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Amateur sport, mental health at risk if gyms stay shuttered says Fort Mac business owner

There’s more at stake than just your workout, says gym owner

By  Kristy Koehler , January 22 2021—

Every January people pack local gyms and fitness centers, vowing to make good on New Year’s resolutions to get in shape. This year, nobody is working out at the gym as fitness facilities remain closed in Alberta due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Not only are the closures impacting the bottom lines of business owners, but one amateur sport is most certainly in jeopardy if fitness centers don’t open soon.

Leif Palsen, owner of Crude Strength and Performance in Fort McMurray, is also a Strongman competitor — and a Canadian record-holder. He says the gains made in the sport are at risk of being lost if gyms don’t open up again soon.

“Strongman has grown so much across Canada, North America and across the world for the last few years and just shutting it down like that is not good for either the sport, the economy or the people,” said Palsen.

Palsen is the Alberta director of the Canadian Alliance of Amateur Strength Athletes. There are more than 1,000 athletes across the country and around 200 in Alberta and he says athletes are reaching out to him, looking for updates on the fate of scheduled competitions.

“We’ve already postponed one scheduled competition into February but we don’t even know if we’ll be allowed to have that,” said Palsen, adding that the preparations done for the postponed competitions took every COVID-19 precaution possible, from mask-wearing to sanitation to minimal contact between athletes.

Another competition was postponed to March and then ultimately cancelled due to the shutdown in Alberta which limited athletes’ ability to train.

In order to compete at the highest levels and qualify for nationals and beyond, two provincial qualifiers and a provincial championship need to be held, and Palsen says athletes are running out of time. 

“It’s not just about the training, it’s about avoiding injury,” he said.

In addition to financial and sporting concerns, Palsen says it’s the mental health impact of not being able to get to the gym that concerns him most. 

He says many of his gym’s members rely on the routine of their workouts to keep their mental health in order. 

“We’re cleaner than any shopping center,” he said. “People need this. Mental health is number one.”

Palsen says he understands the need for restrictions in order to protect people, but argues that reopening fitness facilities can be done safely, and he wants Jason Kenney to know that.

“He’s trying to protect the people of Alberta, and so am I,” said Palsen. “As a leader in Alberta as well, I’m trying to protect people’s mental health and wellness and the economy.”

Rosa Trueman, Palsen’s partner who helps run Crude Strength and Performance, says when restrictions were first put in place, before the closures, great care was taken in order to ensure patron safety.

“People signed up ahead of time for a workout spot, sanitized their hands when they came into the gym, sanitized equipment before and after using it and stayed apart from each other,” she said. “We sat down and measured out how many people we could accommodate in the gym safely.”

One of the arguments made for not opening gyms has been the heavy breathing that comes with working out, which increases the amount of potentially virus-carrying droplets. Palsen suggested that restrictions based on this evidence — like limiting cardio equipment and increasing spacing between patrons — is understandable and easily doable, but a complete shut-down simply doesn’t make sense.

“We’re willing to work within the guidelines, we just need to be consulted with,” added Trueman. “We’d love to bring someone in and show them how safe it can be.”

Palsen has started a petition on change.org to bring awareness to the necessity of re-opening gyms and fitness centers. He’s also made a YouTube video  to address the Government of Alberta’s restrictions. As of press time, more than 15,000 people have signed the petition.

 

Photo courtesy Sven Mieke//Unsplash

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