BILLINGS — It’s hard to find any industry more affected by the COVID-19 pandemic than gyms.
Normally, there are hundreds of people who come to the Billings YMCA every day for group exercise classes, but there are many who don’t feel comfortable in that kind of setting right now. So the Y has made it so they don't have to by now offering every single class both in person and through Zoom.
“It’s just been crucial because not everybody can come in, whatever their story is. They can still go to their normal favorite ones," said YMCA Health and Wellness Director Kassia Lyman. "They’re at the same time, the same day, with the same instructor, and they have access to all of it.”
The Y recently purchased new cameras and audio equipment that give their online participants a much better experience, and it’s paying off - not only with old members returning, but with brand new members solely using the virtual offerings.
“We have people from out of state joining the Y, which is just awesome," Lyman said. "We have Maryland, North Dakota, all these crazy places. (Members) talk to their sister and they’re like, ‘Hey, this is an option for you. Get a membership and you can do these classes with me.’ We have siblings doing it from different states. It was not expected, but definitely rewarding for our facility.”
It’s been a long ride to get here. The beginnings of the pandemic had everybody scrambling.
“I was literally Zooming classes in from my house through all of shelter-in-place, and then once shelter in place was lifted, we did classes outside only," said Chantel Oakley, one of the YMCA's group fitness instructors. "Once summer hit, we did a hybrid of outside/inside, and then this fall, we did a hybrid of inside and Zoom classes.”
That’s why the Y has seen more success than most: the willingness to go many extra miles for that sense of community the organization has cultivated for years.
“As long as I felt like we were keeping people on track with their fitness and some form of structure, interacting with us, I will do whatever," Oakley said.
“Even if we have three or four people online, it doesn’t matter - those people are being active and they have an option, saying, ‘This is making a big difference,'" Lyman added. "Or people joining the Y because now they have access to these classes again - it’s definitely made the growing pains worth it.”
And now they’re set up for a system many people believe is here to stay.
“We have to prepare for that," Lyman said. "Virtual is the new thing. For some people it’s a convenience thing. Obviously at the Y, we’re all about community. People want to be here and be in person, but if you can’t, I think it’s here to stay. So we’ll keep adapting and adjusting and make the most of it.”
The longer the pandemic goes, the better at that the Y seems to be. You can purchase a membership and view their class schedule on their website here.