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Road to Recovery: Gym finds strength in overcoming challenges

Dana Forbes, left, and Ronni Waneka have owned and operated Steamboat Strength and Conditioning, home of CrossFit Steamboat, for the past five years. In March the business faced one of its biggest challenges with COVID-19 but has been able to adapt and change as it continues to move forward despite the pandemic.
John F. Russell

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — CrossFit coaches Dana Forbes and Ronnie Waneka are used to overcoming challenges in the gym, and they believe their business, Steamboat Strength and Conditioning, is stronger than ever after facing the many obstacles brought on by COVID-19.

“We do things here that are hard, and CrossFit is challenging,” Waneka said. “It builds strength and confidence and courage, and you never know what you’re going to do when you come in here.”

In many ways, it’s similar to what they’ve gone through the past six months.

“I feel like when COVID came, it was just part of what we do here — we adapt,” she said.

Forbes and Waneka had just started talking about how COVID-19 might impact their business a few days before Gov. Jared Polis’ order closed gyms, restaurants, bars, movie theaters and other businesses in mid-March.

The owners thought the closure would be short-lived, and they never expected to have to close their doors for six weeks.

To keep people engaged, the business loaned out their equipment and emailed workouts to members. The transition to Zoom meetings came quickly, and coaches worked hard to maintain contact with members online.

“We gave away everything except the rowers and bikes and the big stuff,” Waneka said, “We handed out dumbbells, kettlebells, D-balls, wall balls, bands, foam rollers and boxes. It was crazy to sit here and watch it all walk away.”

Dana Forbes, left, and Ronni Waneka, owners of Steamboat Strength and Conditioning, home of Steamboat CrossFit, has been able to utilize its large outdoor space for classes since reopening in May.
John F. Russell

The members were split into teams of 20 to 25 people and led by the gym’s coaches, who quickly transitioned to doing classes virtually from their living rooms and garages.

When gyms were able to reopen with restrictions on May 1, Steamboat Strength and Conditioning was ready to go. Members came back to changes, but the owners said it wasn’t all bad, and they plan to continue many of the those adaptations even in a post-pandemic world.

Classes are smaller, squares line the floors and more equipment was purchased to reduce contact between members.

Special equipment, including a fogger, was also purchased, making it easier and more efficient to sanitize the equipment for the safety of members and staff.

Forbes said their large gym space gives members plenty of room to social distance inside, the garage doors open to provide ventilation and some of portions of the classes are held outside in the parking lot.

Waneka is working hard to find specially designed masks that make it easier to breathe while doing physical activity, and she’s begun moving some parts of her program inside to prepare members for winter.

Her hope is that state and county health protocols, which were created as a one-size-fits-all requirement for gyms, will be reevaluated. She believes Steamboat Strength and Conditioning, with its high ceilings and open space, might be exempted; however, she said she will work within the framework of the rules.

The two women agree dealing with COVID-19 has not been easy. They saw revenues decrease during the closure and costs increase when they reopened.

Despite the challenges, Steamboat Strength and Conditioning still has 135 members, and Forbes said the only members who left have moved away from Steamboat. They also were able to gain 25 new members this summer.

The women believe the programs they have been able to offer are vital to the health of the community during this difficult time.

Waneka said Steamboat Strength and Conditioning has continued to host The Phoneix program throughout the pandemic for those dealing with addiction. The gym also offered reduced rates during the stay at home order and offered programming to members who were unable to pay monthly dues.

Waneka and Forbes said they are inspired by their member’s support for each other and for the gym. Many refused to accept the reduced rates during the closure and continued to pay regular dues. Others made donations to help cover the cost of members who could not pay the full cost.

Looking back, the two women are thankful for their CrossFit family, and they also realize — maybe more than ever — the importance of a healthy community and the programs they offer.

“I think Steamboat’s ability to be as resilient as it has been and not have a lot of cases (of COVID-19) is because we’re a healthy community,” Forbes said. “You know a lot of these cases are related to diabetes and obesity and are more common in communities where people are not taking care of themselves.”

The Road to Recovery series is part of the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s ongoing efforts to report on how COVID-19 is impacting Steamboat Springs and Routt County. This series is supported in part by a grant from Google’s Journalism Emergency Relief Fund.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.


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