Abilene veteran finds camaraderie, comfort at the gym after pandemic isolation


ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) — An Abilene veteran says being able to get back to the gym has helped him recover from the severe isolation he felt during the pandemic.

After a year in which people spent months confined at home, the fitness industry is seeing an increase in members just as they would in January, right around New Year’s Day. 

“The struggle for me was the lack of interaction, human interaction with other people,” says Bear Meltz.   

Meltz, a retired disabled veteran and single father, says he and other veterans rely on that interaction to maintain their mental health.

“And whenever it’s taken away from us, it’s kind of like taking the rug out from underneath someone that’s finally found their safe haven.”

Meltz says without that comfort, he found himself struggling with his mental health while at home in quarantine with his daughter.   

“And that’s really what the gym brought me: a friendly smile, a banter of 5-minute conversation here or there in the locker room with a friend or someone with a common goal, versus a telephone or screen. You can’t get the same communication from a screen then you can from a human,” Meltz says.  

Director of Taylor County Veterans Affairs Bryan Massey says veterans are used to living in close quarters.

“Society is telling you to stay in your house and don’t go anywhere, don’t do anything and everything closes early. That’s not how veterans are geared, mostly,” says Massey.   

Massey says he was not surprised to hear about the impact of isolation on veterans and what they had to cope with to get through.  

“It has to be horrible for there to be social distancing and you not be able to see anybody or socialize with anyone,” Massey says.  

After restrictions were lifted and gyms were opened again, it was his daughter Evelyn that pushed Meltz to return to the gym.

“I wake up really early so I can get ready before dad,” says Evelyn.   

Meltz says he’s grateful he and his daughter can share this experience together again. 

“Crunch is giving her what COVID kind of took away: It is giving her that opportunity to socialize with children,” Meltz says. 

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