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When Weightlifting Competition Shut Down For Jenny Arthur, So Did Her Colorado Gym

By Karen Price | July 13, 2020, 12:52 p.m. (ET)

Jenny Arthur in action during the Weightlifting - Women's 75kg Group A at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Jenny Arthur in action during the Weightlifting - Women's 75kg Group A at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 on Aug. 12, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.


As a weightlifter, 2016 Olympian Jenny Arthur had a whole host of concerns when COVID-19 began to spread throughout the U.S. and world, canceling competitions and forcing gyms to close.

Apart from her own personal worries, though, she had a whole other host of considerations as an owner of one such gym in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

“In the beginning it was just about pretty much trying to figure out how we could still run the business and keep everyone engaged, keep the community engaged and keep our members kind of together in this,” she said.

It hasn’t been the easiest few months, but since Vardanian Weightlifting, which she co-owns with her fiancé, has been able to reopen, those concerns are finally lifting. And with the date of the next competition still months away, if it happens at all, Arthur said, she’s learned to embrace the forced slowdown and take time to focus on the little things.

Arthur was the first U.S. weightlifter to qualify for the Olympic Games Rio 2016 and the first woman to compete in the 75 kg. class for the country since 2000. Last fall, she won her first medals at the IWF World Championships when she took bronze in total weight and silver in clean & jerk while competing at 81 kg. The Olympic year in 2020 was set up for her to take the next step.

Once gyms including her own shut down, Arthur said, the one bit of good news was that she could still work out using her own facility. But that wasn’t going to help pay the bills they’d still have or help their clients and members, who were suddenly without a place to work out.

Luckily, Arthur had already been offering online coaching to clients across the country, so it wasn’t difficult to adapt their in-person programming for their gym members. She sent out the weekly programming, then members would submit videos of their workouts for critique and feedback. Since not everyone had what they needed to work out at home or in their garage, the gym also rented out equipment.

In the meantime, Arthur said, she began to look at the positives of competition being halted so abruptly. Her last competition was March 7 at the Arnold Weightlifting Championships in Ohio, and she was supposed to compete internationally just two and a half weeks later, but her body was tired.

“I wanted to compete, but at the same time my body was like hey, slow down, so I guess I really had to take the time to listen to my body and slow down,” she said. “In weightlifting we don’t really have an offseason. Usually we have a competition close to every two months, give or take, so it’s been nice knowing this is our offseason and we can back off a little bit and think about the bigger picture.”

For her, that’s meant focusing on the technical aspects and the little details of weightlifting, and also focusing on mental strength, including reading books such as “In Pursuit of Excellence” by acclaimed sports psychologist Terry Orlick.

“My books can take my mind away from what maybe what’s going on or the stress that has maybe built up from not being able to compete or know what’s coming tomorrow or having no competitions that I’m shooting for right now,” she said. “My next competition is set for October, but I don’t know if it’s going to happen or not. I’m pretty much just getting my mind prepared and ready for what’s to come and also just to handle this time better. It’s not easy for anyone so I’m just trying to strengthen my mind more.

At the gym, she said, they started planning for what a reopening might look like from the beginning. Whether it happened in two months or six, she said, they wanted to be prepared.

Although in Colorado gyms are now allowed to open with limited capacity, Arthur’s facility is taking it slower than the state allows, keeping sessions to five at once and doing smaller groups throughout the day. Gym members have to wash their hands after they enter the gym, and the platforms are spaced out so that members can go right to their own areas. And, of course, all equipment is being cleaned and sanitized after every use.

They still have some clients who aren’t ready to come back and are still training remotely, Arthur said, and that’s perfectly fine. Even they were a bit nervous reopening, but between the CDC guidelines and their own research into what some CrossFit and other weightlifting-specific gyms are doing, they feel comfortable that they’re operating safely for all involved.

She hopes other small gym owners can bounce back as well.

“I feel like if you’re a good enough business owner and you did enough to keep everyone engaged throughout the pandemic then I think you should be OK,” Arthur said. “You just have to know how to just do your best. We wouldn’t have made it if our members weren’t so supportive of us and of the community. Our members really supported us through the whole pandemic and we were able to stay open because of them.”

Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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Jenny Arthur