This story is part of a series that looks at how local small businesses and organizations have been impacted by COVID-19.

In January of this year, after months of preparation and renovation, Rockstar Wellness LLC opened their doors at 225 Second Street in Marietta. Owners Scott and Rachel Burnham were excited to share their love of exercise and Rachel’s instructional background to help others develop enjoyable fitness routines. The various classes and programs, designed for different age and ability levels, quickly gained popularity and the future was looking bright for the new business.

Then along came the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing the closure of fitness facilities across the state. When a business’s livelihood depends on interpersonal activities, such an obstacle can be devastating. But the young couple rose to the challenge and quickly adapted to a temporary “new normal”. When they first learned of the effect of COVID-19 on similar facilities across the globe, they immediately began researching ways to move their classes online. Rachel explained. “We were able to seamlessly roll into virtual classes via Zoom the day after fitness facilities were required to close.”

Rockstar Wellness’ bright facade on Second Street in Marietta

The virtual platform also offered a great opportunity to expand their nutrition offering. Every Wednesday at noon, people could watch a free nutrition talk called Nutrition Nuggets. Topics included tips for stocking a kitchen during quarantine and tracking macronutrients. They offered a live cooking demonstration via Zoom every Friday, called Rockstar Chef. Rachel chose healthy recipes and invited viewers to either observe or cook along from home. In an effort to help the community gain easier access to locally grown produce and support local agriculture, the couple launched a CSA program. Rachel and Scott both grew up in farming families and it was only natural to partner with Worthington Produce, a Lowell produce farm operated by Rachel’s family.

We had to find a way to help our participants feel connected and supported even while we were apart.

To maintain the human connection and sense of community they wanted to foster, the couple created a Facebook group. “We had to find a way to help our participants feel connected and supported even while we were apart. We checked in and offered recipes, support, and more. We also hosted a virtual Monday meet-up every week where we spent an hour chatting, connecting and checking in on one another.”

Rachel Burnham, co-owner of Rockstar Wellness alongside her husband, Scott

Virtual classes came with their own set of problems, and the two spent countless hours improving the audio and video quality of their classes and testing the set-ups of instructors teaching from home. Lack of adequate space or Wifi connections prohibited some instructors from teaching from home, and Rachel said they missed those instructors and their particular formats.

The major benefit of virtual classes is the ability to reach people from all over the globe. Rachel proudly says that they’ve had participants from across the country and even overseas. In addition, participating from home eases the inhibitions that some people have about trying a new workout or class, perhaps giving them the courage to try something they wouldn’t otherwise try.  They can even stay off-screen if they prefer, says Rachel. “While we love seeing the faces of our participants on the screen during class, participants always have the option to turn their videos off. Overall, virtual classes have been a great way to connect with others across the globe and connect with people in our community that may have not had a chance to visit our facility yet. Although technology can be frustrating, we are very thankful for the opportunity to talk and stay connected with our fitness family.”

Rachel speaks to participants through Zoom

Many small businesses experienced an outpouring of community support during the shut-down, and Rockstar Wellness was no different.  The couple expressed gratitude for the support, donations and virtual class participation. “The emails, letters and messages we received from our participants also inspired us to keep pressing on through the challenges of the situation. Our landlord was very generous in helping us while we were closed as well. Marietta Main Street and Huntington Bank worked so hard to plan the virtual cash mob program, and we had the awesome opportunity to host our first cash mob. We cannot thank the community enough for continuing to support our business and our dream.”

The entire staff at Joe Momma’s Kitchen was inspiring and we felt very deeply about doing something to support their efforts.

That community outpouring inspired the couple to give back in their own way. They began running two classes per week to support the efforts of Joe Momma’s Kitchen to provide meals to seniors in the community. The instructors volunteered their time to teach the classes and Rockstar donated $5 of each registration (the cost of 1 meal) from each participant that attended the class. “The incredible generosity of Sarah, Eric and the entire staff at Joe Momma’s Kitchen was inspiring and we felt very deeply about doing something to support their efforts.”

Rockstar Wellness had opened just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic

As the shutdown becomes history and (hopefully) the state’s reopening becomes more permanent, Rockstar Wellness is now fully back in operation. They opened with 50% of their live classes returning to the schedule and continue to keep the virtual classes running. More classes have been added to the schedule over the past month, including a hybrid option that combines live classes with virtual. The couple wanted to reintroduce childcare so after careful planning, Rockstar Kids, the childcare area, is reopened. Childcare is by appointment in order to stay within a safe capacity and ensure appropriate staffing.

One exciting addition to the program is a Generation POUND class for ages 5-12 years. POUND classes are very popular among adults and Rachel said the kids are just as enthusiastic “There has been a wonderful response. The kids have been very mindful of social distancing while they are in the class and we have had a wonderful response to the class.”

Some of the measures adopted during the shutdown will continue to be part of Rockstar Wellness’ evolving procedures. They will continue offering virtual classes along with the hybrid option, which allows participants to attend in person or via Zoom. Rachel said they are also still offering the free weekly nutrition discussion and bi-weekly cooking demonstrations.

When asked about safety measures and restrictions in this new era of COVID-19, Rachel ticked off a long list of precautions they’ve implemented. “We have fully integrated our new software after reopening, which is helping minimize contact with customers at the front desk; participants can now purchase classes online and sign all waivers electronically.” An extra 15 minutes between classes allows for cleaning the room and equipment before the next group enters, and floors are marked for social distancing. “We also ask our participants to clean all equipment and then our staff sanitizes it again before putting it away. Our staff has also been very diligent in sanitizing frequently touched surfaces, such as our front desk, pens, light switches, door handles, chairs, and more.”

Participants are not currently required to wear masks when moving throughout the building, but staff and instructors are asked to wear masks. During classes, instructors remove masks for safety reasons but stand behind a clear shower curtain in front of the room. Although they may move around a bit, most of the verbal instruction occurs behind the barrier, which seems to make many participants more comfortable. If weather and format permit, some classes may be held outdoors.

The experience we’ve had as a new business over the past 6 months has certainly been challenging; however, it has definitely helped us to become more innovative and creative…

Additional precautions include monitoring temperatures of staff and instructors and asking anyone who doesn’t feel well to stay home. The childcare area is sanitized between groups, and toys are sanitized and put away when children are finished with them. Staff and children have their temperatures checked before entering the Rockstar Kids area.

Rachel said that class attendance is slowly increasing, as people gradually lose their hesitancy and try to regain some normalcy.  “I know a lot of people were hesitant, especially at first, so we really make sure that we are doing everything in our power to keep the facility clean and safe. Virtual class attendance has decreased over time; however, we still feel that it’s important to have that option available. Some participants who made the decision to quarantine after traveling can still take a class with us and not miss their weekly workout routine. “

Rachel speaks with class attendees

Summer months are usually a downtime for the fitness industry as people take advantage of warm weather and outdoor activities. One of the new classes at Rockstar Wellness is Stride & Stretch, an outdoor class that starts with some stretching and continues with a run or walk at participants’ own pace and concludes with some more stretching and yoga. They have also introduced a weekly group bike ride and have plans to offer more outdoor group activities during the summer.

Opening a new business just before a state-wide shutdown would be devastating for most entrepreneurs, but Rachel and Scott rose to the challenge.

“The experience we’ve had as a new business over the past 6 months has certainly been challenging; however, it has definitely helped us to become more innovative and creative in the ways that we support our fitness family. Our goal is to support people on their journey to better health and wellness and help to create a healthier community overall. It has been exciting to step out of the box a bit and explore how we can begin to reach beyond our walls.” With such determination and positive attitudes, Rockstar Wellness seems likely to maintain the same healthy growth they promote within their community.