An owner of a gym in New Jersey is now offering gym memberships to people who have declined the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines. Atilis Fitness Club co-owner Ian Smith posted the promotion on his Twitter account. Back in May 2020, Smith’s gym gained national attention after it refused to comply with state lockdown mandates.
“We are giving out free [gym] memberships to all who don’t get vaccinated,” said Smith in a tweet on March 24. “We believe in health … [through] exercise, good diet, plenty of vitamin D, zinc and an environment to de-stress.”
Some Twitter users slammed Smith for his apparent anti-vaccination stance. One user accused him of “causing more deaths by discouraging vaccinations.” Another dubbed his move as an “extremely irresponsible thing” and claimed that “vitamin D cannot get rid of [COVID-19].” (Related: New research says vitamin D may reduce the severity of COVID-19.)
The fitness enthusiast announced the promotion in light of a similar gimmick by doughnut chain Krispy Kreme, which said it would give free donuts to people who get vaccinated against COVID-19. An announcement on the Krispy Kreme website said the doughnut chain would give vaccinated individuals a free doughnut if they show their COVID-19 vaccination record card beginning March 22.
But the company drew flak for its move as its offerings were likely to contribute to obesity – which increases the risk of suffering from severe illness with COVID-19. This led Krispy Kreme CEO Mike Tattersfield to defend his company’s promotion, saying: “We’re a sweet treat company, [and] if folks don’t want to visit a doughnut shop, they don’t have to. [If] folks that want to get a vaccine … decide to combine a Krispy Kreme pickup [for] a doughnut, they can.”
The company eventually opened its promotion to those who opted to decline the vaccine. It invited those who “made the personal decision to not receive” any Wuhan coronavirus jab to visit on Mondays when they could receive a free doughnut and coffee.
But despite the vitriol Smith received, a number of users expressed their support. One user wondered if hating on the gym owner was necessary, adding that “everyone is welcome to have their own opinions.” Another user wished Smith well: They remarked that good health is a product of nature and “not from science experiments.”
A report by Big League Politics last year said Atilis Gym saw many supporters standing by its decision to remain open – in defiance of orders put in place by Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy. The fitness center opened at 8 a.m. on May 18 of last year with supporters and law enforcement outside the venue. Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Ellie Rushing tweeted that the gym implemented voluntary safety precautions such as members-only access, temperature checks and limiting itself to 20 percent capacity – equal to 44 people at a time. In addition, Smith and his business partner Frank Trumbetti said they rearranged gym equipment to maintain social distance. Staff would also step up their cleaning efforts, they continued.
But five hours after the gym reopened, a police officer issued a ticket against Smith and Trumbetti for violating state coronavirus restrictions. Murphy also issued a warning in case Atilis Gym chose to flout statewide lockdowns once more: “If you show up at that gym tomorrow, there’s going to be a different reality than showing today. I also don’t want to start World War 3,” he said during a news conference.
Trumbetti was unfazed by the ticket, and said he was “not worried about jail.” The fitness establishment’s co-owner said: “It is what it is. Ian [Smith] and I made a conscious decision to actually fight for the cause for everybody.” (Related: New Jersey government seizes $165,000 from Atilis Gym’s bank account — 100 percent of gym’s assets for ‘crime’ of remaining open.)
While Atilis Gym and other fitness establishments resorted to direct defiance, some others used a more subtle approach. One such gym is Atlantic Sports Fitness in Poland. Back in October 2020, the Krakow-based gym rebranded itself as the “Church of the Healthy Body” in order to skirt existing COVID-19 regulations in the country.
The gym’s manager Marta Jamróz posted on Facebook that “a religious congregation of members [is] starting today at … the ‘Church of the Healthy Body,'” to be led by the “elder council” – who was actually the gym’s trainers. She also invited people to participate in the “special religious services.”
Atlantic Sports Fitness’ rebranding as a “church” came as a response to restrictions put in place by Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. He announced that gyms and swimming pools in “red zone” areas such as Krakow must close. However, church gatherings were exempt from the restrictions as long as there is only one person per 75 square feet.