Keeping the community moving; Local gym owner gets creative and hosts outdoor fitness class

Facebook photo With level 3 restrictions meaning Bernadette Cunningham must once again shutter her business, she decided to find alternate, creative ways to keep the community moving, which resulted in this outdoor fitness class in a parking lots during a January cold snap.

From the Tuesday, Jan. 25 edition of The Saint Croix Courier

ST. STEPHEN – Bernadette Cunningham, owner of Bernie’s Body Blast on Milltown Blvd. in St. Stephen, likes to take on challenges. So when her business, a gym, was once again closed along with salons, spas, recreation and sport centres, and entertainment centres in the province on Jan. 14 when the province moved to level 3 of its winter action plan, Cunningham did what she’s well known for; thinking outside the box.

So, Cunningham studied the restrictions under level 3, looking for a way to keep the community moving.

“I decided to hold an outdoor class because all of my other options were taken from me by government mandates,” she said. “Lack of options does not stop me, it means I just need to work harder and be more creative.

“The need for, and the benefits of, exercise do not stop existing when it is challenging; we just need to adapt even if it means going outside in the middle of January in Canada.”

And organizing an exercise circuit in the middle of a cold snap in January is precisely what Cunningham did. This past Saturday, Jan. 22, in the vacant portion of the Superstore parking lot in St. Stephen, Cunningham set-up an outdoor variation on the cross-fit theme of her gym, with different stations for participants to cycle through.

“My goal for Saturday morning was to make movement and celebration doable,” says Cunningham.

“I came up with a workout plan. Another lady had extra sand put out on the parking lot the night before. Two other ladies made posters. Another made a cake for one of the participants 50th birthday. Hot beverages were brought. People drove by and showed support.

“My goal is to have positive things happening in the community. Definitely would not be my first choice of how to do it, but something is better than not doing anything.”

And while an outdoor workout in minus 20 weather may seem ambitious, about a dozen people bought into Cunningham’s idea, and took part in the late morning event, a turnout Cunningham is happy with.

“Those who attended were appreciative to have a way to move and exercise that was a shared experience with others in the community,” she says. “They were great participants and even embraced hula hooping outside in the parking lot in full winter outfits.”

Prior to the most recent changes to provincial mandates via the three tier winter action plan, Cunningham ran classes in her gym with anywhere from six to 15 participants, and she was able to host special event groups of 30 to 50 people.

“My classes have been reduced to two to four,” says Cunningham. “And for over half of the month, the government is requiring it to be zero.

“I had a number of children’s birthday parties that were cancelled for the second year in a row. Closing my business significantly impacts me personally, my family, and my community.”

And while Cunningham tends to focus on the impact her closure has on her clients and the community at large, the financial impact is one she can’t ignore; without employees, under government regulations, Cunningham has yet never qualified as a small business in the province and hence is out of luck when it comes to accessing funds earmarked for those who have lost out financially during the pandemic.

“To be classified as a small business I would need to have a minimum of two employees, and it is just me,” says Cunningham. “I will likely be able to apply Feb. 1 for a small amount as a self-employed business during this 16-day lockdown.

“It is something and will help, but it does not cover the losses I continue to face with all of the mandates.

“When people find a way to have regular exercise in their life, it improves both physical and mental health,” she said. “A strong and healthy population does not require the same level of health care as a weak, unhealthy population does.

“Why is the government making it harder instead of easier to be strong and healthy?”