By Yakira Cohen
Although the coronavirus has forced the JCC of Greater Baltimore to keep its doors shut since March 15, staff members have opened an innovative new facility: a tent.
On June 1, the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC site started providing smaller, socially distant fitness classes and limited use of exercise equipment outdoors. Although select virtual classes were available while the building was closed, participants and instructors have welcomed the recent return to in-person fitness.
“People seem really, really happy to be back,” said Amy Schwartz, the senior director of fitness and wellness. “It’s really different being at home and exercising than it is being together.”
Jacki Ashkin, who has been attending classes at the JCC for nearly a decade, said she missed the “stress buster” and “me time” that workout classes provide for her.
“It felt so good to be with people,” she said, after participating in two fitness classes during the first week of the reopening.
Larry Hornstein, a JCC member since 1961, also said he was happy to regain his strength after the two month hiatus from his weight lifting routine.
“Everybody that’s there is just ecstatic that they’re lifting weights and back out doing something that they really love and enjoy,” he said.
While the JCC’s in-person closure was a difficult disruption to regular exercise routines for many members, fitness instructors also had to cope with changes to their jobs. Shelly Cohen, a body pump and CX instructor and personal trainer, said she lost some of the personal connection she has with her attendees when in-person classes stopped.
“We don’t have that [the connection] with virtual. We’ve had to learn, as instructors, how to teach to nobody, which is tricky,” she said. “When I do teach at the Gordon Center virtually, I do visualize all of my regulars in front of me and I hear their voices in my head.”
Cohen said that the return to in-person fitness classes is what she’s “dreamed of” for the past three months.
Although the JCC has resumed some form of in-person exercise, all fitness programs have been significantly revamped in order to meet city and county safety regulations, according to Schwartz. This means only running three classes per day six days a week, limiting each class to 10 participants, checking temperatures, wiping down equipment, and requiring instructors to wear face shields. Participants are required to sign up in advance, fill out waivers, and wear masks when not exercising.
“We’re really, really doing everything we can to keep people safe,” Schwartz said.
While the classes and equipment are only available at the Owings Mills location due to a difference in city and county regulations, both Park Heights and Owings Mills members can and have been coming to work out, according to Schwartz. This includes many Park Heights members who typically go to single-gender classes for religious reasons, which aren’t available in Owings Mills.
“The women who are coming into classes are wearing something on their head and wearing longer sleeves and skirts to be able to do classes,” Schwartz said.
Although coronavirus has distanced many Baltimore residents, the JCC community remained together, whether it be first through virtual classes and now limited in-person exercise options.
“They really, throughout all of this, they still managed to create an environment for a true community center,” said Ashkin. “I think that’s really commendable and it’s something that people needed a great deal during this time, when people were feeling isolated.”
“It’s not like other gyms,” echoed Cohen. “A lot of these people are interacting in other ways besides just the fitness aspect. So we’re like a family. To be able to be back with that family again is amazing.”
Yakira Cohen is a journalism and psychology student at the Honors College of the University of Maryland, College Park.