The Media School

Climbers adjust to new gym rules during the pandemic

December 3rd, 2020 by
Photograph by Carl Cote

Ian Good, 32, is a member at Hoosier Heights climbing gym. With a little help from the gym, he’s had to adapt his workout routine to help create a safe place during the pandemic.

 As Ian Good reaches into his chalk bag, a ray of light shines in through the Hoosier Heights door catching a cloud of white powder as it emerges. Since March getting exercise at the climbing gym in Bloomington has changed for Good. Wearing masks and staying socially distanced has become a standard.

Hoosier Height’s ropes room, where Good likes to climb, has 50-foot ceilings and hasn’t reached anywhere close to capacity since reopening. And according to Good, the number of members showing up to the gym these days is way down.

“So I was going to the gym everyday before it closed down.” says Good. “I was there the day they were deciding to close it. They were like, ‘No, we’re not open today. We’re just putting signs up’”

Ian Good, 32, who works in book sales, had made climbing an everyday routine before the pandemic struck. Hoosier Heights, where Good climbs, and other gyms in the area were forced to close down from the middle of March until late May or June when they were allowed to reopen.

“I sell things online, book, you know,” he says. “So it was actually really good for business. I was going to the gym every day before it closed down. … I missed the exercise routine and the pain in my forearms.”

Photograph by Carl Cote

The SRSC shut its doors on Nov. 21 in anticipation of students leaving for two months. Mandy McGhee, the service director of the SRSC, says that COVID-19 has affected everything going on at the facility.

Across town, Anytime Fitness had to shut down for almost three months. Manager Graham Walters says it wasn’t easy because of rent payments. The gyms and its members were forced to be adaptable to make their relationships work.

“Given this location there are a lot of good things about it because we get a lot of traffic from it, but also it’s just hard because the rent is super expensive over here,” he says. “And of course during COVID we weren’t getting any of that membership money, so we were like $39,000 in the hole.”

Although its facility is smaller than Hoosier Heights, Anytime Fitness is allowing members to workout without masks on.

 “When you come in you’ve gotta be wearing a mask, but if you’re really exerting yourself while working out you can have your mask off,” says Walters, as a few maskless members run on the treadmills in the next room.

According to Good, requiring masks is a basic step in confronting the pandemic. But masks aren’t the only safety precaution the gym is taking.

 “When they (Hoosier Heights) reopened they had a liquid ethanol-based chalk which would sterilize your hand,” he says. “They didn’t charge anything for that.”

On Nov. 3, the SRSC, on the north side of IU’s campus, took more extreme measures and closed its doors until February when students return to campus. Mandy McGhee, the SRSC’s service director, says that COVID-19 has affected everything the SRSC does.

“We have adjusted facility hours, programs offered, methods of delivering programs, facility layout, staffing models and more in order to provide the safest environment for both participants and staff,” she says.

According to McGhee, extra safety measures taken by the SRSC include increased cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting its facilities. 

“A lot of people that I would want to date, I’m like, ‘You’re socially responsible and that’s an attractive attribute. Well they’re probably not dating right now because they’re trying to be responsible.” – Ian Good, member at Hoosier Heights Bloomington

“This includes the addition of antimicrobial mist for floors and equipment monthly, electrostatic sprayers used twice daily, continuous cleaning of high-touch surfaces and additional cleaning supplies for participant use before and after using equipment,” she says.

Unlike Hoosier Heights and in spite of restrictions and having to size-down its facilities, McGhee says the SRSC is seeing participation numbers around what it expects.

“If you take in to account the necessary reductions in activities, capacities and facility hours – plus the change in the number of students on campus this fall – our participation is what we would expect it to be,” she says.

Good says climbing outside more frequently than he otherwise would have during the summer and fall months has been an upside. He travels frequently to the Red River Gorge in Eastern Kentucky and New River Gorge in Western West Virginia to climb with close friends. It’s made for some interesting experiences during car rides.

“I went with a couple friends out there and they made me wear a mask for the entire car ride,” he says. “I was like, ‘This is not doing anything. We are completely recycling this air in the vehicle.’ Other than that, it’s gotten almost back to normal.”

However, Good acknowledges that other sports that are more team and contact based are suffering more than climbing. His dating life has also taken a toll since COVID hit. 

“A lot of people that I would want to date, I’m like, ‘You’re socially responsible and that’s an attractive attribute,’” he says. “Well they’re probably not dating right now because they’re trying to be responsible.”