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Connections | Magazine

No gym, no problem. My 20 relatives and I work out on Zoom now

We started just for fun. Now, 100-plus sessions later we are still going strong — and getting stronger in our connections.

An illustration of a laptop computer with a hand weight next to it to go with a personal essay about a family's virtual exercise group,
An illustration of a laptop computer with a hand weight next to it to go with a personal essay about a family's virtual exercise group,Maura Intemann

At this time of year, I can’t help but go back to thinking about my life a little over a year ago. At the end of December 2019, I was very sick. I was afraid that I might die, and I feared for my wife and son’s future. I started working on getting my affairs in order. I had a high fever, intense shoulder pain, and lost more than 26 pounds in less than a month. But the scariest part was that even with all the MRIs and blood tests and CT scans and doctor visits, my illness was never diagnosed.

Soon after the fever subsided, I went to the gym. That’s when my sense of panic began. I could barely lift the lightest weights. I tried shooting baskets but couldn’t even get the ball over the rim. Then my symptoms worsened. The muscles in my arms and legs atrophied. I struggled to walk up the stairs to get into my house, and barely had the strength to hold a half-gallon of milk.

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The weight loss slowly stabilized, and I began to try to rebuild myself through physical therapy and an exercise class at the Y. But then COVID-19 and the lockdown hit, and that was that. Or was it?

Not for my intrepid family. One day in late March, right after the lockdown, they started a group Zoom workout. We would all meet online three times a week, joining in from around the country: my wife, Toni, and my brothers, sisters, in-laws, nieces, nephews, a grandniece, and a close family friend.

We started just for fun. Now, 100-plus sessions later we are still going strong — and getting stronger. Not just stronger in muscles, but stronger in our love, devotion, and connection to one another. Plus, we have a lot of laughs. There’s nothing better to lift your spirits.

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For my recovery, this has been a total lifesaver. But just to be clear, it ain’t easy. Our brutal workouts are designed by my brother Gary “Let’s get it over with” Fentin. Gary’s a retired attorney who got certified as a personal trainer before COVID-19.

Since March, members of Rick Fentin's family have been getting together three times a week on Zoom to workout.
Since March, members of Rick Fentin's family have been getting together three times a week on Zoom to workout.From Rick Fentin

We rotate through 20-plus daily exercise schedules he’s created for us. Each rotation starts with a warm-up and ends with planks and balance exercises. In between, we do nine exercises that we repeat three times each. The jokes and wisecracks thrown in aren’t required, but they keep us going — just ask my brother Tommy “AHHH, UGHHH” Fentin.

I’m one of the 13 regulars, but sometimes we have up to 20 family members, ranging in age from 16 to 75, and that’s only part of our family. We come together from three different time zones, from Massachusetts to Michigan to California.

Zooming together from our family rooms, basements, apartment gyms, and backyards, we bond as a family, laugh, and work our butts off.

For a while Gary led all the classes. Later, our nephew Ryan and his girlfriend Allison from San Diego took over leading one day per week, and our niece Danielle took over another day. Seeing these young people getting up at 7 a.m. Pacific Standard Time to do the exercises and enthusiastically lead the group makes my spirits soar (and my muscles sore). Ryan designed T shirts for us, and that’s how we got our name: the Fentin Family COVID-19 Workout Warriors.

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A wonderful meditation leader I listen to talks about how joy finds a way to break through almost anything — like when you’re walking on a solid concrete sidewalk, and all of the sudden you notice grass bursting through. The Fentin Family COVID-19 Workout Warriors is like pure joy that has burst through this dark time to strengthen my body, my spirit, and the love I have with my family. I wish that kind of love and support for everyone.

For me, it’s time to be back online. Ready for planks, back straight, tummy tight. . . GO!


Rick Fentin, a financial adviser in Arlington, has taken up writing during COVID. Send comments to magazine@globe.com. To tell your story, e-mail your 650-word essay on a relationship to connections@globe.com. Please note: We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue.