Driving down Hall Street in East Grand Rapids, don’t be surprised to see Angie Chandler doing jumping jacks with a half dozen women at the end of her driveway.
With a smile on her face, she encourages each to mix it up with walking lunges and overhead presses back to the other end.
Chandler, 52, started the informal neighborhood workout program in early July.
The twice-weekly, early-morning workouts are doing wonders for her spirits while building a brand-new camaraderie in this residential neighborhood.
“I hadn’t met many neighbors yet, except for Katherine across the street,” she said. “Our dogs knew each other before we did. Her Airedale, Winnie, and my Golden Doodle, Topper, were already best buds having met through their mutual dog-walker.”
The full-time national board-certified health coach at Priority Health said it took a few months for her to get the courage to start the group.
She’d been working from home as a health coach for a few years before the pandemic shut down much of day-to-day life in mid-March.
“You’d think I would be used to it,” she said. “But when the in-person fitness classes I had been teaching each week got canceled due to COVID-19, it threw me. It was the kind of work I enjoyed leaving my house for.”
Worse yet, she had to tell family and friends that she and her fiancée would be postponing the spring wedding and reception they had been planning for May 2.
The COVID-19 pandemic had uprooted routines across the board. “I kept thinking there has to be a way to keep our chin up through all of this,” she said.
“Many of my health coaching clients are health care staff and educators who were thrown into a panic about having to suddenly learn to do their job remotely,” Chandler said. “Everyone was so overwhelmed…really feeling down. It was challenging somedays. Sometimes life gives us lemons. We all got hit hard.”
A natural optimist, Chandler spent the spring finding ways to stay upbeat.
“It is a gift to be a coach and focus on what’s going well with each of my clients,” she said. She found shelter-at-home joy listening to music with her fiancé, gardening and walking the puppy. “But you can only plant so many flowers and walk the dog so many times before you need more.”
She and Nate, her now-husband, decided they wouldn’t let the virus control everything
The couple decided on a private ceremony in a sweet little candle shop, with just an officiant, two witnesses and their spouses. “I couldn’t believe we pulled it off. One cough or sniffle and I wouldn’t have allowed it.”
But while the newlywed worked out on her own, something still seemed missing.
“It’s hard for me to not be around people,” said Angie, who has two kids in their 20s. “I’m a natural-born introvert and I do appreciate my solitude, but this pandemic has shown me how important it is to be around humans, at least a little.”
One early morning in late June, feeling energized by the summer sunshine, a lightbulb went off.
“I was just struck by how gorgeous it was,” she said. “Michigan is such a beautiful state. I’m afraid I’ve mostly taken it for granted. I thought, ‘Why am I not inviting others to join me under this incredible bright blue sky, in the warm fresh air and sunshine?’
She knew she had to take action. “I wanted to ask my neighbor if she’d like to start working out together, but I was too shy,” Chandler said. “I was afraid she’d think I was that crazy lady on Hall Street.”
Instead, she texted an invitation for an informal workout.
“OMG,” her neighbor messaged back right away. “I’d love to! I’m walking with Betsy right now and we are both in!”
Soon a few other neighbors joined. One invited her mom, and also brought little Olivia, who watched each session from her stroller. Cait from across the street joined in. Soon, Kris and Lauren started attending regularly. Within a week or so, the group had created an official name: Hall Street Fitness.
Stronger bodies, better neighbors
Chandler has been a certified fitness professional for decades. Finding the right program for the mixed-level group felt like second nature to her.
“We usually do a high-intensity interval workout using just bodyweight and lots of creativity—and that’s great,” she said. “But then there’s also the social piece. And you have to honor that, too.
“It’s just been exciting to see how happy they were to do this and how determined to stick with it.”
To keep it safe, they make sure to physically space themselves apart. She also respectfully keeps plenty of hand sanitizer nearby.
“I just felt strongly that I wanted to do something for my community during this difficult time,” she said. “We are all in this pandemic together and I knew I could lay the groundwork for a healthy group activity and a reciprocal spark of hope.”
One reason she feels compelled to pay fitness forward: Her years of teaching group classes and personal training have earned her a kind of confidence she wants to share. “Mental and physical fitness go hand in hand,” she said.
“Growing up I was very quiet, detrimentally shy, and a bit embarrassed about my tall height,” she said. “But through group fitness, I learned to be brave. It wasn’t easy. My confidence is hard-won, and I like to share that.”
She plans to keep the Hall Street squad outdoors as long as possible.
“I hope we’ll continue to gather and exercise outside, take in these beautiful autumn days, and enjoy each other’s company,” Chandler said. “When life throws you lemons, you have to find your own way to make lemonade.”