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Valley gym owner, goer forced to adapt amid COVID-19 pandemic

(KTAR News photo/Peter Samore)

This story is part of KTAR News’ “Pandemic in Arizona: One Year In” special report on 92.3 FM, online and our app.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Arizonans trying to stay healthy could hit the gym whenever they wanted — that was until the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

In the past year, a gym owner and gym-goer have both been forced to adapt to new restrictions and procedures due to the virus.

When Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey ordered gyms to close to stop the spread of the COVID-19, founder and owner of Mountainside Fitness Tom Hatten sued him twice — and struck out.

“We’ve spent the last year, on the fly, trying to understand what’s going on, trying to fight for our rights and other businesses’ rights to stay open through the pandemic,” he told KTAR News 92.3 FM at his Scottsdale offices.

Arizona’s gyms were forced to close under the stay-at-home order issued at the outset of the pandemic in March before being allowed to reopen in May.

However, Ducey issued an executive order on June 29 that once again closed indoor gyms and fitness centers as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations soared.

Mountainside Fitness remained open while seeking an injunction against the order, but a judge ruled in favor of the government on July 7.

All 18 of its Arizona locations were closed after the ruling and remained shuttered until reopening in August.

Like all other gyms, Hatten during that time had to shut out all of his clients — including Joel Youngblood.

“I felt I was just as safe there as I was at home,” Youngblood said. “The instructors, the trainers and everybody was cleaning. You had all the availability to distance from other patrons.”

Youngblood, a former third base coach with the Arizona Diamondbacks, called the gym closures in 2020 a “rain out.”

Hatten, meanwhile, used that time to reinvigorate his business model as instructors boosted virtual workout options.

“It’s now expanded into multiple types of fitness classes and the ability to do personal training online,” said Hatten, who pandemic or not had to compete in the ever-digitizing world of fitness.

Even though Youngblood was never a catcher in his Major League Baseball career, he’s back at Mountainside Fitness working out in a mask.

“It’s hot,” he explained. “It becomes more humid and, quite frankly, some masks start to stink after a while.”

Yet Youngblood will wear the mask and take one for the team until the pandemic is over so that Mountainside Fitness can stay open and avoid outbreaks of COVID-19.

He and Hatten hope they can have a world free of COVID-19 restrictions by year’s end.

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