Tales from the Gym: Shane and Sara May

Shane and Sara May have their fingerprints in the Cottage Grove community in many places. The couple owns Emerald Fitness Club, a 20,000-square-foot gym. On top of owning the gym with Sara, Shane has also been involved in the Cottage Grove Area Chamber of Commerce, is frequently seen helping out at Cottage Grove basketball and volleyball games, owns his own real estate business, and also teaches business classes at the local high school and middle school from time to time.

“We do have a love for this community,” Sara said. “It’s where we raised our kids; it’s safe. Shane just has this knack for community. He’s gifted with kids. His calling should have been a teacher or something, but now he’s given that opportunity.”

The couple bought the gym in 2016. Back then there were two locations, one in Cottage Grove and one in Creswell. The previous owner of the gyms originally wanted to only sell the Cottage Grove location, which at the time was located on Main Street. But after some convincing, Shane and Sara were able to buy both locations.

Before owning the gym, Shane had a history of playing sports and coaching. Sara had been a certified Cross Fit trainer and taught classes at Anytime Fitness. But the couple detected an opportunity to bring something new to the area.

“It’s been a healthy addition to the community. This is not just a gym; this building has saved so many people,” Sara said as she looked out to the gym. “Rene out there, she is going through cancer treatment. … She said, ‘If I didn’t have the gym I don’t know what I would do’. She has been stronger and able to fight this better than anybody. Her doctors are blown away by her recovery. There is this other couple Sue and David who met in the gym. She has MS [Multiple Sclerosis], she is amazing.”

“Our older people, some have little social life. Some of them go to the grocery store, some of them have church. But during COVID, they failed big time because they didn’t have this social circle that they have here. Just having that appointment, a couple times a week, they get to come and hang out with their friends, is huge, “ said Sara. “That’s why we do what we do. It’s not financial; we want people to be as healthy as they can, also for them to live as long as they can and live great lives.”

The gym has changed locations a few times. In 2019, it moved into their current location on E. Palmer Ave. The facility is 20,000 sq. feet and features large amounts of cardio, weights, a studio, and basketball court.

“We knew that this would be a space that we could stay in and not outgrow it. This was the facility that was the size we needed to get where we wanted to offer Cottage Grove,” Sara said.

However, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States, Shane and Sara had to shut down the gym for many months.

According to the Global Health and Fitness Association, “In 2019, there were over 40,000 fitness facilities. As of July 1, 2021, 22% of gyms and studios had permanently closed their doors.” Looking further at their statistics, “in the first six months of 2021 alone, the number of fitness studios that went out of business rose another 8%, reaching a total of 27% of studio closures.”

“It felt like my insides were ripped out. My heart hurt for all these people that were in this routine and were making all these relationships here, or for those that needed it for therapy. For many of us it’s our way of dealing with emotional and physical issues. Not having this, it affected people huge,” said Sara.

“Obviously the business part was so painful, but we were like, we can’t even offer this for people. It went from this huge momentum when we opened in October of 2019 here. We had a huge influx of people, people were happy, we were thriving, then all the sudden it was like we are done. Coming in here and turning off the lights, I just sat here and sobbed. It felt awful in every aspect.”

However, while it wasn’t an easy time, Emerald Fitness Club did survive.

“We got together with a few gym owners from Eugene and Springfield, as well as a few from California. We would meet up or do Zoom calls. That was one thing that was cool about COVID — gyms decided to work as a group rather than be in competition. It was cool to sit in groups with gym owners and be like, ‘What do we do?’”

Even when the gym reopened, masks were mandated in gyms, so the gym lost membership. For reasons unrelated to COVID-19, Shane and Sara had to close their Creswell location, but the gym in Cottage Grove still remains open and is going strong.

“Our slogan is ‘where friends gather.’ We have huge high school and middle school groups that come in and it’s a healthy, safe place for them. I’d rather have them be here than be out there doing whatever else it is they could be doing,” Sara continued. 

The gym has hosted various high school sports teams over time, including the Cottage Grove High School cross country team this fall when it was too smoky out for the team to practice outdoors.

“This is our gateway for helping and being part of our community. Touching lives a little bit at a time. Making small differences,” Sara said. “When you walk in here, we’ve created an environment that is safe, happy, healthy, and healthy. It does not matter where you are at, you are going to be welcomed here.”

“My favorite thing is I love walking into the classroom and seeing all the faces and seeing the people pushing each other. I love seeing people think they can’t do something and then doing it, like a week later. For my seniors, it’s seeing them walking with a limp or having a hurt shoulder to fully functioning. I have people today, who were like ‘I went to my physical therapist and they asked what I was doing. I think it’s just the feel good rewards from seeing people in here doing things to better themselves, and to be happy and healthy,Sara concluded.

For more information, visit https://www.emeraldfitness.club