Ryan Pandolfi knew he needed to take immediate action when gyms and fitness centres closed more than a week ago.
So he created a gym of his own to help inoculate himself from at least some of the sting associated with the COVID-related health restriction.
The miniature gym he created, in a storage container southeast of Brandon, doesn’t look like much, but it means a lot to him.
Sober for more than three years, he credits daily visits to Anytime Fitness with keeping him on not only the straight and narrow, but mentally healthy as well.
"The world is crazy now and we need something," he said, adding his "something" is fitness, alongside raising his two-and-a-half-year-old son, Logan, who inspires him to remain on track.
"I want to feel good about myself and leave the gym with the release of all those endorphins I’d get when I was a hardcore drinker drinking $100 worth per week."
Pandolfi fell on hard times earlier in the pandemic, at which time he was going through a divorce, selling his house and unable to host many events through The Pandolfi Initiative.
Comedian and friend Big Daddy Tazz, a.k.a. Tazz Norris, was concerned, pulled him aside and said he appeared unhealthy, and at 108 pounds, Pandolfi recognized a need to make some changes.
He reached out to Amber White at Anytime Fitness in Brandon, welcomed the gym into his life, put the weight back on through healthier living and now feels better, both physically and mentally.
This doesn’t mean to imply mental health isn’t a continued struggle, he said, as it takes constant work.
"The majority of the people who go to gyms and use gyms, especially nowadays, is about what they’re facing with anxiety, stress, PTSD, overcoming obstacles," White said, adding Pandolfi’s mental-health rationale for visiting the gym is in keeping with many of her clients.
"We’re proud of Ryan, that he’s trying to find any means possible to continue to pick up a dumbbell over alcohol."
It’d be nice to see the government factor healthy living and eating more heavily into their pandemic response, she said, as there are a lot of people in Brandon hurting right now as a result of the gym closures.
"A lot of people come to us because they need that added support because they need a trainer to make sure they do that, or even extra guidance. It’s not as easy for everyone to just get up and exercise at home," she said.
"How many people have equipment in their house … and it’s mostly either collected dust or become a laundry hanger?"
Pandolfi said creating a gym in a storage container was partially out of necessity, since his current residence doesn’t have enough space.
The ritual of going someplace solely dedicated to working out also played a role.
"For weeks and weeks and weeks, I get off work at 3 o’clock and it’s part of the routine," he said.
While an integral part of some people’s routine is attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, he said his AA meeting is the gym.
The storage container has been serving its purpose thus far, but Pandolfi said it only goes so far. He misses seeing and being encouraged by other like-minded people in a gym environment.
This current round of level health restrictions, including the closure of gyms and fitness centres, is currently planned by the province to remain in place until May 30.
"I just pray they open back up," Pandolfi said. "I like the shed, but it’s not where I’d like to be in June."
Pandolfi is a Brandon-based mental health advocate and recent recipient of an Honour 150 award by Canada Life, for "bringing his community together while advocating for mental health awareness through entertainment."
» Twitter: @TylerClarkeMB