MAHOPAC, N.Y. - Running a business during a pandemic is an unprecedented challenge, but Lauren Cascioli and Tina Millicker have found a way to do it and no one is happier about it than their clients.

Cascioli and Millicker own Unite 4 Fitness on Route 6 in Mahopac and thanks to some 21st century technology, most notably Zoom, the business is alive and well.

“It’s incredible because without it I would have gone nuts a long time ago,” said Regina Maresca, who has been a Unite 4 Fitness member for about a year. “When you have a bad day, it’s what you need. I do it just about every day, two or three classes a day. They’ve gone above and beyond to keep us all connected.”

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Cascioli calls Unite 4 Fitness “a boutique fitness studio that specializes in group fitness classes” that are primarily for women and features Pilates, cardio, some lifting.

“We couldn’t hold classes [in person], but we had a backup plan,” she said. “We set up virtual classes through Zoom. When the governor’s order came down that we would have to close, we were ready to go. I wanted a seamless change for my clients so they wouldn’t miss out and make it as normal as we could and give them the help that they needed to get through it all.”

Cascioli notes that exercise is a true stress-reliever, something sorely needed during the quarantine.

“It builds endorphins and brings oxygen into the bloodstream to help with immunity,” she said. “We wanted them to have that and for our own sanity as well.”

The Unite 4 Fitness staff is more than just Cascioli and Millicker. Some of the instructors run their classes from their own homes, while others come into the studio to lead the workouts.

“It depends on their internet [service] and how comfortable they are [doing it from home],” Cascioli said.

Cascioli said the Unite 4 Fitness monthly plan members are sent an email with the schedule of classes along with a Zoom password. But new members can reach out to the club and receive the info as well.

“They can take as many classes they want per day,” Cascioli said. “It keeps them active and going so they are not bored.”

When leading a class, Cascioli and Millicker use Zoom’s gallery option so they can see all the participants on their computer screens.

“It took a while getting used to it,” said Millicker. “We chat and we can all see each other. They can hear the music nice and clear. I just pretend like they are in here with me. [Cascioli and I] are both trained dancers so we know how to perform. You can feel down but as soon as we start, the energy comes back. We are a nice, close group of people.”

Cascioli agrees. The social aspects of the classes are just as important as the health benefits during the shutdown.

“It is extremely hard, but we talk to everyone and have a social connection with our gym friends,” Cascioli said. “It’s important. Sometimes they bring their pets to the camera; some come on 15 minutes earlier to hang out and talk, but once the music starts and we are teaching, it is serious. I make a heart [sign] with my hands on screen— a little shout-out. We can’t slap high fives, so I give a slap to the screen. It’s kind of cool. You are still getting that interaction.”

Occasionally the socializing goes beyond just working out.

“Sometimes we have a wine and cheese party and talk like we were in the same room together,” said Maresca.

Millicker said it’s a challenge going into the studio with no one actually there.

“It can be hard to turn on that switch— it’s a different energy,” she said. “You have to put yourself in a state of mind that they are in that room with you at that moment. They say they can really feel the energy through the screen, and they are appreciative of what we are doing. 

“We are a big family for fitness, and we try to provide helping hands for everyone. We’ve had clients go through cancer; [clients’] kids getting married; one had a grandchild. We can still offer support for that kind of thing.”

Millicker said about 80 percent of the studio’s clients are taking the Zoom classes. And like a pizza parlor or deli doing takeout to stay in business, the Zoom classes are keeping Unite 4 Fitness afloat.

“We are not corporately owned but our clients are dedicated and want to be here every day,” she said. “It’s keeping our business afloat, thank God.”

Millicker and Cascioli have been business partners for six years and been at their Route 6 location for about three and a half. Their clients hope it will be for many more.

“We are just so grateful to them for all the effort, time and energy that they put into this in addition to them having families and having to be there for them as well,” Maresca said. “We love those guys and can’t wait to see them in person when this passes.


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