PINELLAS PARK, Fla. — Entering a virtual world of learning this school year can take a toll on a child's physical health.
CrossFit Stone Dragon gym in Pinellas Park is helping with that.
Since the gym's inception, they have been kid-friendly.
Ebony Mensah and her 9-year-old daughter, Juliana, have been taking advantage of that. In the beginning, the early morning alarm clock wasn't ideal for the pre-teen.
"I didn't want to really go because we had to wake up really early," Juliana said.
It didn't take long for that change.
"It allowed me to see her full potential in different ways that I would have never been able to. If it wasn't for the pandemic, she would have never come to work out with me," Mensah said.
Ebony said her daughter has been active since the age of three.
Dance was her exercise of choice, but after the virus altered how she practices, Mensah decided to make the gym a family event.
Mensah knew exercise was important, but she didn't realize how much of an impact it would have until the pandemic hit.
"The biggest thing is her strength and her determination. I feel like it's very easy to get in a rut and not want to do anything, and for her to just continue to push and challenge herself," Mensah
said. "Every time we come here she is doing different weights and she's still moving and smiling and laughing. So, I didn't know how strong she could be mentally."
Earnest Tyson is the co-owner of the gym and said these kids are stronger than they appear.
"This is the most important time for these kids right because COVID has kept them in the house for so long it has affected a lot of children," Tyson said.
He teaches in small and socially distant groups before the kids head to school, whether in-person or virtual.
Tyson said even if families don't feel comfortable in a social setting, they can still get a workout in.
"Even if you don't come here, let's say you guys just walk the neighborhoods by yourself. Do that at least and just get going," Tyson said.
According to the CDC, one in five school-aged kids between the ages of six and 19 are obese, and that was before the pandemic kept them sedentary and virtual.
Tyson and parents alike agree that the kids at the gym are growing stronger physically, but their mental health is getting a boost.
"Here I have seen them open up verbally with each other a lot more. Which when we first started, it wasn't really happening," Tyson said.
Juliana said that an early alarm clock isn't as bad these days.
"When I work out, I feel like I'm getting stronger and stronger," Juliana said.