September 27, 2022

Four Evanstonians share how the pandemic changed their fitness routines

Four Evanstonians share how the pandemic changed their fitness routines


As we approach the three-year anniversary of the pandemic’s start, it is almost hard to believe in a world without the constant fear of COVID-19. But despite the continuing risk from variants and reinfections, life is (sort of) getting back to normal for most people. For many, that includes a return to indoor activities and gyms. Others are content to continue exercising in the comfort of their own homes.

When COVID hit and the gyms were shuttered, Evanston’s Play it Again Sports had lines out the door, according to owner/operator Mike Hamann. 

“People wanted dumbbells and more dumbbells,” he said. “We also had a record year in 2020 for outdoor equipment like snowshoes and downhill and cross-country skis.” 

These days, Hamann said, people are getting rid of a lot of their home equipment. For example, he said he passed on 10 elliptical machines in one week in September. However, he added, the store is still accepting used steel weights such as barbells and dumbbells.

So, what did Evanstonians do for exercise without access to group fitness and gyms? And what are they doing now?

‘Long walks really kept me sane’

“Pre-COVID, I was really loving Spenga – it’s a combination of spinning, strength training and yoga, which are the three activities that I love the most,” said Patty Barbato. “Then, when the pandemic hit, Spenga had to suspend our memberships, and they didn’t end up reopening [in Evanston] after COVID.” 

Patty Barbato on a hike in Colorado. Credit: Patty Barbato

Barbato, an education and nonprofit consultant, said that for the first month of lockdown she watched Dr. Anthony Fauci and the ticker on CNN as the horror of the pandemic unfolded. All three of her sons were home from school. They also adopted a dog.

“I don’t think any of us knew quite what to do,” Barbato admitted. “I ended up eating and drinking my way through COVID.” She added that the one thing that saved her mental and physical health is that she would go on long, sometimes eight-mile walks, even during the winter. 

Four Evanstonians share how the pandemic changed their fitness routines