NIAGARA FALLS — Local gym owners like Niagara Falls staple Ray Casal are hoping for a June 1st reopening date, with restrictions, in a best-case scenario.
Casal's passion and dedication for amateur and professional fighting motivated him to begin training about a half century ago. He open his first gym 30 years ago and ultimately, his historic Maryland Avenue gym about a decade ago.
“I'm just getting here now, today. I gotta get out of my house!” said the Lockport native Casal this week in a phone interview from his Falls' gym office.
“I've never taken a vacation in 48 years doing this. My vacation was the traveling I did with fighters to shows, so to say all of a sudden, ‘Hey, turn the light switch off’ in March was devastating,” Casal said.
Just a few months ago, Casal was truly enjoying the fruits of his successful life-long labor of love, with a membership that was fluctuating between 150 and 200 people, as well as about 30 dedicated fighters in his stable and more than a dozen coaches.
Today, like small businesses everywhere around the world, Casal's spacious gym — a place teaming with youthful enthusiasm on most days — is mostly a cold, dark place these days and empty due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
“The day before I closed the gym in March I had two gym classes here, one with 39 people and another with 40 people, so I've been shut down down now for seven weeks,” Casal said. “The good news is, having spoken to my members and their families, none have been sick.”
As others have expressed, Casal believes the virus may have been around longer than originally believed.
“My gym was going strong last November and I was averaging 80 people a day,” Casal said. “In January, that dropped to about 20 a day for many weeks. A lot of the members said they were getting sick.”
Casal said in his contacts with USA Boxing — the national governing body for Olympic-style amateur boxing — gyms like his may be allowed to reopen, with restrictions, as soon as June 1.
“A lot of the parents have called me — and said they're ready to bring the kids back,” Casal quipped. “They're ready to go. They're not being affected by everything that's going on like the adults.”
Casal said the June reopening will come with changes, if it moves forward.
“Maybe 20 people will be allowed at a time. We have a lot of room and the ability to space everyone apart safely. I think we'll be able to start with six classes a day and of course, we'll keep track of everyone who comes in and on what day and on what equipment, so if someone gets sick, we'll know exactly what classes they were in and who they were in contact with,” Casal said.
“We're also well known for running a clean operation. Nothing's changed here in that regard. People who know me know I've always been that way. I'm an ex-Marine.”
Casal opened his first gym in 1982 on Niagara Falls Boulevard in Wheatfield. He'll celebrate his eighth anniversary at his Niagara Falls' Maryland Avenue location this July.
For more information on Casal's gym, call Ray at 990-3112.