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What do yeast, wipes, coins, beef, toilet paper, lumber and bicycles have in common? Each was in short supply during 2020.

Most of these shortages didn’t faze me; I don’t eat beef, and I seldom use coins to pay for anything anymore. But bicycles?

In February, I rode to the bike shop and bought a new helmet, as I’d recently learned that bike helmets need to be replaced every few years. Little did I know that bicycles and fitness equipment would be in short supply within a few weeks when COVID-19 came rumbling in.

This wasn’t just a local phenomenon; it was global. The combination of people rushing to buy bikes to ride instead of using buses and for exercise, along with disruptions in the supply chain, meant inventories were essentially depleted. Shops reduced hours; some closed temporarily. My helmet purchase was well-timed.

The day before retail shops closed in March, I had the foresight to visit the sporting-goods shop and buy some free weights. Again, good timing, as I’m used to exercising regularly and wanted to maintain the strength I’d gained from my weekday weightlifting class at the recreation center.

Early in the pandemic, I stepped up my walking program, ultimately wore out my walking shoes and had to make an appointment at the athletic store to replace them. Later in the season, I renewed my interest in hiking in wooded areas. There are many within about an hour of Champaign-Urbana, some that are surprisingly hilly for these flatlands.

I quickly discovered that a good pair of hiking shoes (better tread than walking shoes) would make this activity more enjoyable.

Summer rolled around; I was lucky to find places for outdoor swimming, including Clinton Lake, which was glorious. I was swimming daily, even well into September, for early-morning laps at various outdoor pools, with a few days with temperatures at 54 degrees. Polar Bear Club, party of one.

By autumn, I was exploring indoor swimming options, and despite being a planner, the idea of scheduling lap swims, especially a day or so in advance, simply seemed like too much work.

Looking for something new and different to try that felt pandemic safe, was outdoors and involved exercise, I took horseback-riding lessons in Tolono (once with my 16-year-old grandson) on Beau, a very forgiving animal.

No, I was not that little girl who grew up loving horses. Quite the contrary. At age 7, I was seriously traumatized by my best friend’s horseback-riding adventure gone terribly wrong; I carried this horrific misfortune with me for 61 years!

My son, grandson and I went to play mini golf on a warm but extremely windy November morning. Walking there against the wind, and then trying to maneuver the ball and outguess the wind, was a somewhat challenging experience, but fun nonetheless. I was surprised to learn that the mini-golf place is open all year.

Though not a frequent pickleball player, I have friends who play regularly, and when cold weather set in later this autumn, they bundled up and were still playing outdoors. Thanksgiving Day, I was headed to my socially-distanced holiday celebration and noticed tennis courts in Urbana completely filled with players as evening approached.

I was excited when my gym re-opened after Illinois moved to Phase 4, but in short time, state health officials required that group fitness classes be on hiatus. Very disappointing!

People in our class, mostly over 50 years old, convinced our instructor to continue it via Zoom. I was lukewarm to the idea. It just didn’t sound that fun, but I was willing to give it a try.

There we all were, about a dozen of us in our living rooms, bedrooms and basements, wearing our exercise garb and some of us in our comfy pajamas, Zooming in for about an hour of weightlifting done to peppy music from the 1960s and ’70s. One woman had her two hefty energetic pooches in her room that at one point knocked over the device she was using for the Zoom call.

Some of us muted our devices, but some did not, and the groans as we stretched our aging muscles made us all chuckle as we worked out. We ended with mat exercises, and I was flabbergasted to notice so much dust hanging from my ceiling fan that I otherwise wouldn’t have noticed!

During the pandemic, we’ve liberated our creative juices to find safe ways for maintaining our mental and physical fitness.

Debra Karplus is an occupational therapist and freelance writer living in Champaign-Urbana. Learn more at

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