Two fitness balls sitting on a rack in a gym
“Fitness Balls”, Circe Denyer, CC0 License

I feel it’s important to print and keep diaries and personal accounts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here is mine:

At the beginning of this year, I made two decisions: I planned to go to the gym at least once a week.

Now, in late August, the situation has evolved dramatically. I have not been to a gym in several months and likely will not go for the remainder of the year at least, entirely for my safety and the safety of my family.

To me, the progression of my gym routine from early January to late August is both entirely trivial and deeply profound. It’s also personal and communal. This story is my story, fully completely, but also many other people’s story. There has been so much historic events of this year that will be discussed and dissected for centuries to come. The discussions of pandemic and history and whatnot will really be made up of thousands upon thousands of little stories like mine. People who just had their lives upended.

I want to highly some of these smaller, less dire stories. I want people to know lives are being affected but not just by death and grave uncertainty. There’s also what happens with your weekly gym routine.

January

The year starts off well for me, as it likely does for a lot of people. The holiday season of Christmas and New Year’s wraps up and the new year starts. For me, there’s a bunch of things to look forward to.

I’ve been going to the gym off and on since October but decide to really commit. This is something I’ve been considering for a while now, and thanks to a combination of decent gym location, settled down work-life balance and nagging desire to take care of my health I plan a routine. I will go to the gym once a week every week. Wednesday nights work, so I plan for that.

Planning out a regular weeknight gym session fits with starting my year overall. My family has trip to Florida now, a wonderful winter getaway at the beach from Toronto, where we live. This would be the last vacation we take as our current family, since my partner is expected a baby in June, so we make the most of it and it really is a wonderful trip. I also have a week-long company on-site a different week. In light of these events, I’m determined to execute on my new gym plan toward the end of the month. I knew these trips were happening, and I knew what I had to plan. Overall, getting to gym regularly is a goal of mine, but not exactly something I was losing sleep over. It was something people did all the time. It was item 2 or 3 on my TODO.

Setting up my routine — like setting up the rest of the year — looks promising.

February

News builds of a coronavirus appearing in the Chinese province of Wuhan. First chryrons. Then radio snippet updates. Then national news reports. Then local news reports. Then the word pandemic. Then Covid-19.

I’m still travelling for work, still sticking to my weekly gym routine. I still travel for business between Canada and the US without any noticeable impact. By now I’m not only getting to the gym once a week as I wanted but I’m getting into a rhythm. I’m even working a music routine for my gym time. The first half of Graduation for warming up and weights, David Guetta for the treadmill. I should make a custom playlist I think to myself before and after workouts. Wednesday nights are still my night to go to the gym. I feel good.

The news of a pandemic makes me pay attention but not any more than any other news item. I was living in Ontario during the SARS outbreak of 2002. The term pandemic was correctly used then but as someone who lived over 100 kilometres from Toronto it didn’t really change much outside of a few small areas. It felt like just another news item, something to keep an eye on but nothing major.

March

I’m scheduled to take a trip to San Francisco for an office visit and meetup. Since I don’t get to visit the office regularly, I’m excited for this. There’s also March Break which is a week long with my kindergartner. Me and my partner think about how we’ll structure the week to keep us all entertained, and of course I’m thinking about how to schedule my gym time. I’m also thinking of increasing my frequency of two or three times a week as much as I can. March Break seems like a great time to trial this plan, so I go in with this mindset.

Then the pandemic intrudes into my life, like a hard shove from a stranger on a busy sidewalk. I’m almost knocked over and the stranger just keeps walking.

The San Francisco trip goes from automatic to tentative on travel conditions. Rumours of an extended March Break become real. Company-wide emails from CEOs about travel restrictions and all employees working remotely.

There’s some moment during March Break — the previously scheduled first week of it — I mentally take a fall. A pandemic of a novel virus is taking off. This is really happening, and this is worse than SARS. People are getting sick and dying. This is happening.

At some point during this month I realize or perhaps am even told by someone else I will not be going to my usual gym since it will be closed. Almost as an afterthought I realize: my gym routine has been suspended in full. This thought comes to me along with about a dozen other realizations, some small some significant. Childcare. Work arrangements with my partner at home. The fate of school for the year. Current plans for the summer, and plans not yet made that will change now. The fact my grandmother was in a nursing home a few years ago before passing away when now it looks like nursing homes in Ontario may be targets for outbreaks. Lots of but how will I do that? thoughts.

Like several of these other realizations, it takes time for me to come to grips with being physically unable to go to my gym due to COVID-19. I’m upset about it, even though it’s not exactly a major fixture in my life. It becomes one good thing that is taken from me, something I irrationally miss. My brain is trying to process grief and mourning for this rather small part of my life, among other things.

April

I’m not going to the gym, but now it’s conscious. I’m not going because we’re all isolating and many forms of non-essential services are closed. This includes, not surprisingly, gyms. I’m not, however, thinking much of replacing my gym routine at home. Folks online and offline discuss difficulty buying at-home dumbbells. Pelaton sales see a steep increase.

Pandemic thinking becomes a part of my state of mind. I start researching books on the 1918 influenza pandemic and picking some out I’d like to read. I also take an interest in some of my previous studies in mathematical biology, particularly modelling epidemics. I play around with some data on COVID-19 cases in Canada and internationally. Like a lot of other people, I’m suddenly very much interested in case loads and reproductive ratios. I want information on what’s happening, I want to know what the story is with COVID-19, the virus itself and the spread.

Along with this more intellectual shift is a shift in home life. Classes for my kid are now remote and virtual, and activities are expected to be done at home with guidance from parents. This is a bid difference in schooling, to say the least. All of a sudden, everyone is home all the time, and we all know it. My anxiety rises and there are moments where home life is interesting, to say the least. Since we have two people using remote teleconferencing software using the same residential internet connection and one person constantly requesting streaming of Paw Patrol, there’s some rationing of connections going on.

I’m barely thinking of gym now, other than “I can’t go, and that’s too bad.”

May

My partner finishes work early in the month to prepare for parental leave. This helps considerably with our virtual schooling of our kindergartner, even if it’s still difficult.

Off and on I think of taking up jogging in the neighbourhood. The weather is somewhat improving, gyms are still closed. However, my partner’s pregnancy is coming up which I know will disrupt any routines I’m trying to get into now. I’m also feeling unmotivated. The pandemic is still going on and this weighs on me. I never really wanted to jog in the first place. What I wanted was a regular workout routine. Something structured, something regular, something I could work on. Taking up jogging in lieu of this just seems like a downer.

There’s a shift in my attitudes at this point too. Now that the pandemic is here, I also want to know when it’s going to be done. Of course this is a ridiculous thing to think about since nature absolutely does not follow civilization’s calendars. Somehow though, I want to know when I can do certain things again.

June

The big day arrives. Most of the month goes into preparation. We need to arrange for transportation to and from the hospital, and to have someone stay with our kindergartner for possibly days.

Even in the salad days of January, when I had the motivation and agency to work out a a gym, I knew deep down this would change come the birth of our child. Finally I get a comfortable line of thought through all this. I would’ve missed these weeks anyway.

Gyms are beginning to open up. Not my gym and not in my area due to COVID cases still being too high. Local news reports do show some gyms opening up, or at least talking about opening up. Somehow I watch these stories and am indifferent.

July

This has to be one of the hottest summers we’ve had in years.

Also, my city reaches Stage 3 and gyms are allowed to re-open. There is a bunch of press from gym owners and managers stating masks are being required and machines are being physically spaced out and so on. Some folks are interviewed saying they’re excited but cautious about going to the gym again. With a newborn at home, I’m still not going. My gym sends an email saying they’re taking payments again and discusses their safety measures upon re-opening. For a moment, the most fleeting of thoughts, I consider going. Roughly a tenth of a second later, I decide against it. Too risky. I still refrain from the gym.

August

There’s talk of back to school coming up, but it’s all so shaky and tentative this year. Ask five parents how they think returning to school will go and you’ll hear seven outcomes. Some don’t want to send their kids back period. Others feel an outbreak of COVID-19 is inevitable in schools so in-person classes will last a few weeks max. There’s little optimism, more skepticism and a lot of pessimism. No one really is excited for the day after Labour Day among parents.

And I’m still not going to the gym. Even if COVID-19 subsides, there’s too much uncertainty in the coming months. Gyms are still listed as high risk areas for transmission according to many public health departments. Erring on the side of caution, I’m not planning to go a gym for the remainder of the year.

Since playgrounds are now open again, I meet a parent with a child in my older kid’s class from last year. I haven’t seen her in over 7 months and we recognize each other. She jokes that it has been a long March Break this year, something I haven’t heard before but makes me laugh.

School is starting now, and I have a feeling the last quarter of the year might be a real doozy. But I’m also in a better place now emotionally about the changes that have occurred, and what to expect.

I’m still not sure when I’ll hear David Guetta at the gym again.

I’m a software professional, and these are my more personal thoughts.