Even before the pandemic, South Georgia residents were connecting virtually for all kinds of things — from shopping for consignment furniture to going on dinner dates. But now that the gym is a potential hotspot for contracting COVID-19, fitness has taken a slightly different form, pun intended. While some locals are bicycling, running or engaging in outdoor activities solo or with immediate family, others who appreciate the camaraderie of group fitness have found alternatives to being part of a team. We spoke to a few of these locals and found out just how they are socializing and sharing their fitness journeys in the new, virtual way.
As a mother and a former high school athlete, Lisa Elder values exercise as a way to stay in good shape for her son and elevate her mood. “As a military wife and working mom of two boys, home workouts have been my saving grace over the years,” she shared.
Lisa uses a Peloton for the virtual platform, and she’s found others who use the Peloton are great for sharing stories with — and for cheering each other along on certain fitness milestones.
“A group of us completed a “Death by 10s” (10 10-minute rides in a row) challenge on the Peloton “together” this past Saturday. It was so much fun sending high-fives to each other on the leaderboard and just knowing you weren’t riding alone,” she said. “Without the encouragement of that group, I never would have had the confidence in myself to even attempt the challenge.”
Lisa loves running virtual races — she has completed several already — and noted that virtual races are improving, even sending out “race swag” to foster enthusiasm among participants.
“Being a military family, we move around, and I have made some amazing friends and running buddies everywhere we have lived,” she said. “Virtual events allow me to complete races with my friends from all over the country, even though we aren’t able to physically run together.”
An acute care occupational therapist with South Georgia Medical Center, Bryant Alonso started running around the neighborhood to combat the no-exercise blues shortly after the pandemic took hold. A devoted member of his local Orangetheory Fitness, Bryant was not exactly sold on outdoor running at first. Soon enough, however, he found himself rising to new challenges — and with the help of familiar friends.
“It became a great stress relief. I was able to run, and then I was able to do 5ks and then 10ks. I was feeling good afterward, and finally, through an OrangeTheory Facebook group, I built myself up with all my running to a half marathon,” he beamed.
Though he has resumed trips to the gym as of this article, Bryant said the private Facebook group has worked well for camaraderie among gym members and keeping everyone connected and updated.
“We would do our own thing, and everyone was sending in their results. It kind of felt like we still were together, even though we were in our separate neighborhoods,” he said. “You miss the personal interaction. But thank goodness for technology continuing to keep up with everyone. We could still challenge each other, even though we were in different parts of the city.”
After Kathy Melton had weight loss surgery in July 2020, she knew she would need to incorporate diet and exercise to truly make the most of her decision. As of early 2021, Kathy had lost more than 100 pounds — 40 pounds before the surgery and 72 after — and is consistently exercising for great results.
Though Kathy had not participated in virtual fitness before the onset of COVID-19, she was pleasantly surprised at how much support she obtained through some Facebook groups.
“I have several bariatric groups that I am a member of since having surgery, and they help keep me motivated,” she shared.
Kathy is proud of herself for participating in several 5ks recently, and she loves sharing her pride with online friends.
“I like virtual races. I can do them on my own time and leisure and not feel pressured to ‘compete’ with those around me, other than myself,” she explained. “I am still a beginner to 5ks, but I hope to increase my time with each one. I get a sense of satisfaction doing them, and I like to go online and log my time and compare it to others. I know i’m not the fastest by any means, but knowing I’m not the slowest either is great!”
When Allen Travelstead’s friends in Coffee County decided to create their own CrossFit gym, he saw an incentive to cut back on smoking and drinking to embrace a healthier lifestyle. As of early 2021, he has totally quit both nicotine and alcohol and participated in iconic events, such as the Gate River Run in Jacksonville and the Catalina Wine Mixer — albeit virtually.
“You get a packet and bib, just like with regular races. You can wear the bib while you run, post your time, and you have to do your own due diligence and get the task done,” he said. “The registration money is the same. It’s something fun to do.”
When his part of the country shut down, Allen and his CrossFit buddies found a new avenue of doing workout routines through the help of a laptop and Zoom account. This way, he explained, you didn’t necessarily need a smart watch.
“I had a Fitbit, but I cracked it, and it got water in it and died,” he laughed. “I don’t know if I want to spend [money] on a smart watch, but a lot of my friends do.”
Allen believes that like most anything else, virtual exercise will be here to stay for many people — even long after the pandemic ends.
“You’ll have people doing everything virtual — ordering groceries online and now races,” he said. “You don’t quite get the camaraderie at home — the music and people cheering and hollering. But it always depends on the person.”
Written by: Denise K. James