“We are united, this time around,” says Abdul Mouallem, about gym owners across Alberta. “A lot of people aren’t liking our government right now. Gyms have a huge influence,” and gym owners plan to use that in the next election.
Mouallem and his brother started Champions Fitness in Slave Lake in 2016. They’ve now expanded into Peace River and Spruce Grove.
Gyms and other fitness facilities in Alberta were allowed to reopen on February 8.
Asked about the impact of COVID on the gym, Mouallem says, “literally, destroyed.”
Champions kept staff on payroll through both two-month forced closures. It received some government financial support. Also, the Slave Lake landlord has given time to pay on rent and the Town of Peace River waived the rent during the shutdown. However, the gym is still struggling financially.
“This industry is the solution, not the problem,” says Mouallem. Physical activity is very important to mental health as well as physical health.
Mouallem doesn’t have a problem with most of the health restrictions to reopen, but doesn’t understand why the government insists that people must be working one-on-one with a trainer. It makes more sense to have every individual three metres apart, instead of having someone standing close enough to correct a person’s weight lifting technique and getting germs sprayed all over them. The trainer has to be masked, but the trainee doesn’t.
Mouallem and his team have come up with a way to train gym members to train each other from behind. Thereby keeping both people safe and reducing the cost of using the gym. The goal is to certify half of the gym’s members.
Champions Fitness plans to add plexiglass barriers. Over the first weekend of February, gym members donated 25 per cent of the cost.
“It’s been a community effort,” he says. “People have been amazing.”
Another aspect of the shutdown that bothers Mouallem is the timing. A short time before the government shut all gyms in December, it had a virtual meeting with gym owners. At the meeting, the government told the gym owners it was doing a good job and there was very little COVID transmission.
As of February 11, the Alberta government had not released industry specific COVID transmission data.
The information that Mouallem had from talking with other gym owners indicated that the numbers were very low.