday and Thursday. We found an awesome yoga teacher to coach yoga every Thursday at 12PM. We had 2 Zoom classes on Saturday, one for people with lots of equipment and one for people with the equipment we were able to give them from the gym. We also ran our regular gymnastics class on Sundays via Zoom. 

We found via the Zoom reports that each week had a pretty consistent number of independent logins. It wasn’t always the same people, but over the course of the week, participants averaged out to roughly the same number. Obviously, Zoom just isn’t for everyone and we couldn’t offer the same amount of times that we normally provide. However, through Zoom we were able to expand our membership to other states. Mostly it was my friends and family friends on the east coast and in the deep south, but it was really pretty incredible to be able to work with those groups. 

From the outset I didn’t feel that loaning out the equipment and offering classes was going to be enough to keep our community together. It also seemed like the least we could do. I sent out probably too many emails, but the goal was to keep people connected by offering as much information as I could and to keep offering messages of positivity. We were able to get a few specialists in their field to volunteer to teach some non-CrossFit based classes. A local photographer and longtime member taught everyone how to use their DSLR cameras. Our coaches have lots of incredible talent and Brooke taught a large group how to do hand-lettering and Isaac taught everyone how to make the same awesome pour-over coffee he makes. We held a happy hour and an estate planning class. All of these were in my opinion almost more beneficial than the regular CrossFit classes. They allowed people to connect especially at the beginning when everyone was still staying home. 

In addition to our community events, 5 weeks ago we started a 6-week-wellness challenge. It was something we were planning on doing, but given that we didn’t know how long the shutdown would last it seemed like a great way to keep everyone engaged. Coaches Shelby and Jenai did an incredible job and put in a lot of hard work to put the challenge together. We changed it up this year and we assigned everyone to a team. Each team had to pick their own team captain and come up with their own team name. Every week Jenai and Shelby have added team challenges in addition to healthy eating habits. As the goal was to promote community, we chose to sign everyone up for the wellness challenge and requested that they opt out if it didn’t suit them. The team that wins the challenge gets a free month of membership and bragging rights. 

Like any other gym we had a dip in membership. We were fortunate that no one cancelled who didn’t get furloughed, or lose their job, or have a massive pay cut. For those members we extended them free memberships until they got back on their feet. I know that if I lost my job and then was told I couldn’t be part of a community I cared about it would be very hard. My goal was to give everyone the opportunity to stay in contact and be a part of Verdant even if they had fallen onto hard times. 

Finally, all the coaches put in a ton of work and it was an incredible group effort to repaint, reorganize, and rethink our CrossFit spaces. A long time member used CAD to come up with a seriously awesome geometric design that will be an awesome fixture for years to come. We went ahead and did all the small projects that we couldn’t do when the gym is open basically 24/7 with classes or personal trainers. 

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