New Brunswick

Pandemic silver linings: isolation spurs creative new projects

Two years of COVID restrictions have forced many to re-evaluate their lives and change course. Meet three New Brunswickers who have embraced that extra time at home, and taken on the challenges of isolation by starting new projects.

Meet the people behind a cross-country book club, a band and a fitness business, all borne out of COVID

Kerry Maher, who grew up in Bathurst and went to university in Fredericton, was devastated when COVID closed her restaurant. But the golf pro-turned-fitness instructor says her new business has become the best part of every day. (Submitted by Kerry Maher)

Two years of COVID restrictions have forced many to re-evaluate their lives and change course.

Meet three New Brunswickers who have embraced that extra time at home, and taken on the challenges of isolation by starting new projects.

Pandemic project 1: Kerry Maher gets vertical

On a sunny morning in March 2020, Kerry Maher found herself in tears in her living room. The pandemic had closed her Halifax restaurant and, like all of us, she had no idea what the future held.

That's when she heard her mother's voice in her head saying, "Now what?"

Maher could have stayed in her comfy chair with her coffee, but instead she listened to her mom and asked herself, "What makes me feel better?"

This group of people have been literally pushing me to push them to push me to push them — I'm not sure who is pushing who but I feel so inspired by this group of now 200 women.- Kerry Maher

"Get up, get dressed, get your workout clothes on. Go outside, grab your weights and just hang out out there with all of that. And so I did."

The problem was Maher didn't want to hang out alone. So she propped up her phone, and hovered her finger over the Facebook live button, wondering if someone else out there might want to work out too.

"I'm like, 'Do I even have any friends? Will anybody say hi to me? I'm so lonely. I miss people,'" she said with a laugh remembering that moment. 

Part 2 of Vanessa Blanch's series on pandemic projects features out-of-work restauranteur Kerry Maher who has reinvented herself as a fitness guru.

Then Maher, who grew up in Bathurst and went to university in Fredericton, said her "negative Nelly voice" kicked in.

"You're too chicken, you're not wearing the right clothes … don't do it. Your ex-boyfriends will see you. You look old now, your high school friends will look at this and they'll say, 'Oh, look at those wrinkles, look how old she looks.'"

Maher says in that moment her heart starting pounding and she knew there was no turning back.

"I said, 'You know what? I haven't been this excited about anything in a month. I'm frickin' pressing the button.' And so I did."

On that first day, Maher, who is a golf pro, led her older sister and an old friend from high school through a few golf stretches and some cardio. At the end, everyone felt great, and they made a plan to do it again the next day at noon.

When the next day rolled around, Maher's enthusiasm had waned, and she told her she wasn't doing it.

"I'm like, No, we're not. I'm quitting. And she's like, 'I need you, Ker.' And this is my older sister who is living alone … and I remember thinking, 'Uh oh, this is now going to be a thing. I can feel it.'"

Every morning, Kerry Maher goes to her garage and spends 20 minutes talking to women across the country about what they are grateful for before spending the next 30 minutes working out. She says it is the best part of her day. (Submitted by Kerry Maher)

Nearly two years later, it has become "a thing," with more than 200 women now subscribing to Maher's daily, 30-minute workouts.

She believes the secret of her success has been the 20 minutes they spend before the workout sharing three things they are grateful for. That too, Maher said, got off to a rocky start.

"I remember my sister-in-law saying, 'Are you crazy? I can't think of three things I'm grateful for every day.' And I'm like, 'You just got to dig deep and think, I'm grateful for my teeth. I'm grateful for my eyeballs — that kind of stuff.'"

That part of the morning has now become the "most transformative" part of the workout, Maher said, with people expressing gratitude for everything from cozy fleece sheets, to a day of skiing with their children.

"This group of people have been literally pushing me to push them to push me to push them — I'm not sure who is pushing who but I feel like so inspired by this group of now 200 women," she said.

Kerry Maher says she has used the social media skills she gained as a restaurateur to promote her new workouts and connect with women across the country. (Submitted by Kerry Maher)

Now Maher says this business and the support she feels from all of her "warriors" has made the struggles of her Freshii restaurant franchise bearable, and made the pandemic something she believes she can get through.

"In that chair when I was drinking my coffee, it could have spiralled out of control into depression. It could have. But I sat there and I made a decision, and I'm like, 'I'm not doing it that way. I'm going this way somehow.'

"I have never been happier in my life because of that 30-minute movement every day." 

Pandemic project 2: Sea to Sea book club

When the pandemic hit, Mary Ann Archibald of Halifax found herself very isolated. As an artist and writer, she has spent most of the past two years working from home, with only her cats for company.

"It's almost like you're living underwater and you have to do that much more effort to get to air," she said. "It's heavy lifting all the time just to do ordinary things.

Her need for connection led her to create a book club that helped to alleviate the loneliness of the pandemic.

The Sea to Sea Book Club now has about 20 members from Cape Spear to Vancouver Island. Founder Mary Ann Archibald, top left, says the connection with others has helped her through the isolation of the pandemic. (Submitted by Mary Ann Archibald)

It's called the Sea to Sea book club, with members from Cape Spear all the way to Vancouver Island.

Friend and book club member Holly Grasse of Fredericton said the club has been something to look forward to, and a way to meet and talk to people she otherwise wouldn't have met.

"Some people have a glass of wine, some people have a cup of tea," Grasse said of their monthly get-togethers over Zoom. "It's an interesting group of people — we don't necessarily know each other we just all have this one common person that we all know."

In the first in a series on pandemic projects, CBC's Vanessa Blanch has the story of an unconventional book club whose members have found camaraderie and comfort from coast to coast.

Grasse said people like Archibald, who bring others together, have been critical over the past two years.

"You need this other way to connect and talk about something that you're doing other than work, Grasse said. "It's time to come together and share — it's a time to meet these different people that I wouldn't meet in another situation."

Archibald hopes the book club will continue, even after the pandemic ends. For now though, she treasures the "sense of normalcy" it brings her.

"Life is a paradox and sometimes a horrible thing happens. But as a result of horrible things happening — something nice results from it. That's kind of what the book club represents for me." 

Pandemic project 3: Naked By the Fire

For three twenty-somethings the pandemic has turned out to be a gift of time to pursue their love of music.

Jacob Leger of Fredericton, Jeremy Earley of Toronto and Clayton Flett of Victoria all work as tree-planters in northern British Columbia for three months each summer.

Members of the band, Naked By the Fire, from left to right, are Clayton Flett of Victoria, Jeremy Earley of Toronto and Jacob Leger of Fredericton. The trio plant trees in northern British Columbia for three months each year and spend the rest of their time making music. (Submitted by Jacob Leger/Arielle Beaupre)

Earley and Leger met as students at the University of King's College in Halifax, and started jamming together. But they never took music seriously.

"I think the pandemic kind of gave us the space that was necessary to take the leap," said Leger. "When the pandemic hit it was like, well ,we have this time to ourselves. We just finished planting, so we were financially stable, and then all of the sudden we can kind of do whatever we want."

Earley said normally, they would have taken their "pocket full of cash" and gone travelling, but the pandemic altered those plans.

"The pandemic took away that possibility and we were like, 'What do we really want to do? Well, we love this music thing. Let's do it.' And then we had all the time in the world to do it and now it's got all this momentum."

When the pandemic took away the possibility of travel, Jeremy Earley, Clayton Flett and Jacob Leger turned to music. Now they are recording an album and say the pandemic was a gift that gave them the time to focus on something they love. (Submitted by Jacob Leger/Matthew Leblanc)

Their band, Naked By the Fire, toured in the fall of 2021, and they are now working on an album they hope to release in mid-March.

Drummer Flett said he's been in many bands that have "fizzled," but this group has "straight up chemistry," which has kept them going.

"I think I speak for all of when I say I don't think there's anything else we'd rather do," said Earley.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Vanessa Blanch is a reporter based in Moncton. She has worked across the country for CBC for more than 20 years. If you have story ideas to share please email: vanessa.blanch@cbc.ca

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