Feb. 19, 2021 By Christian Murray
Michael Seewald, the long-time owner of CrossFit Sunnyside, has had a turbulent 12 months.
The pandemic forced him to close his 47-01 Barnett Ave. gym in March and many of his members left–having lost their jobs or for health reasons.
Seewald said his membership has dropped 70 percent since COVID-19 struck. He did manage to keep a core group of members by offering fitness classes via Zoom as well as sessions in Lou Lodati Park in Sunnyside when the weather improved over the summer.
“It’s be a long 12 months–and I’m really grateful to the members who have stuck with me,” Seewald said, who has been in close contact with them throughout the pandemic.
However, many of his members, he said, had little choice but to stop going.
“Several worked in the hospitality industry and lost their jobs,” he said, while some moved out of the neighborhood.
Seewald said that other members lived with elderly people—or people with chronic conditions– and were reluctant to go outside out of fear of contracting COVID-19.
“It’s been a tough year,” he said. “It’s had a toll on everyone–physcially, mentally and financially.”
Seewald said he is now starting to focus on rebuilding his business.
“I am determined to keep going, to rebuild,” he said, adding that he is beginning to see members return following the partial lifting of the lockdown.
“I made a commitment to my members and the Sunnyside community when I opened five years ago that I would be here for the long haul,” Seewald said. “I really enjoy promoting healthy living and I’ve gone into debt to carry on. My life savings are in this–I’m all in.”
The CrossFit concept is built around community, since it involves group classes where members exercise together—often rowing, lifting weights, running, doing pullups and more.
“What happens is the people in each class get to know one another and share in the struggle to get fit,” he said. People then encourage one another and help make sure that their peers keep going to classes, he added.
He said that this sense of community helped many of his members—both mentally and physically—get through the pandemic. He also said it helped him get through the ordeal.
Seewald says he got one big financial break during the shutdown.
His lease on his Barnett Avenue gym ended in July. He was able to shut the venue down—so he didn’t have to continue to pay rent– and put all his equipment in storage. He then started to look for a new location in Sunnyside to open– once the state allowed gyms to reopen.
“I would be lying to you if I didn’t think at one point that I would close for good. But this is what I do—and I enjoy it and the Sunnyside community,” Seewald said.
A space opened up about two blocks away at 52-25 Barnett Avenue—by the Steve Madden offices– and he was able to move in at the end of 2020.
He said it felt risky signing a lease in the middle of a pandemic but he felt certain that his future was in Sunnyside.
“The space is also 50 percent larger [than his old location] and the terms of the lease were favorable.”
The larger space has made it easy for him to adhere to social distancing requirements.
“I have taped squares 10 feet x 10 feet apart on the main floor,” so people know how to distance.
He said he is able to safely get up to 12 people in a session at any one time to train.
Seewald has taken other measures to comply with state guidelines such as buying an expensive air filtration system.
He also requires his members to wear masks and does temperature checks. Healthcare questionnaires are also required.
“It takes a while to get used to working out with masks, but it’s very doable,” Seewald said. “After a while it’s not a big deal.”
Seewald said that his goal is to continue to promote healthy living in Sunnyside—with a focus on fitness, nutrition and lifestyle. He aims to improve the health and wellbeing of more than 1,000 Sunnysiders within five years.
“The pandemic brought to light some of the benefits we provide,” Seewald said. “Many people with comorbidities such as obesity and diabetes have been at much greater risk—and that is something we have a solution for.”
Seewald has spent the last two months moving in and upgrading his new 52-25 Barnett Ave. location.
He is also in the midst of a rebranding. He has changed the name of his business from CrossFit Sunnyside to Sunnyside Strong Fitness.
While his gym still offers the CrossFit-style of fitness, Seewald rebranded after Greg Glassman, the founder of the international CrossFit brand, made a number of incendiary remarks following the death of George Floyd.
Seewald condemned Glassman’s statements and decided to change his business name—saying the CrossFit founder’s comments were too offensive.
Today, with a new location and brand, Seewald is looking to bring back some of his former members as well as bring in new people.
He is now offering one-one-one consultations to help people gauge their level of fitness. He will then sit down with them and work out a fitness and nutrition program.
Seewald said his members range from the very fit to newcomers who have not worked out in decades. He said he maps out a plan for all—with each member having a different goal based on age, weight and current physical condition.
He said that he is optimistic about the future. He said he plans on bringing back his children’s program and is thinking about the possibility of creating one for seniors. He is also looking to recruit members who live in areas along the 7 line.
“With the vaccine becoming more widespread, hopefully we can soon get back to normal,” Seewald said. “I look forward to spring time when everyone can get out and people look to get back into fitness.”
He said it’s been a very difficult year and he is glad to still be in business.
“It’s been a long journey. I’m just glad I have made to the other side. I hope all the other businesses in Sunnyside make it through too.”
To sign up to be a member of Sunnyside Strong visit https://sunnysidestrong.com/ or call (917)496-3931