By Darlene Donloe
VIEW PARK — When gyms and fitness centers were forced to close last March due to the coronavirus epidemic, people who used those facilities had to scramble to find alternative ways to stay physically fit while owners feverishly sought out ways to keep their businesses afloat.
One such owner is La Niecia Vicknair, the owner of Thrive Health Lab in View Park-Windsor Hills. The gym provides a range of classes including stretching, meditation, yoga, and a customized health and fitness curriculum that includes tailored workouts, nutrition and life skills.
“In the beginning, I freaked and froze up,” Vicknair said. “When the pandemic first hit, I didn’t have a real game plan, so I had to figure it out. Now, I can actually say, we made it through COVID. I had to reschedule some things, and change some things in an effort to keep our clients, my staff and myself safe.”
When the initial shutdown occurred, Vicknair lost 70% of her revenue and 85% of her clientele. She tried to remain calm as she watched her business close, reopen, and modify, only to close once again.
“I did a lot of praying and applying for grants,” Vicknair said. “Then I prayed, I became optimistic, then I prayed some more. I was able to get the PPC grant and the EIDL state grant, which helped me stay afloat. We are still here. I have faith that [God] has us covered.”
The day after gyms were ordered to close last March, Vicknair, 36, decided to get creative. Since then, she has been conducting classes virtually with occasional one-on-one sessions. Like most business owners, she’s unsure of when her clients will actually see the inside of a gym again.
“The day after they closed us down, I went live on Instagram for free,” Vicknair said. “I wanted our clients to have a sense of normalcy. Physical and mental wellness is important. I gotta admit, I didn’t see this coming. I didn’t think we’d be closed so long.”
On Jan. 25, Vicknair was sitting in her gym working on ways to engage her clients and pivot, yet again, when she heard Gov. Gavin Newsom announce, yet again, that California health officials were lifting regional stay-at-home orders as crowding was easing in hospital intensive care units. Certain nonessential businesses like restaurants, barbershops, hair and nail salons would be allowed to reopen services inside with modified adjustments and safety protocols. It is the third time California has imposed strict lockdowns, only to allow counties to reopen at different rates.
The order applied to the Southern California, the Bay Area, and San Joaquin Valley regions, which are home to more than 90% of the state’s population of 39 million people.
According to the California Department of Public Health, the four-week ICU projections for the areas show enough capacity to exit the order.
All 58 counties are now back on the state’s tier-based system, which places them into one of four color-coded tiers signifying which activities and businesses are allowed based on local coronavirus case rates and test positivity. The tiers are reevaluated every Tuesday.
Vicknair, who works out five days a week, excluding weekends, was hoping to hear good news about fitness centers. Unfortunately, the order didn’t allow for gyms to resume indoor workouts, only outdoor operations are allowed.
As it stands, gym/fitness center owners are allowed to provide a tent for clients as long as no more than one side is closed to allow for airflow. Outdoor operations can continue under the order as long as COVID-19 safety procedures are met. Outdoor exercise is allowed in groups of 12 or less, according to the state’s guidelines.
Vicknair’s gym doesn’t have its own outdoor space. The parking lot is owned by another business, so Vicknair had to find and rent a space. Eventually, the dollars weren’t making any sense. If clients didn’t show, she wouldn’t make enough money to pay her staff. She had to pivot once again.
“That’s when I went back to doing only virtual workouts and a few one-on-one sessions,” said Vicknair, a personal trainer since 2015. “It’s nerve-wracking trying to schedule future classes without knowing what’s going to happen, but I have to be ready and prepared when they say I can open.”
The one-on-one sessions are held in a room split to accommodate two sessions at a time. There are no overlapping classes. In between sessions the room is sanitized. Trainers and clients must wear a mask.
When they arrive, clients must have their temperature taken. They have to bring their own mats and dumbbells. Sanitizer is provided.
Thrive Health Lab, a class-based gym, believes in empowerment, education, and community. There are no huge machines, but rather free weights, resistance bands, and stability balls. Fitness programs and services include nutrition coaching, a meal prep service, stretch therapy, high-intensity interval training, personal training, corrective exercise and more.
“We focus on functional movement,” said Vicknair, who praises her staff for their professionalism. “Everything is moveable. We clean everything before we put it back. We were doing our due diligence even before corona hit.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, studies suggest the coronavirus can live from a couple of hours to several days on surfaces, depending on conditions.
Vicknair, who was born in Seattle and raised in View Park-Windsor Hills area, has been a fitness buff since doing gymnastics in elementary school, dance and basketball in junior high, cheerleading in high school, and stepping at Howard University.
“When I graduated college, I gained weight and decided to get serious about what I was putting in my body,” she said.
In 2014, Vicknair’s fitness journey began. She started in health and wellness and went on to obtain certifications as a certified personal trainer, corrective exercise specialist, nutrition specialist, and is group training qualified. She is currently working toward a sports certification.
Her motivation for opening Thrive Health Lab was personal.
“The main reason I wanted to open a gym was to help my family,” said Vicknair, who has Creole roots. “My father’s side is obese. My family is obese. My father died of a heart attack in 2015 because he was obese. I wanted to be an agent of change in my own family. So with my inheritance, I opened the gym. I didn’t want anyone else to die and become obese.”
Vicknair said she wanted a place where people who didn’t know where to start could come and have no judgment.
“I wanted something in my own community with certified trainers that come from that same community,” she said. “I didn’t want to drive to Beverly Hills to workout. I wanted something that catered to us. We understand cultural differences, body types, and why we eat certain foods.”
Thrive Health Lab’s class schedules have changed. There are virtual workouts Monday through Friday, two virtual classes in the morning and two in the evening. The rest of the time is one-on-one sessions.
There are various levels of membership including one month for $100, virtual auto-pay is $50 and drop-in workouts are $15. There is currently a deal to try virtual workouts for free.
Vicknair, whose gym has turned into a virtual membership, can’t wait to welcome back her clients. She has some suggestions for those who want to get, or stay, in shape.
“Nutrition is first,” she said. “Be aware of what you’re keeping in your house. Walk for 20 minutes every day. Dedicate 15 minutes, then 20 minutes. Build it up. You have to start somewhere. You gotta get moving.”
Thrive Health Lab is located at 3701 West 54th St. It website is at thrivehealthlab.com.
Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.