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LETTER: 'Gyms are not the cesspools you make them out to be'

'Gyms are a critical component, a foundation block, that supports and nurtures the health of people,' says letter writer in open letter to Premier Doug Ford
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OrilliaMatters received the following letter to the editor from Kimberly Robertson, who challenges Premier Doug Ford's decision to shut gyms down during pandemic-related closures. Send your letters to [email protected]

Open letter to Premier Doug Ford:

I would like to take this opportunity to share the impact of lockdowns on the individuals of Ontario. I agree completely with the need to put restrictions in place to slow the spread of this virus.

I will always agree with the need for restrictions and education in respect to slowing the spread of the virus, however, I will disagree with some of the methodology that has been utilized in the latest Ontario wide lockdown.

What is not mentioned is mental health. It has been a talking point by you, Premier Ford, since the pandemic was first announced back in March of 2020. According to an article by CBC News posted on Dec. 17, "We're seeing, you know, addictions rise right now. We're seeing suicides rise," Ford told a press conference today. "So we have to measure everything. It's not always health. Health is number one. That's the number one priority. Without health, we don't have our economy."

The interesting and reflecting piece with your collection of words is “without health, we don’t have an economy.” So, I ask what about mental health; it is health after all. And one that you stated was a requirement for our economy.

According to Rachel Lord’s article featured in The Modern, “Physical exercise enhances both physical and mental energies, relieves stress and anxiety, and improves mental well-being through the release of endorphins.” 

And I can attest to this. Prior to March when the first lockdown occurred, I was a fixture at the local YMCA. I spent two nights a week in the pool doing aqua fit, with four more visits of at least 1.5 hours using the gym.

Please do not think for one minute that I am fit and athletic; I was, and still am, in the process of repairing a broken and neglected body and soul. That was put to the real test in March, when the lockdown went into effect and the gyms closed. And the extension was continued every few weeks.

During that time, it was some of the darkest moments in my life. In those months of the first lockdown, I lost myself in the world that I could not control. I didn’t talk to my friends or my colleagues.

I was dealing with one elderly parent who has no immune system because she is alive because of a kidney transplant. With all of that encompassing my thoughts, I couldn’t work off my stress at the local YMCA or gym. I was trapped.

When the lockdown ended, my long-time and trusted physiotherapist – who virtually had kept my battered physical body moving during the closure – connected me with a personal trainer/ owner of a local CrossFit gym. I literally crawled into my first meeting with tears in my eyes. My anxiety wasn’t even touched with the medication my doctor had prescribed for me, which I only took when I really needed it.

Since the last week of August, I have been working with my trainer in a 1:1 capacity, personal training in a CrossFit gym. The gym has been a beacon of hope and healing. It is a community of support. 

It provides me with an outlet to release the toxins that have been building. It is a natural release; no drugs are needed to mask the issues. Even as the levels in Simcoe Muskoka have risen from Green to Red, the gym has never been a source of worry or fear. Every single safety procedure has been followed to the letter.

I wish I felt that safe when I am at my workplace, where struggles continue to ensure students are following the prescribed and expected safety procedures. In the gym, all of the equipment is sanitized and workout spaces are mapped out to ensure safety of all attending, whereas, my students have to sit side-by-side because there is not enough room for social distancing.

Each day at my workplace, we anxiously await the email from the health unit regarding a new COVID case or the outbreak that continued for the past month. The stress is deafening and now no outlet to relieve.

Mr. Ford, all my life, I have accepted the barriers that have been dropped in my path, not having the courage or the strength to challenge them. I am standing up and challenging you and your government's decisions to close the gyms. 

The gyms are not the cesspool that you make them out to be. These are establishments that ensure their members are safe and that safety is their number one priority. 

Further, as you stated, “without health, we don’t have an economy”, gyms are the foundations of health. Gyms are a critical component, a foundation block, that supports and nurtures the health of people; the people that ensure the economy blossoms. My CrossFit gym is a community. I don’t take group classes, just personal training, but I am welcomed and celebrated by each of the members for my successes.

My hope is that you listen and you hear, as I listen and hear my students; just as my trainer listens and hears me.

Kimberly Robertson