Fitness clubs don't charge those smoked out by fires

When the wildfires had many Napa County residents locking up and leaving town because of poor air quality Monday, Tony Giovannoni opened the doors to HealthQuest Fitness Center for free workouts.

“I got a call from my brother-in-law (David Troppy) in the middle of the night and he said ‘You might want to think about getting your stuff together,’ so I took a walk outside,” Giovannoni said Friday about seeing the Partrick Fire for the first time. “We live out in Carneros so it was a couple of miles away, but you could definitely see it up in the hills.

“We were fortunate that we never lost power here and have been able to remain open. We heard other places were shutting down, so we’ve been waiving our guest fees and letting anyone come in for free all week. We’re going to be here anyway, so it’s easy to do.”

Giovannoni opened HealthQuest in 1990 in the River Park Center with Troppy, a local chiropractor, before moving it to 3175 California Blvd.

“Every disaster we’ve been through, I’ve kinda done the same thing – the flood, the earthquake,” Giovannoni said. “I think it’s in my DNA because my dad used to own Giovannoni’s Market down at Oak and Brown streets in Old Town (Napa), and he worked every single Easter and Christmas. He wanted to make sure his customers didn’t leave and still got what they needed from him. Part of it is that, and part of it is you just want to do what’s right.

“We knew (the air quality) was an issue and just figured we’d do what we could. We weren’t very busy anyway, and people don’t like to miss their training. Some people look for any excuse not to work out, and then there are others who go through withdrawals. But it would be miserable to try to run out there right now, that’s for sure.”

With thousands of paying members at the club, Giovannoni didn’t go out and advertise that he was giving away HealthQuest’s $21 day passes. He didn’t have to, being a longtime track and field coach with Napa Track Club and the Napa High and Justin-Siena track and field programs.

Working out at HealthQuest Fitness Center on Friday are Napa High cross country runners, foreground to rear, Molly McGrath, Jane McLoughlin, Emma Sarazin and Heidi Hirsohn.

Working out at HealthQuest Fitness Center on Friday are Napa High cross country runners, foreground to rear, Molly McGrath, Jane McLoughlin, Emma Sarazin and Heidi Hirsohn.

“It’s just kinda gone organically,” he said, noting that Napa High cross country head coach Roger Ruegg and his wife Loreen are members at the club. “Roger knew about it right away, so he started sending his (Napa High runners) down, and then I saw (Vintage cross country head coach) Brian Pruyn in here on the treadmill. We’ve had a bunch of runners from Justin-Siena, too, so I think the word’s just kinda trickled out.”

Those under age 18 need to have a liability waiver signed by a parent or guardian. Not everything one usually gets for a $21 day pass is available, either.

“We’re not fully open,” Giovannoni said. “We had to cancel all of our classes because we have so many instructors who are dealing with either fires or a lot of them have young kids so they’re getting them out of town or whatever. We don’t have child care, either, and we’ve also shut the (outdoor) pools. We’re just really fortunate that we were able to stay open and keep things fairly close to normal.”

Giovannoni said the club was like a communications center at first.

“I think Monday and Tuesday we had more people in here charging phones and watching TV and using our land line and wi-fi than we had working out. All the (coffee shops) were closed, but we’ve got a little café with free coffee,” he said, adding that the club sometimes reminds him of a former sitcom. “It’s kinda like ‘Cheers,’ with people who don’t really have any connection other than that they come here. It’s that form of community where that’s where they get their news, or they come and BS and talk about the day’s events. It’s a home away from home, especially for the senior members.”

Giovannoni said the day passes would be free as long as it was unsafe to exercise outdoors.

“I’ve heard it might be a few weeks before they get all the fires extinguished and wrapped up, and I don’t know how long the smoke will hang around. We’ll do it at least through this weekend, and on Monday we will reassess. If (air quality) conditions are still bad and it looks like we can accommodate additional guests without negatively affecting our regular members, we will proceed on a day-to-day basis. We’ll allow the cross-country teams free usage as long as they need it.”

From left, Vintage head coach Brian Pruyn, Mary Deeik, assistant coach Ana Palafox and Josephine Borsetto train at HealthQuest.

From left, Vintage head coach Brian Pruyn, Mary Deeik, assistant coach Ana Palafox and Josephine Borsetto train at HealthQuest.

It gave Ruegg’s Indians and Pruyn’s Crushers a chance to train after Wednesday’s Monticello Empire League dual meets were canceled due to fire danger – Napa High was to visit Rodriguez at Fairfield’s Rockville Hills Park and Vintage was to host Armijo at Napa’s Alston Park.

“It’s been fantastic,” Ruegg said Friday of HealthQuest’s free admission. “Our guys kinda sat around for three days and then we found out Tony had opened his doors, and so he said ‘Yeah, come on down.’ We’ve been there the last couple of days, with six or seven kids both days – some of our more motivated runners, who have potential to go further in the season, just to keep them on track. I didn’t want to show up with 40 kids and monopolize all the treadmills. That would be asking too much of Tony and their facility and their members. Same with Vintage.”

Ruegg said the boys he brought Thursday couldn’t seem to get enough of the treadmill after so much down time.

“I just wanted them to do an easy seven- or eight-(minute mile), but they started hammering away and they finished with like a 5:30,” he said. “I said ‘Well, I think you had some pent-up energy to burn off.’ Not quite what I was looking for, but that’s all right.”

Ruegg said the Indians would try to run outside on Saturday. “We’ll get some parents and see if we can get out to where there’s not a lot of smoke.”

There’s a lot of excitement for the Napa High runners with their Big Game meet against Vintage scheduled this Wednesday at Alston Park. But as far as Ruegg and Pruyn knew Friday, the dual meet could be pushed back or even canceled.


“It depends on the skies, if it’s still hazy,” Ruegg said. “We may push it off to Friday, we may push it off to Saturday, who knows? It’s just like this unfolding disaster, an hour-by-hour thing. We could pull the trigger Wednesday at noon and say ‘Let’s do it,’ tell the kids to go over to the park and just knock it out.”

Or Thursday, even if rain is in the forecast.

“Oh, that would be awesome. That would be ideal,” Ruegg said. “We would love to do that.”

The coach said Napa and Vintage runners have been cordial running into each other at HealthQuest.

“We want to beat them and they want to beat us, but this (week) is an extraordinary situation and we’re not going to wear our game faces into HealthQuest. We’re glad each other is running.”

Pruyn said junior Ryan Olson discovered the fitness club’s offer on Tuesday while searching for a place to run.

“The students actually ran there for a couple of days without me even being there as a coach because they wanted to get out of the house and maintain whatever sense of normalcy they could through these times,” Pruyn said. “One thing you’ve seen these past couple of years is when the town of Napa needs to bond together, we definitely do that. It’s great that people like the Giovannonis at HealthQuest help not just high school athletes – because of his connection from working with Napa High School – but are telling the whole community ‘Come on down, be healthy, be safe and get a break from the madness that we’re going through.’”

Pruyn said a few people have told him the facility is so nice that they might join after the fires are over.

“It’s an amazingly nice facility,” he said. “I used to be a member there before I left for college, so I haven’t been there for 15 years. It’s been remodeled and it’s nice to see how much equipment they have and how nice the facility is. It’s definitely worth checking out while the doors are still open to everyone. I definitely try to get out five six, sometimes seven days a week.

“Same thing with Shari Costanzo, my co-coach, who is training for the New York Marathon right now. It’s been a goal of hers for many, many years to qualify for it. She teaches at Vichy Elementary, which is in one of the harder-hit communities, so she’s putting in these super long runs on treadmills while shopping for families and I think she’s even hosting a family right now that was evacuated. She has a 22-mile run that she’s supposed to do tomorrow and she hasn’t decided if it’s going to be on a treadmill at HealthQuest or (outside).”

Pruyn said the number of Vintage runners who have taken up HealthQuest’s offer has had several factors.

“It’s not that we’re limiting it to 6-10 athletes. That’s just the amount of kids that have been willing to get outdoors or get to HealthQuest and get it done that are still in town,” he said. “Some have left town to try to find healthy air with relatives who live far away.

“It’s nice to see the commitment that the kids are willing to put in as well as the willingness to get out there and continue to move around and keep a sense of normalcy as best they can.”

The new In-Shape Health Club in south Napa is open to letting athletes accompanied by coaches work out there for free during the fires.

“Any coach who has a team or players they want to bring in should contact the club manager and we will do our best to accommodate them – indefinitely, until the air is safe for exercising one’s normal routine,” said Kris Mulkey, vice president of marketing for In-Shape. “We prefer them to be kids ages 14 and up. We’ve been letting the firefighters and first responders come in and use our showers, so we’re trying to accommodate anyone who needs help.”

Mulkey said the Vintage girls water polo team was one of the first to take up the offer to swim laps in In-Shape’s indoor pool.

“They were more than happy to help out their community and work with our athletes,” Crushers head coach Sarah Tinloy said. “I am currently a member there and have a lot of respect for the staff. They train their customers well and are extremely knowledgeable. They have fantastic customer service.

“My team hasn’t been practicing and actually skipped our tournament this weekend since a bunch of the girls were displaced, but we will back at it Tuesday afternoon. The girls want to get back in and be with each other. They have been in constant communication with each other acting as a support group and will remain banded strong and supportive.”

She had good news when asked if her parents, Bob and Liza Saunders – Vintage’s longtime swimming head coach – still had their house on Atlas Peak Road.

“They are living with me at the moment but were able to get up to their house, which Cal Fire saved early Tuesday morning,” Tinloy said.

Jasper Trout