Reflections from the COVID-19 Shut Down

Mar 18, 2021

 by Chris Romulo

It’s been 1 year since New York shut down all non-essential businesses to flatten the curve. But what is non-essential for some was an essential part of my life for almost 10 years.


A family gym business that my wife and I built from nothing.


In 2009, we literally would show up on the boardwalk in Rockaway Beach, two times a week, to run a Muay Thai/boxing bootcamp in a community that would call us the “karate couple”;-)


When we started it was all passion and heart to teach what we loved.


Two sports that saved us, separately, at two different points in the darkest times of our lives.


We weren’t married yet but we knew for certain that we were going to build this together for the long term,  not just because beach season was coming.


So we planted our feet and began to teach the community what we loved and we were able to open up the the 1st ever Muay Thai Boxing gym for the kids, teens and adults in Rockaway Beach.


A small 1,200 square foot run-down, hole in the wall that was home to a squatter who eventually helped us build our vision. Being able to coach people to learn martial arts, boxing and fitness, from the inside out, became our full-time mission.


But as fate would have it, two years after our Grand Opening, in October of 2012, Hurricane Sandy rolled through and destroyed the community and stopped our mission in it’s tracks in less than 24 hours.


Our first test as married couple.


It didn’t break us.


If anything, we grew stronger as a family.


With our 1 year old (Gio) and my 14 year old (Jube), we learned to appreciate the things that truly mattered.


Family time, health and the unwavering willingness to get back in the fight.


We lost our home.


We lost our gym.


The community was wrecked.


But we didn’t lose sight of what we wanted.


You know that cliche statement, “tough times don’t last, but tough people do.”  well, turns out it’s true…


But tough doesn’t mean that we had it all figured out. It took us close to 12 months get back up on our feet. 


Being able to “Storm Back”  took massive amount of support and help from members of our gym, family, friends, and the kindness of perfect strangers.


But it all started out with the decision to not lay down and give in.


I will never forget telling Sarah, as we watched the community drown in 6-8 feet of ocean surge on the news, “we will come back bigger and better that before.”


We had no clue how or what we were going to do, but we put our heads down and trusted the process.


It wasn’t all smooth sailing on the return.


Self-doubt, fear and confusion were all part of road back.


Fast forward to 2015 after battling through the rebuilding process, we were blessed to have been able to take our “boardwalk dream” and move into a 5,000 square foot space to expand and evolve our service to our community.


Developing our scholarship programs for the at-risk kids in the neighborhood.


Keeping them off the streets and giving them a constructive outlet for the hardships they faced in their own lives.


Building coaches that believed in our mission to lead and inspire.


Bridging the gap in our community for all walks of life to work together for a common lifestyle, physical culture.


Fast forward again to one year ago today, March 16th, 2020. COVID-19 had already started it’s rampage through New York and the 2 week government shutdown hit all non essential businesses.


Up until that point we rallied to follow all the necessary precautions to keep our members safe.


To keep our family safe.


We went virtual ASAP to keep serving our members.


A couple of months went by, members cancelling memberships, not being able keep up with our lease, anxiety, uncertainty, stress and living in the epicenter of the epicenter of COVID-19 started to weigh on us heavily.


Our “boardwalk dream” once again began to drown, but this time slowly, swallowed in debt.


Then at the end of April, 2020, our landlord gave us the choice to pay our back rent (April) and continue to pay full rent moving forward no matter how long the government shut down lasted…or pack our stuff and get out by May 1st.


We would have owed her 60k by the time the we were allowed to reopen for business in Sept 2020.


Well, really there was only one choice we could make that would keep our family together.


It was one of the hardest decisions we’ve had to make as a couple.


Shut down our only means of finances, shut down a community hub and shut down the dreams of the kids in our scholarship program.


It shook us to the core.


It challenged us as a family.


It tested our hearts.


But the choice to take care of us as a family and my relationship with Sarah was what I wanted.


So in this year we’ve taken a step back to really take a deep look inside ourselves and NOT focus on all the turmoil and loss.


But to remind ourselves of the blessings.


The family is healthy.


We can sit down for dinner every night and share what we are grateful for.


Sarah and I can have gym dates a few times a week.


I’m home to see Gio off to school and do pull-ups with him after dinner.


Spend time with other family members close by.


Another chance to grow through from what we’ve gone through.


Just because you have a dream, goal or a vision doesn’t mean that the universe is NOT going to test your resolve to see how much you want it.


So even when it seems like you’ve lost it all, ask yourself “what’s one thing I can be grateful for that’s keeping me in the fight?”


Gratitude is crucial when it comes to developing GRIT.


Remembering that the blessings that you have right in front of you will fuel you to:


-Stay on your mental and physical mission even when your supervisor is breathing down your neck to produce more


-Being the dad for your kids that you didn’t have growing up


-Adapt and pivot when the family business is slowly crumbling


It’s not a matter of if you’re gonna get knocked down, it’s a matter of when.


#F7S8 #allittakesisheart #champup #grit