COASTAL SOUTH — Wilma threw a final and powerful punch to the coastal South in late October ending what was the most active hurricane season ever on record. Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma all produced damaging winds and rain adversely affecting the fitness industry in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida. While many fitness facilities in the affected areas are reopening their doors, others are still closed indefinitely.
Hurricane Wilma's over 100-mph winds caused substantial damage to Energy Fitness Center's roof in South Beach, FL. In fact, one of the club's members videotaped the 900-member, upscale club's roof blowing off.
“Every area was wet, and there are water marks on every inch of the ceiling,” said Robin Retherford, director of operations/general manager of Energy Fitness Centers. “It's horrendous.”
The facility closed the day Wilma hit and the day after due to power shortages, but was reopened with a temporary roof in place by Oct. 26. Then on Halloween night, it rained again, causing a third of the club's ceiling to cave in.
Retherford and a small staff spent the next 24 hours moving equipment, cleaning and trying to protect the facility's wood floors. On Nov. 1, the club reopened its doors to members. Some members whose homes were affected by the hurricane were understanding of the repair efforts, while others with unscathed homes asked for their money back, she said. Despite the difficulties, Retherford is keeping her sense of humor.
“We now have a skylight in our steam room,” she joked. “That's a bonus, but it's been tough.”
The University of Miami's Wellness Center suffered landscape damage and minor structural damage. The facility was closed for a full week after Wilma made landfall but then reopened with limited hours.
24 Hour Fitness Centers in the Miami area sustained minimal damage to parking lots and roofs, and many lost power. However, shortly after the storm, all Miami-area 24 Hour Fitness clubs opened their doors to the public for free. Patty Guinto, spokesperson for 24 Hour Fitness, said many people took advantage of the offer.
Also due to the recent hurricanes, two Jewish Community Centers in Florida are closed until further notice — Samuel M. and Helene Soref JCC in Fort Lauderdale and Posnack JCC in Hollywood.
In Katrina-wrecked New Orleans, the Uptown Jewish Community Center fitness center reopened in early November with limited service, and more than 70 people came in to work out. Another New Orleans JCC, however, will not open for several months. The Metairie facility was flooded with eight inches of water, and the first floor had to be demolished to get rid of mold.
Across the nation, relief efforts continued to help those affected by the active hurricane season. In Arlington Heights, IL, the Wellness Center and the Buffalo Grove Fitness Center joined together to help employees from the West Jefferson Medical Center (WJMC), a not-for-profit community hospital in Marrero, LA, located 10 minutes from downtown New Orleans. The medical facility has an on-campus fitness center as well as a fitness facility in Terrytown, LA.
In the “Jeans for a Means” program, full-time employees were encouraged to donate $75 (or $35 for part-time employees) in exchange for the opportunity to wear denim to work for the entire month of October. Employees could also choose to give on a day-to-day basis, donating $5 to wear denim to work for one day. For those whose standard uniforms could not consist of denim (group exercise instructors, lifeguards and special program instructors), a 30-minute massage was offered for their full-month donation. A total of 28 employees contributed $2,000 to the WJMC.