Bungee studio confronts the pandemic’s ups and downs The Chandler Arizonan

Bungee studio confronts the pandemic’s ups and downs

Bungee studio confronts the pandemic’s ups and downs
Health and Wellness
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By Kevin Reagan
Arizonan Staff Writer

Cherith Pruitt bought her fitness studio at perhaps one of the most chaotic times imaginable.

She took over ownership of Tough Lotus at 3050 N. Dobson Road in Chandler in late May as Arizona began lifting executive orders that closed most businesses and gyms in order to stop the spread of COVID-19.

But then Gov. Doug Ducey shut down gyms and fitness studios again on June 29 until July 27.

Tough Lotus had only been open for about three weeks when Ducey’s latest executive order was signed – throwing a major curveball at the plans Pruitt had lined up for her new business.

“It’s been insane,” she said. “That was not what I envisioned when I decided to buy a studio.”

The whole ordeal has been confusing, Pruitt added, since it’s not completely clear what the government is asking businesses to do during this time.

Some of the Valley’s bigger gyms took Ducey to court, claiming they’re being unfairly targeted and accusing the governor of abusing his executive powers.

A Superior Court judge recently ruled in favor of Ducey and determined all gyms were legally obligated to follow the shutdown orders.

Pruitt said her studio is stuck in a bit of a grey area since it’s technically not considered a gym.

Tough Lotus is licensed as a business offering amusement and retail services, so it’s not seen as a gym in the eyes of the government.

This has allowed Pruitt to feel safe about continuing to offer scaled-down fitness classes throughout the summer.

But she still feels some uncertainty about how Arizona’s fitness industry will be treated in the coming weeks, especially when Ducey’s shutdown order expires at the end of July.

In order for gyms and studios to fully reopen, Ducey’s order mandates them to fill out forms with the Arizona Department of Health and Human Services that attest to their compliance with protocols intended to curb the spread of COVID-19.   

Pruitt said when she called the Department of Health about this mandate, nobody could helpfully explain what these forms would require her to do.

“They don’t have that information,” she said. “So, you don’t even know if you’re going to be able to comply because they can’t even tell you what you have to do.”

Tough Lotus has gone ahead and begun making changes that Pruitt thinks should be able to keep her clients and instructors safe.

Her studio is known for offering aerial exercise classes involving bungee cords and parachute linen. Clients suspend themselves in the air using harnesses and contort their bodies into configurations intended to stretch out specific muscles.

This style of fitness is designed to target back pain or spinal issues, Pruitt said, and can result in some high-intensity cardio despite the limited body movement.

The Tough Lotus studio already had its harnesses and bungee cords spaced apart by about six feet, allowing clients to participate in a class while maintaining a safe distance from each other.

Pruitt said she’s stringent to not allow the sharing of any equipment among clients or instructors. Harnesses are sanitized and switched out after every class, she said, and yoga students are instructed to bring their own mats.

“We were already perfectly set up to be active — even during the pandemic,” Pruitt said.

The studio requires every visitor to come in wearing a face mask, but allows clients to remove them while exercising. Temperatures are checked for everyone walking through the door and all hands must be sanitized before a class can begin.

The goal is to ensure no one is ever making hand-to-hand contact with another person, Pruitt said, and the studio’s current arrangement should be able to accomplish that.

“There’s essentially no contact from the moment you walk in the door,” she said.

To make her clients feel even more comfortable, Pruitt recently bought a COVID-19 testing kit and recorded herself swabbing her own nose. She then posted the video online for all of the studio’s customers to see.

It boosts the studio’s transparency a bit, she said, and sends a message that Tough Lotus is taking this pandemic seriously.

In order to allow for more cleaning time throughout the day, Tough Lotus has had to shorten the runtime of its classes and cut its room capacity from 16 clients down to nine.

Though Pruitt enjoys the opportunity to still offer classes during a stressful time, she can’t help but notice the revenue her business is potentially losing each day due to the pandemic.

Smaller class sizes translate into a smaller revenue stream and there’s not much Pruitt can do to work around it.

“It still hurts income-wise because we’ve had to cut our class sizes in half,” she added.

The studio owner said she’s been attempting to apply for the financial relief offered through the government’s COVID-19 stimulus packages.

But because Pruitt has only owned Tough Lotus for about a month, she said she doesn’t qualify for most of these benefits.

Pruitt said the studio is looking at other ways of bringing in some extra cash; its ramping up sales of new merchandise, has set up a GoFundMe.com account, and is forming partnerships with other small businesses.

Tough Lotus will do whatever it takes to stay open, Pruitt added, because these classes offer such a valuable benefit to the community at a time when most residents are probably looking for an escape.

Information: toughlotus.com or 480-886-8823.

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