On a breezy, cloudy morning last week in Waterville, Maggie Brown encouraged her cyclists to keep peddling.

It was just a normal Cycle Fit session for the instructor, but with a twist. The class was held in the parking lot at the Alfond Youth & Community Center, instead of inside it. Spin bikes for the class are placed on blue mats, one for every other parking space, to adhere to soial distancing guidelines. Brown’s bike sat at the front of the class, with a portable speaker playing music to help keep the class moving.

Welcome to fitness in the time of COVID-19.

In an effort to create some form of normalcy during the pandemic — and to bring members back — the AYCC and the Kennebec Valley YMCA in Augusta are holding wellness classes outdoors. Both facilities are offering walking, cycling and total body conditioning classes for all ages. Both facilities recently reopened as the state eased restrictions.

When COVID-19 forced gyms throughout the state to close, AYCC wellness director Sawyer Boullette was searching for ideas to give members opportunities to stay fit.

“I was looking for ways to still engage our members, without the facility being open,” Boullette said. “I found some old rubber flooring out back, talked to maintenance and said ‘Hey, can I use this to create and outdoor gym on the side of the building?’ I grabbed my swim instructors and they did a great job of putting together these little individual stations — six feet apart — kind of made it cool looking. We decided to bring our spin bikes out, and some of the most popular classes we have, and just move them outside and see how it goes.”

Brown said teaching an outdoor spin class has been a unique experience.

“It feels amazing, I wish we had been doing outdoor classes like this since the beginning,” Brown said. “They’re so fun, and everyone loves them. Especially during the nice weather, you get a nice tan.”

Taking part in a class was a welcome change for Waterville resident Kristen Price, a regular visitor of the AYCC, along with her family.

YMCA fitness instructor Brandon Tardiff, foreground, leads client Brian Marston through an exercise routine outside the Augusta facility on June 9. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

“It is so great to have the option to get a workout in,” Price said. “This place is like family to us, and we miss it. We live two blocks away. To see it and not be able to come, it hurts. Our kids are upset about it. I feel a little guilty, because I get to come and do this, and they can’t come yet.

“It’s nice out, you have people, you can see the beauty (of nature). It’s phenomenal.”

In Augusta, KVYMCA wellness director Johanna Irland Cormier originally planned to have “about two or three” classes outdoors, but the coronavirus changed those plans.

“When we got shut down, we were just trying to figure out what was going to be our best bet as we start our reopening,” Irland Cormier said. “When Gov. Mills said we can start doing outdoor classes in mid-May, we just kind of jumped at it and just kind of added way more classes than we would typically offer, just because we wanted to be able to capitalize on being outside.”

KVYMCA is still mixing in classes via Zoom, the online teleconference tool, but outdoor classes were a welcome sight Monday evening during a Zumba class led by Cadyn Wilson, held on the football field adjoining the building. Participants had plenty of space to dance around during the aerobic workout, with Wilson leading the way.

“It’s so much better (to have class outside),” said Wilson, who had been running classes via Zoom for the last two months. “It’s so much different when you do it through a screen. More people do show up (for a Zoom session) because it’s safer, but it’s nice to be face-to-face with familiar faces again.”

“I’ve been doing (Zumba dancing) outside (alone), but people just stare at me in Capitol Park with my head phones on,” class participant Sukey Sikora said.

Neither instructors or participants seem to be concerned by the threat of coronavirus, so long as proper social distancing is used.

“As long as we’re being smart and being safe, there shouldn’t be any problems,” Wilson said.

For the time being — and perhaps going forward — members at both facilities can take advantage of the benefits of exercising outside.

“First of all, you can breathe (outside),” Brown said. “Inside, it’s hard wearing a mask all day, and I feel so bad for all these healthcare workers who are wearing these all day long and aren’t complaining about it once. We have to wear them inside and we’re all ‘Ugh, I can’t breathe.’ It’s nice to come outside, be far enough apart from each other so that we can have our own space, but still work as a group and have a fun class, because that’s what it’s all about.”

 

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