HAWTHORNE, NJ – CrossFit SOAR, owned by Steve Keefer and Dave Whitson, is a Hawthorne-based gym which, like all businesses, had to respond quickly to the changing situation posed by the coronavirus pandemic.  Together, with Samantha Hirsh, Operations Manager, they have found ways to adapt to a challenging business environment, but also help their members and the community as a whole. 

TAPinto Hawthorne spoke with Whitson and Hirsh about how their gym has been meeting the challenge and they explained how they are trying to help Hawthorne residents stay physically fit at home, support local businesses, and lend a hand to those in need.

All at the same time.

Whitson joined with Keefer after working as a part-time trainer, and then became a partner.  Together, they opened in a new location found at 17 Passaic Avenue in Hawthorne.  “We’ve been open in the current location since 2013 and in Hawthorne since 2010,” Hirsh said.

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During “normal times” Hirsh said that the gym offers an array of options for their members, whether they are children or adults, and also taking into consideration their varying physical fitness levels.  On top of that, CrossFit SOAR has a Nutrition Coach on Staff.

Then came the COVID-19 crisis, prompting them to change gears fast: for a gym to continue to operate during such times required some thinking outside-the-box.  They even began lending out some of their equipment to members to take home and use.  “With the closure we took everything we offer and moved it virtually,” Hirsh said.  “We have four classes a day for members, we also offer nutrition, group check-ins, special events like this Sunday’s virtual brunch.  We also offer individualized training for our members.”

The team decided that that was not enough, however.  CrossFit SOAR expanded their resources and made them available for Hawthorne residents as a whole.  “What we’re offering for the community at large are three-times-a-week, free family workouts," Hirsh said.  "Parents can do the workouts with their kids or if they are old enough can do it by themselves, but the workouts are such that adults can do them, too.  We also offer meditation and yoga twice a week, free for the community.”

“People don’t need to be members of the gym, it’s 100% free,” Whitson said.  “On our website there is a contact form and on our social media we are posting it every day.  They are done live and we record the yoga that can be seen later.”  The family workouts are conducted through Zoom where an instructor can see and offer guidance.

To access these video workout and yoga routines, residents can visit their website www.crossfitsoar.com or look them up on Facebook and Instagram.

Being at home means there are some limitations to what can be done, as far as exercise equipment is concerned.  But they took that into consideration.  “Obviously many people don’t have access to equipment right now,” Hirsh said.  “All our workouts are designed to be done with minimal to no equipment and we’re trying to make everything as accessible as possible right now.  People are doing Zoom calls, in their living room or basement, sometimes outside—wherever you have space for your body.”

For most Americans, the COVID-19 pandemic has seen a significant disruption of their normal lives.  Some are able to work at home, while others have had reduced hours, or been laid off.  Those with children have had to adapt to online learning with the kids at home. All of this means a breakdown of previously held norms, which can be difficult to adjust to, and physical activity can play an important role.  “A lot of people are in a predicament where maybe they were used to going to a gym where there was equipment,” Hirsh said, “or they don’t work out and aren’t sure what to do.  Right now, with our current state, health and wellness is of the utmost importance.  We know that the healthier you are, should you contract COVID 19, the better chance you have at fighting it off.  Part of what we do is we help people through these uncertain times.  Maybe people who did go to the gym but aren’t sure what to do now.  Or people that hadn’t been working out in the past and think they should, but they aren’t sure what to do, that’s what we are here for.”

For those who have not normally had an exercise routine before, or are looking to get started, Hirsh said that their services can accommodate.  “We’re here to help guide you through the process, no experience needed.  We meet you where you are to get you to where you want to be.  If you’re hopping into the free family workouts or yoga, there’s a coach to guide you through that.  If you’re someone who wants more, you want to join the group workouts, access to the nutrition and webinars we have, there is a free consult where we can get on a phone call and chat about your goals, current levels of fitness, and prior injuries.  If you have aches and pains, this is the time to take care of yourself.  If there ever was a time to make your health a priority, this is it.”

Hirsh said their nutrition coach can provide remote guidance as well, with video guides on preparation.

 Hawthorne residents interested in free fitness routines now had them available, and then it was time to reach out to the larger community’s needs.  Each week they are trying to give back to the community in some form.

The current initiative they are running is to provide healthy meals for healthcare workers.  “This week we’ve raised over a thousand dollars.  We partnered with a meal company, Portioned Meal Prep.  The winner will get a $60 gift card and we’ll be donating healthy meals to the Valley Hospital staff.  And next week we’ll be collecting donations for Oasis in Paterson.  So, each week we’ll be trying to donate to the community in a different way to support local businesses and people who need help right now.”

“We’re fortunate where we have a couple platforms where we can reach out to people,” Whitson said, “and our current CrossFit SOAR members have always done fundraising for different groups.  Whether breast cancer, Valley Hospital, we’ve done a fundraiser for people who lost their job, we’ve done different things with Oasis as well.  Our goal during this time is that when everyone’s daily life has gone out the window, there’s less structure, people are working and teaching from home, we’re trying to add a little of what their life was before and give people opportunities to help people who might be in a worse position.  A lot of our clients are able to work from home, we’re trying to help people on the front lines of this thing at the hospitals, or those whose income is gone, they’re furloughed from work, we’re fortunate that we have a community that’s able to earn an income from working from home so we can help people in need.”

When asked how long these initiatives would be running, Hirsh said they would continue until the crisis was over.  “There’s been a lot of good responses so far,” Hirsh said.  “I was blown away by the amount of money we raised for Valley, it was insane.”

Whitson said that they were also trying to help small businesses.  “I will probably do another podcast with Councilwoman Rayna Laiosa soon.  We’re also going to do as much as we can to support Hawthorne businesses, where there are so many smaller mom and pop shops, and it’s easy to go to the big stores so some of these smaller stores might be left behind.  We’re going to keep doing new initiatives at the gym.  So this week we may say, ‘go to this store’ or ‘go to this restaurant’ or maybe some fundraisers.  Usually in times like this, everyone gets worried about themselves, and that builds anxiety, and it’s surprising how as soon as you start focusing on others and helping people out, you start feeling better.  Even if it’s just spending $10 at a local restaurant getting take out, it helps more than they realize.”

For those at home trying to deal with a potentially up-ended situation, Hirsh recommended structure and maintaining as normal a routine as possible.  “Try to stick to what your normal routine would be.  If you get up and go to work, get up and go to a room where you’re doing your work.  Try to eat your meals when you’d eat your meals, even if it means packing your lunch as if you’re going to work, to avoid snacking.  If you’re someone who works out in the morning or after work, try to get that movement in.  So my best advice for people is, you have to get into a routine, even if that means creating a new routine.  There needs to be a schedule so you’re not sitting on the couch eating snacks all day long.  Structure is very important.”

Referring to Zoom, a teleconferencing software which has boomed in the wake of self-isolation, Whitson said that, “For a lot of people, there is a technology barrier, so we’re trying to help them, teach them how to use technology to stay interactive and have more things to do than sit at the TV with a snack.  As much as we’re a gym and it’s about working out, we also help people with how they feel about themselves, having self-confidence and being able to overcome challenges outside the gym by working hard inside the gym.”