As students returned to campus for winter term beginning Jan. 2, many gym users were caught off guard by the sharp increase in crowds at Alumni Gym.
“It was absolutely ridiculous at the start of term,” Tanaka Chikati ’25 said. “I went on a Tuesday at 6 p.m. and it was just packed … I couldn’t even find anywhere to put my exercise mat down, and all the treadmills were being used.”
Preston Lim ’25 said he estimated that, compared to similar time periods in the fall, crowd levels in the gym were at least twice as high. He said that there were times the crowds made it impossible to do certain exercises, and he was forced to modify his workout routine.
Interim athletic director Peter Roby ’79 explained that the increased crowd levels were driven by a partial closure of Floren Varsity House — which contains a strength training center for varsity athletes — during the first 10 days of winter term. The facilities have since reopened.
Roby explained that due to manpower shortages caused by the pandemic, only varsity teams competing in the winter — swimming and diving, track and field, hockey, squash, basketball and skiing — were allowed to access those strength and conditioning facilities.
“Our operations were becoming unable to meet the demands of a large athletic department … so we tried to limit the impact on Floren’s strength and conditioning facilities,” he said.
Roby added that as a result, many athletes went to Zimmerman until Floren Varsity House reopened entirely to all athletes. He added that though access to the strength training center was limited, all athletes could still access Floren Varsity House for other services such as physiotherapy.
In addition, according to executive associate athletics director Richard Whitmore, crowd levels in Alumni Gym are usually higher in January and February as the cold weather drives people to exercise indoors.
Chikati said she believes that more people are using the gym after making New Year’s resolutions to exercise more frequently.
Ryan Kim ’25, a student worker at Alumni Gym, said that with the crowds and the increase in COVID-19 cases, the pandemic has been “on [his] mind a lot more often” this term.
“In the fall, we maintained a pretty steady stream of low cases so I was less concerned about getting COVID-19,” he said, adding “…But now, it’s more prevalent and I can’t really control how many people come in, so all I can do is keep telling people to keep their masks on,” he said.
However, he noted that he has never been so worried that he decided not to show up for shifts or considered quitting his job.
“With the way the school is handling the pandemic, I feel like everyone will get it at some point,” he said.
Whitmore said that in order to ensure the safety of all gym users, the Alumni Gym staff have been tracking the number of people in sporting facilities, and that capacity limits in the form of a booking system may be re-introduced in response to persistent overcrowding.
He noted that capacity limits in Zimmerman were strained at the start of winter term, but he believes that the reopening of the Floren Varsity House has substantially reduced crowd levels.
Roby said that apart from monitoring and managing crowd levels, the main pandemic-related safety measure is mandatory indoor mask-wearing. He noted that Alumni Gym was closed twice in the fall — for one and two days respectively — due to students’ non-compliance with the indoor mask mandate and lack of respect for gym staff.
“We had an obligation to protect our staff, and these disputes were impacting them — they didn’t sign up to get into arguments with others, and some of them resigned,” he said. “We were trying to be respectful to the patrons but also to our staff.”
Kim said that it is “pretty common” to see gym users lowering their masks, and he usually has to remind at least one patron to wear their masks properly every shift. He said that most people comply, but there have been one or two instances where patrons will lower their masks after he walks away.
“I sympathize with how they’re feeling, and I know running with the mask feels horrible… but I still have to tell them to put their mask up,” he said.
Roby added that should there be continued non-compliance with the indoor mask mandate, Alumni Gym could be closed again. Whitmore said that the College’s COVID-19 leadership team has stressed the importance of keeping as many sporting facilities open as possible, and that adherence to the masking policy is essential for this.
“We will do whatever we think is appropriate to keep facilities open for most people, but in the safest way possible,” Whitmore said.