The Etkos have been at the heart of the Oldmeldrum community for 13 years. It was the last year they felt its support the most.
As many sports and fitness facilities have, Etko Sports Academy has faced numerous challenges and been forced to adapt because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Its 1,000-plus members have not been able to attend in-person but have instead benefitted from practises put into place by Laura and Vio Etko, as they strived to be more flexible to online fitness.
Gymnastics and wrestling classes have proved popular online, as they seek to cater for a wide range of ages and interests.
The true value of sport is more than the skills that young people learn #SaveOurSports
“We can’t believe the response we’ve gotten,” said Laura. “You can have all these online platforms and fancy programmes but the key is engagement. Our members have gone above and beyond.
“When you get a picture (from a gym member) and one of the parents is getting involved, that’s fantastic.
“Community has been the key to our business. We’ve been based here for 13 years and it’s the community that’s made it. We have over 1,000 members a week participating and they’re very loyal.
“You realise at times like this how close the community is. They really do stick by you. That definitely got us through the first lockdown and we’re hoping they do it again.”
Both Laura and Vio have strong backgrounds in competitive sport. Laura represented Scotland at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Malaysia, while Etko is a British champion wrestler and picked up a bronze medal for Scotland at Glasgow 2014.
He has seen first-hand the importance of their classes, particularly for their younger members.
“They may be overwhelmed with school work but when it comes to doing their favourite activity like wrestling or gymnastics, they love that,” he said.
“With all the stress being added to their daily routine, not being able to go out and see their friends, it gives them a chance to look forward to something. That’s a big bonus for those children.”
The sport-specific classes like gymnastics and wrestling were the most popular during the first lockdown, with more girls taking part, however there has been a noticeable increase across the classes and age groups this time.
Laura said: “We’ve really tried to get our business online but we tried to do that during the last lockdown. Even prior to that, we’ve developed an online training programme; our members have got access to videos and pictures where we advise them what to do. They send in their efforts and we mark them as we go along.
“Our membership base is from three month to retirees, so it’s a huge age group. We’re aware there’s not one thing that suits everyone. We offer Zoom sessions but also weekly activities, for people who want to do it at their own pace.
“Our key aim is to keep physically literate at this point. It’s not about going crazy with their fitness – I think it’s important to have the key skills to keep them moving.
“We don’t know the future – we’re trying to take it day by day, week by week. It’s so difficult to plan but you’ve just got to try and keep doing the best with your members.”
Vio added: “It kind of gives you a purpose for being. It’s a case of providing a service for the community and we’re very appreciative of the customer base. They buy into what we believe.”