Wellness Center continues workout programs during pandemic

Kyle Knox
Gila River Indian News


Stay-at-home orders remain in effect in the Gila River Indian Community, but healthy activities are still available with online and virtual programs from Tribal Recreation and the Wellness Center. Community members can participate in several programs since the Wellness Center’s location closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


Brandon Begay, Wellness Center Lead Fitness Instructor, said, “Going virtual is not a setback, I see it as a new initiative, and we all have a chance to get creative and contribute to these services. And what it comes down to is that we’ve all learned how to serve the Community a little better by thinking outside the box since the shutdown.”


Partnerships and collaborations among staff and other programs have been key in developing healthy outlets for GRIC members to reach fitness goals during the pandemic, which include pre-recorded activities, virtual runs, and live virtual workout sessions over the Zoom platform.


Begay mentioned that the workouts, designed for the comfort and privacy of the home, have increased participation and attracted newcomers. Many first-time participants find it assuring to have guided workouts provided to them that don’t require weights or gym equipment. Begay said, “when a person doesn’t have weights or dumbbells, we offer creative alternatives like milk jugs, packages of water, or anything for weight resistance to make it a little challenging.” 



Fit Kit Program

Wellness Center also launched their Fit Kit Workouts. Enrolled members of a federally recognized tribe can sign up for a specific fit kit, which includes workout equipment to utilize at home during the center’s daily virtual workouts.


When the pandemic hit, gyms, including the Wellness Center, had to close. Begay said, “When we learned we would be sent home, we wanted to give our clients some equipment that they could use at home.”


The staff took some time to consider center inventory and decided to distribute resistance bands. To date, the Wellness Center has distributed resistance bands, foam rollers, dumbbells, and yoga mats for clients to use during the virtual workouts throughout the week.

The most recent distribution opened Tuesday, Sept. 1, where clients could register to receive either a Stability Ball Kit or a 30 or 35-pound kettlebell kit. Stability balls are useful for abdominal core workouts, and kettlebells, similar to dumbbells, offer full bodyweight training for users.


Like past kit distributions, participants who receive a kit must commit to attending a Zoom workout with staff for proper safety instruction and demonstrations. Begay mentioned that they would build out programs for what he calls “Fit Kit Fridays” in the future. These classes will utilize all of the various equipment distributed throughout the year.


Begay hopes the equipment will encourage clientele to stay active while social distancing. And even after the pandemic subsides and the center reopens, keeping virtual workouts as a future option is something they are considering.



Virtual Runs

Additionally, the Wellness Center held virtual runs for Community members, allowing participants to track their runs (2 miles, 5k, etc.) to provide proof of completion. The virtual runs eliminate the risk of in-person activities while qualifying runners for program incentives.

The Wellness Center partnered with the Chief Azul Planning Committee for the Chief Azul Virtual Run and Walk. Begay said that the committee saw previous successful runs as a possibility to hold the run this year. The run occurred over a week, with runners tracking their 2 miles or 5k run to receive the commemorative Chief Azul Run T-shirt provided by the Chief Azul Planning Committee.


“For 2020 Chief Azul Day, members of the planning committee reached out to the Wellness Center to coordinate the virtual run for this year. The committee looked at the Wellness Center on past successes with virtual runs planned during the pandemic. We thank the Wellness Center for assisting the Committee and for a job well done.


The Committee and supporters of Chief Azul Day: Darrell Whitman, David Anderson, Anthony Newkirk, Pacer Reina and Pamela Thompson.  The Veterans and Family Services Office and Haskell Osife – Antone Post 51, CPAO have been instrumental in the event’s success this year and in years past. All look forward on next article on past planning and future to come for giving Honors.


We honor the memory of our last hereditary Chief and urge our Community and others to learn more about this honored man and Veteran and his contribution to our way of life,” said Darrell Whitman.


Begay also mentioned that the Chief Azul Run would see as many as 200 runners participating in person in previous years. This year, upon announcement, they had seen 340 participant registrations, which is a significant turnout. The Chief Azul run will allow non-preregistration for 40 or older participants because of the technical requirements to participate. Photo proof of the run is the only requirement to receive a T-shirt.


The Chief Azul Virtual Run concludes Friday, Sept. 4. Participants who wish to collect the Chief Azul T-shirt must provide photo proof of your completed 2 miles or 5k run. And it must be completed between Aug 28 and Sept. 4 at the Sacaton Fairgrounds on Friday, Sept. 11. Wellness Center staff will verify and distribute shirts to the first 200 participants. If you plan on attending, please observe all COVID-19 safety precautions, wear your face covering and be prepared to wait in your vehicle.


More information can be found at mygilariver.com, searching “Gila River Wellness Center” on Facebook, emailing wellness.center@gric.nsn.us to request to be added to the email list or calling their office (520) 562-2026.