LIBERTYVILLE – Beth George had her routine down. Her weekdays would start with a 5 a.m. workout class at Heather’s Gym in Libertyville. On the weekends, she’d take maybe a spin or barre class.
Nearly every day, though, started with her fitness family at Heather’s Gym.
In the wake of the “new normal” of social distancing and the Illinois stay-at-home order issued last weekend, she wondered how she’d be able to maintain that routine now that the gym was no longer an option – and how she could continue to support the local small business that had become such a large part of her life.
“Just the thought of not being able to work out or even just be with people you spend a lot of time with while we’re there – it was pretty unsettling,” she said.
Fortunately, gym owner Heather Fahrenkrog already had been working on a solution to that problem. The week before, she began hosting live classes on Zoom – an online video conferencing platform – for members who still wanted to work out but didn’t want to leave their house.
It was a program she originally planned to launch sometime this year, she said, but as social distancing became more prevalent to stanch the spread of the coronavirus, she saw an immediate need for it both to keep her business running and for her community of members, who’ve built relationships with her, her instructors and fellow members over the years. It’s all about connection, she said. There may be other online options – pre-recorded videos people can watch and follow along with – but they lack the social interaction and connection so many people crave.
“They want that connection, and especially now when everyone’s trapped in their homes, they want it more than ever,” she said.
Fahrenkrog’s Zoom classes launched last weekend and about 250 people participated in the three classes she hosted on the first day alone.
And now people all across the country are joining in.
Fahrenkrog now offers 60 live classes throughout the week. Nonmembers can enjoy unlimited access to these classes for one week; after that they can pay $10 for individual classes or purchase unlimited access to all classes for a month for $99.
Fahrenkrog also built in programs geared specifically for children in different age groups, from younger children to high school and college athletes who no longer have access to their teams and their regular workout regiments.
George said her three children – ranging in age from elementary to high school – have all jumped on board with the kids’ classes.
“This week we’ve been able to do classes together,” she said. “I got my kids to do yoga. My 9-year-old is hanging in there with a strength and agility class. It’s really helped us focus a little bit on the day … and, I don’t know, just add some sanity to the day. It’s been pretty amazing for us. Not leaving the house for a week and being able to do that – it’s been pretty cool.”
Lynsey Wolfe, another Heather’s Gym member, said the Zoom classes are “truly” one of the daily highlights for her and her three young boys.
“It’s something I can look forward to,” she said. “I can see other people. I know I can get that release every day that I need and my kids need to get through all this.”
While access to the physical world has become restricted, more and more businesses, institutions and personalities are opening doors to a virtual one to reach out and connect with people. On March 18, famed composer Andrew Lloyd Webber asked his Facebook followers which “Phantom of the Opera” number they’d like to see him perform.
In a video posted the following day, Webber said, “Here I am in my own self-isolation and the song that came out on top was ‘All I Ask of You.’ Oh, gosh, all I ask this morning is that I can play the piano properly. We’ll see what happens.”
Chicago museums also have begun offering free virtual access to some of their collections, including The Field Museum, Adler Planetarium, Shedd Aquarium and The Art Institute of Chicago.
Locally, virtual platforms allow communities to remain connected, boost morale and simply say, “You’re not alone.”
“At the end of every single class, we take some time at the end [to say], ‘Listen to my voice. You’re gonna get through today. I am here for you,’” Fahrenkrog said, her voice catching. “And it’s very meaningful. It’s a great thing. We gotta get everybody through it.”