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I Went to the Gym. Don't @ Me.

On the scene at the Kroc Center.

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Kroc Center - JUSTIN FOX BURKS
  • Justin Fox Burks
  • Kroc Center
They were open. So I went. Don’t @ me.

The county’s Back to Business plan eked the doors open on many a virus-shuttered business in the past two weeks. I really thought I’d be the first one in line for a restaurant table — any restaurant. But I wasn’t. They just seemed so … confined.

But when my gym announced it would open up last week, it seemed less confined in my mind. My decision to go back to the gym last week was, yes, in part of wanting to get back out there. But it was also a decision to push myself back out there, knowing that I (and all of us, eventually) will have to get back out there at some point down the road.

The invitation from the Kroc Center of Memphis didn’t seem that inviting at first. I knew they were redoing some things. But I couldn’t imagine the weight room reconfigured in any way that would make me feel better about sweating and breathing hard around others doing the same. But the Kroc had done way more than reconfigure things.



The East Parkway gym moved its weight benches, squat racks, dumbbell racks, and more into its vast, green indoor soccer field. Everything was well spaced out and everything was clearly marked. Tape marked easy-to-see boundaries between your bench and mine. The entire, wide-open space and the spongy turf made me feel outdoors and, above all, safer.

The Kroc took many other precautions, too. Workouts were limited to 45 minutes. And the Kroc, like all gyms under Back to Business Phase I, was only allowed to hold 25 percent of its overall capacity last week. (That changed to 50 percent as county officials announced the beginning of Back to Business Phase II Monday, May 18th.)

Upon entering, I found lines on the floor meant to help me stay six feet away from the person in line ahead of me. At the desk, I scanned my member card myself. The mask-clad employee at the desk had me answer five questions about any possible COVID-19 symptoms. I had none. The employee then aimed a plastic thermometer pistol at my forehead. I passed the tests and was allowed to enter that space I love so much.

Black guidance stanchions split the main hall like yellow lines on a city street. Foot traffic moved in one way and out the other. Tape marked even more floor spaces to keep line-standers six feet apart.

My sneakers squeaked across the newly waxed floor of the eerily empty basketball court and onto that spongy green turf. I found all the gym equipment I’d missed the previous two months — barbells, weight plates, and proper pull-up bars.

I wore a mask even while I worked out. None of the others did, though. Originally, I thought this was bogus. Ever seen someone exhale on a deadlift? Talk about condensation droplets! But the Kroc did not require anyone to wear one while they worked out. *Shrugs*

I went to the Kroc three times last week. Each time felt more and more okay. The number of those in the weight area increased every time I went in. But even then, I felt separate enough and safe.

I’ll definitely head back to the Kroc. They showed me that they take this stuff seriously. Their reopening plan felt more like a service to the community than it did for some swift return to the financial black.

In the end, the Kroc’s response did make me feel more comfortable going out in public, even maybe sliding into a restaurant booth again sometime soon.

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