Michael Moberg and the power of why

The first time Michael Moberg set foot in a CrossFit box, he was a college student at the University of St. Francis in Joilet, Illinois, he’d just been leveled by a breakup, and he weighed more than 400 pounds.

Moberg, who now coaches at CrossFit Salvo and plays goalie for FC Denver, had done sports his whole life. He was the goalkeeper for St. Francis’s men’s soccer team. But he had always been the “out of shape, overweight kid.” That’s how others knew him, and as much as he wanted to shake off the identity, it was also how he knew himself.

Looking back, Moberg credits the beginning of his transformation to his breakup. He went to CrossFit Alpha Dog (Lombard, Illinois) on a mission to show his ex how much she was missing. Before he knew it, he was on a journey to self-improvement that involved far more than post-breakup spite and numbers on a scale.

There are two Michael Mobergs in this story: Michael Moberg before CrossFit, and Michael Moberg during CrossFit (after CrossFit won’t happen until it’s impossible for him to move).

Before CrossFit, Moberg described himself as angry at the world and ruled by both food and his emotions. His father died when Moberg was a kid, and that loss drove his anger—not just because his dad was gone, but because: “He chose alcohol over us, his kids.”

Moberg buried the loss, even as it fueled his anger.

CrossFit gave Moberg control—over himself, his emotions, his body. He walked into CrossFit Alpha Dog that first day looking to prove something to his ex. A snatching session and Fran WOD later, and Moberg was laid out on the floor, in love all over again.

“Everybody’s got their workout that they realized, this is what we want to do,” he said. “Mine, unfortunately, was Fran, and it slapped me in the face really, really hard.”

He had another year of college to go, staying an extra semester to help coach his soccer team, graduating December 2013. After that first CrossFit session, he was hooked, but not ready to totally jump on board. He followed Alpha Dog’s programming online and did the workouts in the basement gym at St. Francis, next to football players doing powerlifting and track and field athletes doing plyometrics. Did he get weird looks? You bet. He also began to see results; the number on the scale gradually ticked downward, and he felt better, physically, mentally, emotionally.

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His last summer before graduating, he started showing up to Alpha Dog three or four hours a day to train. That fall, he kept working out in the basement gym. The semester sped by. His future was staring him in the face. He had decisions to make.

Stay in Chicagoland or go somewhere new?

“I had been judged for so many years for who I was,” Moberg said. The out of shape, overweight kid. “And I had put so much effort into changing that lifestyle and living a healthy lifestyle, but I was still seen as this, you know, bigger person.”

He’d been to Colorado before, come out a few times since elementary school to snowboard and spend time in the mountains. He didn’t have family here or lifelong friends, but he was looking for a fresh start, a place where he could work on himself without other people dragging him down with their low expectations.

“Three days after I graduated college, I packed up my Mustang and drove out here.”

Now, four years later, he’s made his home in Brighton and left a well-paying job in business to coach full-time at CrossFit Salvo.

Since starting CrossFit, he’s lost more than 200 pounds.

“I’m told every single day that I’m not the same person,” he said, “that I was a certain person for that first portion of my life, and once I found health and fitness—and specifically CrossFit—I’ve become a completely different person.”

There’s the fact that he’s healthier. He no longer weighs 400-plus pounds. But he’s proudest of the emotional and mental change: His moods and appetites aren’t the governing forces in his life; he’s happier, more disciplined, balanced.

Michael Moberg today is a fun, outgoing person who likes to get other people excited about what he’s excited about. He loves sharing his passion every day through coaching, and enjoys witnessing the physical changes in his personal training clients and the CrossFitters in his classes.

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On a recent episode of Lewis Howes’s School of Greatness podcast, eight-time CrossFit Games competitor and 2008 champion Jason Khalipa talked about the power of “why”, particularly the need for competitors to have a strong internal reason for doing whatever they’re doing:

“When you’re 10 reps away from finishing the event and someone over there has a similar fitness as you, but [your competitor] has a strong, deep ‘why’ … they’re going to be able to push harder.”

Moberg’s “why” started pretty shallow: Prove the ex wrong, or something along those lines. Then, he started realizing that working out made him feel good, and he started hitting the gym for his own benefit.

His first fitness goal wasn’t to lose a bunch of weight.

“My goal was to be able to run a 5K. And then my goal was to be able to power clean 300 pounds. And then my goal was to run a half marathon. And then my goal was to do Fran [in] under 10 minutes. And then it was under five minutes.”

Somewhere along the way, he lost 218 pounds and his “why” grew deeper:

Moberg wants to be a better father than his was. No, he doesn’t have kids. But he’s already made the decision for if and when he does.

“I spent so much time being negative that I just want to put nothing but positivity back out there,” he said. “There is an end goal: to be the best person that I can be—not only for me, but for those that I influence.”

Right now, those that he influences include staff and athletes at CrossFit Salvo, personal training clients, his family and friends, his girlfriend, his teammates at FC Denver, and everyone else in between.

To those setting out in the new year to lose weight or get in shape, he offers this advice:

“Be ready for the challenges. Understand that it’s not going to be a walk in the park. … Find that why. Find that reason and make it really, really strong. … Remind yourself of that and … find those little victories that you can celebrate along the way.”

Now, get after it.

‘Tis the season to be WOD-ing: Denver-area CrossFit events this holiday season.

If incoming Christmas cookies, candy canes, and other holiday treats have you concerned about getting out of shape this holiday season, don’t worry.

These holiday-themed events are enough to keep you busy (and sore) all season long, while giving back to the community—and they’re only a selection of the CrossFit events happening this December. (See more here.)

Toys for Tots 2WOD for Toys for Tots

When: Saturday, December 2 Where: CrossFit Salvo
Registration: Closed November 20—but you can still come and watch!

Help spread holiday cheer by participating in CrossFit Salvo’s sixth annual WOD 4 Toys for Tots—or if you missed registration, just show up at CrossFit Salvo on December 2 to donate a new toy and watch the action.

The competition pits four-person teams (two males, two females) against each other. Each team receives holiday-themed T-shirts, and a sled to represent Santa’s sleigh is incorporated into the workout. A portion of the proceeds are used to buy new toys that are donated to Toys for Tots.

Who it benefits: Toys for Tots, a program run by the Marine Corps that distributes toys to children whose parents can’t afford Christmas gifts.

Learn more at wodfortoys4tots.com.

Jingle all the Weights 4Jingle All the Weights 2017

When: Saturday, December 9 Where: Fort Collins CrossFit
Registration: $110 per team. Sign up at jinglealltheweights.com.

Fort Collins CrossFit’s second annual Jingle All the Weights competition is an all-day event for two-person teams (one male, one female) in Rx and Scaled divisions. Participants are asked to bring new toys, nonperishable food items, or gently used winter gear to donate to Realities for Children’s Santa’s Workshop.

All workouts except one have already been announced on the event website.

Who it benefits: Realities for Children’s Santa’s Workshop is a Larimer County toy and winter gear distribution event. It is currently the largest distribution of toys to children in Northern Colorado who have been abused or neglected. In 2016, donations were distributed to more than 1,000 children in Larimer County.

Learn more at jinglealltheweights.com.

Holiday weightlifting meet2017 Alpine CrossFit Holiday Weightlifting Meet

When: Saturday, December 9 Where: Alpine CrossFit
Registration: Open until just before the event. $36.98 per competitor. Sign up here.

If you’ve always dreamed of having your lifts judged by someone in a Santa hat, here’s your chance. The seventh annual Alpine CrossFit Holiday Weightlifting Meet is a fun-filled competition for the heavy-lifting Christmas-lover. Expect Christmas decorations, holiday-themed apparel, and your favorite Christmas tunes.

All experience levels are welcome—and vendors will be on site, so you can do some Christmas shopping between lifts.

Who it benefits: The (Christmas) spirit of competition.

Learn more.

12-days-of-christmas-wod.jpg12 Days of Christmas Charity WOD

When: Saturday, December 16. 9 & 10:30 a.m. Where: CrossFit LoDo
Registration: No registration necessary. Just show up 10 minutes early to sign CrossFit LoDo’s waiver.

Don your holiday gear (think: elf shoes, jingle bell caps, and candy cane-striped anything) and show up at CrossFit LoDo for a charity WOD benefiting Urban Peak. The workout is the classic (dreaded) 12 Days of Christmas, but with holiday music and decorations setting the tone, it won’t be downright torture.

All fitness levels are welcome (including spectators). There’s no cost to participate, but donations are encouraged—as are plates of Christmas cookies.

Who it benefits: 100% of the proceeds raised through this event will be given to Urban Peak, an organization that serves youth in Denver and Colorado Springs who are experiencing homelessness.

Note: The workout pictured is from 2016 and not necessarily the 12 Days of Christmas WOD that will be used this year.

Learn more.

naughty-or-nice.jpgFaith Rx’ds Naughty or Nice

When & Where: Various dates and locations (below)
Registration: Register by December 5th to order an iconic Naughty or Nice shirt. Otherwise, just show up.

Give a gift. Get a lift. Sponsored by FaithRx’d, Naughty or Nice is a worldwide Christmas charity WOD. CrossFit boxes choose a local charity to benefit. FaithRx’d provides the workouts: Naughty is the harder workout; Nice is the scaled version.

Worldwide, more than 100 gyms are participating in Naughty or Nice. So far, 13 of those gyms are in the Denver area.

“We don’t actually require that [the gyms] do toys for kids, although that tends to be the approach this time of year,” said Sarah Almquist, the service coordinator for Faith Rx’d’s Denver chapter. “It’s really about each gym opening themself up to the community.”

Past Naughty or Nice events have involved potlucks and Christmas parties. Reach out to your gym of choice to find out what they’re doing.

Who it benefits: Each gym partners with a charity of their choice. Proceeds from shirt sales benefit Faith Rx’d.

Learn more at naughtyornice.events.

Naughty or Nice Dates and Locations

Saturday, December 2
CrossFit Ken Caryl
CrossFit Loop
CrossFit Omnia

Tuesday, December 5
CrossFit LTP

Wednesday, December 6
Sloans Lake CrossFit

Saturday, December 9
Backcountry CrossFit
CrossFit South Aurora
Mountainside CrossFit
Redstone CrossFit

Friday, December 15
CrossFit Arvada

Saturday, December 16
CrossFit Cherry Creek
CrossFit Encounter
CrossFit KADA

Photo credit: Alpine CrossFit

The MBS Turkey Challenge brings competition to the tarmac.

Jon McKeon remembers his first ever CrossFit competition. In 2005, the professional firefighter from Fort Collins started doing CrossFit with his firefighting buddies to get better at his job. (WODs better simulated firefighting situations in both timeframe and intensity than the typical bodybuilder, muscle isolation approach to working out.)

They didn’t go to a box. They went to your typical, generic gym where dropping weights was a no-no and if you walked away from the barbell to run a quick sprint on the treadmill, there was no guarantee the barbell would be there when you came back.

Then, in 2008 or 2009, on a whim, McKeon signed up for the Colorado Open at Front Range CrossFit.

“All these boxes from Denver were there,” he said, “and they had matching T-shirts and they were getting coached.”

In the warmup area, McKeon found himself straining to hear how the coaches were directing their athletes. When he got back to Fort Collins, he told his friends that they were all missing out by not using a box. Soon after, he earned his Level One certification and in 2010, opened CrossFit Evolve.

The same year CrossFit Evolve opened, the MBS Turkey Challenge happened for the first time. Also birthed from a whim, the first Turkey Challenge came to be when MBS CrossFit owner and former Marine, Pat Burke, and his workout partner decided to record themselves doing a workout that they thought was competition material: a 5K followed by the CrossFit Total.

Almost immediately after finishing the workout, they put the video online, chose a date in November, and started inviting area CrossFitters to come and compete. According to Burke, about 70 people showed up that year, a response that blew him away. They were running out of plates during the CrossFit Total and when the third, mystery WOD came along, they rolled out surprises that athletes who were there that year still remember vividly: a four-foot wall to scale between burpees and climbing ropes which at that time were hard to find in Denver boxes.

Ali Nichols, six months into CrossFit, had signed up for the Turkey Challenge as a way to meet people. She’d just moved to Denver and hadn’t yet landed at CrossFit Verve where she works out now.

“That first Turkey Challenge, no one could climb the ropes. No one,” she said.

But as soon as the competition was over and the athletes had left, determination set in. Next year, they’d be stronger. They’d conquer rope climbs, no problem.

The Turkey Challenge is Nichols’ favorite local CrossFit competition. From the programming (she always expects some sort of running) to the random movements and obstacles that are thrown into the floater WOD especially, to the overall atmosphere—she looks forward to all of it when she returns each year. She hasn’t missed a single Turkey Challenge.

Turkey Challenge 2

MBS CrossFit (Broomfield) is located in a hangar at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport. It’s not part of the airport, but its back doors—both the small, human-sized one and the one made for aircrafts that’s essentially the entire wall—open up onto the tarmac. The mountains stand in layers in the distance, nothing blocking the view but the occasional plane.

So far, every Turkey Challenge but one has taken place here at MBS. Whether or not the giant hangar door is open for the competition depends on the weather, which in mid-November can be just about anything. Rain or shine, snowstorm or 62 degrees, the Turkey Challenge goes down, and athletes can find themselves outside, doing burpees in slush on the tarmac, or inside, climbing ropes in the heat.

The workouts are designed to challenge competitors both physically and mentally. Burke’s had teams do Lego-building relays, where a teammate runs to one end to study a designed Lego structure and runs back to their team to tell them how to put a pile of Legos together to match. Success requires strong communication, memory under pressure, and an understanding of how little plastic bricks fit together.


Burke thinks of teamwork differently, a fact he credits to his military experience. It’s not just what you can do individually in a team setting; it’s how you can work with one another to overcome obstacles on the way to achieving a common goal. You’re only as strong as your weakest link.

Burke was a Marine for five years beginning in 2000. In 2004, stationed in San Diego and dealing with a back injury, he accepted the offer to do a CrossFit workout with a captain in the parking lot. Burke had always seen the guy swinging a kettlebell on the pavement and thought it was weird, but working out with him changed Burke’s mind. Soon, the captain was taking Burke on Saturdays to a box in San Diego and Burke found himself at a competition at Mission Beach Park. He won a medicine ball.

In the Marines, Burke worked as a close combat instructor and excelled at it, but when he got out of the military in 2005, he struggled to adjust to civilian life where “close combat instructor” was basically useless on his resume. He worked a series of random jobs: bodyguard, construction, teaching martial arts courses at Buckley Air Force Base. He lost his house to foreclosure. He got divorced. CrossFit was the one constant in his life, the one thing he enjoyed and felt some sense of control over.

March 2008, with his Level One certification in hand, he started approaching area gyms about teaching CrossFit. No one was interested. Then he made a deal with a man who ran a batting cage out of the hangar. He rented out 800 square feet, bought a bunch of used equipment—a rower, squat rack, some barbells, slam balls, stall mats from actual horse stalls—and opened MBS.

“I figured I’d be able to last about six months before I had to cash it in and sell the shit back on CraigsList,” Burke said. “It was kind of a last ditch effort.”

What followed were a lot of long days and nonexistent weekends spent working on MBS, making it better, spreading the word, helping it grow. Along the way, Burke competed in six CrossFit Games—2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, and 2014—which helped the gym’s visibility. In 2015, MBS CrossFit’s second location opened in Arvada. Before that, just two and half years in, MBS put on the first Turkey Challenge.

Burke is a major factor in making the Turkey Challenge happen every year, but he’s not interested in getting attention for it. His favorite part about the competition is how it brings people together.

One year, it was less than 20 degrees outside and the workouts included running followed by a deadlift ladder, where barbells of increasing weight were set up on the parking lot and athletes would work up to a max deadlift. The weights were supposed to come from Rogue, but a snowstorm delayed the delivery. MBS was scrambling to pull everything together and Burke remembers CrossFit Roots, Conviction CrossFit, and other gyms stepping up to provide the weights needed for the ladder.

An aerial shot of the deadlift ladder in action is framed on the wall in Burke’s office. It’s one of his favorite moments from the past seven Turkey Challenges.

Turkey Challenge 13

CrossFit Evolve shows up in force at the Turkey Challenge. McKeon came to the first competition in 2010, after opening Evolve, and hasn’t missed one year. His box sets up a tent and a propane heater, and its athletes wear the sort of T-shirts McKeon remembers from his first ever CrossFit competition. When an athlete expresses interest in competing, he tells them to do the Turkey Challenge.

“The programming is always really well done,” he said. “It’s always varied and there are always things that are unexpected in it, but it’s thoughtful.”

For beginners, he recommends paying close attention to heat times and getting into the warm-up area early. With multiple heats and divisions running at once and all the vendors alongside the actual competition, the Turkey Challenge has no shortage of action so it’s easy to lose track of time and neglect warming up or fueling. It can also help to find someone who’s done the challenge before.

As for the actual competition:

“It’s definitely a challenge,” he said. “You earn your Thanksgiving.”

So if you’re all about the pumpkin pie and stuffing, head over to MBS CrossFit on November 17-19. Registration to compete is closed (spots sell out almost right away), but there’s always room for one more in the crowd on the floor. Cheer on friends or strangers—or better, turn some strangers into friends. Who knows? You could find yourself competing beside them next year.

Turkey Challenge 12

Steve’s Club Denver brings CrossFit (and more) to at-risk youth

On a Wednesday morning at 25th and Geneva in Aurora, Steve’s Club volunteer coaches are welcoming a busload of middle schoolers at a cream-colored two-story building that resembles a dumpy motel. A good chunk of the kids are wearing Adidas soccer pants and Arsenal jerseys. A few in bright orange rep the Broncos.

As they come inside, they line up for bananas—which may be the first thing they’ve eaten all day—before heading into the makeshift locker rooms and getting ready for today’s session of Steve’s Club, a CrossFit program for at-risk youth.

The story of Steve’s Club Denver starts in 2007 on the East Coast in Camden, N.J., where Steve Liberati established the club’s original chapter in the community center of a public housing complex. The whole idea was to provide CrossFit training to high school athletes who couldn’t afford an affiliate membership.

A few years later, Duncan Seawell, who grew up in Denver, was living in West Hartford, Conn., and just starting his own CrossFit journey. His garage was his gym. YouTube and the CrossFit Journal were his teachers. Increasing speed, energy, and strength were his goals.

He learned about Steve’s Club through a CrossFit Journal article and, as a child and adolescent psychologist, thought the program was awesome.

He knew, before moving back to Denver with his family in 2012, that Steve’s Club didn’t exist here. Almost as soon as he plugged into the local CrossFit community—first with Bladium CrossFit, then with Project Rise Fitness—he started working to bring a Denver chapter into existence.

“It’s a kind of perfect match for what I like to do personally, in terms of CrossFit, [and] what I do professionally in terms of the mental needs of adolescents,” he said. “I was honestly a little psyched that no one had beat me to it in the Denver area.”

With his new friends from Bladium CrossFit, he formed Steve’s Club Denver’s first board of directors and began the process of becoming a local chapter aimed at serving Denver’s at-risk youth through CrossFit training and mentorship. Spring of 2015, Steve’s Club Denver gained its official status within the national organization. May 9 of that year, it officially launched.

Steve’s Club holds mid-week classes at the building at 25th and Geneva, in a unit where Project Rise Fitness formerly had its Stapleton location. The property is under eminent domain with Aurora Public Schools, which is why Project Rise left, and the landlord is letting Steve’s Club meet there for free while its fate is in limbo. According to Duncan, the building could be gone, demolished, by December.

The space is a shell of what it used to be. The only equipment still there for Steve’s Club are a lone pull-up rig with rings hanging from one side, a couple rowers, and a bucket of PVC pipes. A dry erase goals board hangs on one wall, but there aren’t any goals on it. A Steve’s Club banner hangs on the opposite wall, alone.

Believe it or not, Duncan describes this location as one of Steve’s Club’s “biggest strokes of luck.”

When Steve’s Club started, the building also housed a learning center for Hope Online Learning Academy, a K-12 charter school that provides students a combination of face-to-face and online instruction. The proximity led to a partnership between Hope and Steve’s Club: Every Wednesday, throughout the school year, the school sends about 40 middle school students and 30 high school students to the club.

This is just one location. Steve’s Club also holds classes for Third Way Center, both in their locked residential treatment facility on Lowry and at CrossFit Broadway, where their unlocked residents are bused from Joan Farley Academy, just five blocks away. CrossFit Watchtower is the club’s newest location (shout-out Kevin Ogar), and CrossFit Stapleton is the club’s functional home base. Steve’s Club varsity athletes—kids who demonstrate interest in being involved outside of their school’s requirements—are granted membership to CrossFit Stapleton and have special classes there on Saturday mornings where they work on Olympic lifts and run through a typical CrossFit MetCon. When the club no longer has access to the old Project Rise location, the Hope students will most likely be bused to CrossFit Stapleton for their Wednesday sessions.

Luiz Sandoval, a varsity athlete from Aurora, first got involved with Steve’s Club so he could play for Hope’s soccer team. Fall 2015, with the partnership newly formed, the school required that high school students interested in being part of their soccer, basketball, or volleyball teams work out with Steve’s Club every Wednesday.

It didn’t take long for Luiz, a junior at the time, to get hooked.

It wasn’t just the exercise, though he saw the benefits of CrossFit on the soccer field. It was the community, the care the coaches had for each other and for the kids, how everyone felt welcome and seemed to have a good time.

Summer 2016, Luiz became the first Denver varsity athlete to go to Steve’s Club’s Leadership Camp, a weeklong camp held at a National Guard base in Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa., where kids from Steve’s Clubs all over the country come, work out four times a day, eat clean, and stay in a rural setting much different from their hometowns.

Every night at camp, athletes and coaches gather for a sharing circle.

“We’ve never videotaped it,” Duncan said, “but true believers in CrossFit would be amazed at what these kids have gone through and what they credit CrossFit for helping them to get through.”

“They really opened up without any hesitation,” Luiz said. “For people to know each other enough for them to feel safe and to trust somebody enough to open up about their home lives … that’s pretty big.”

Luiz is Duncan’s mentee, and you can tell from talking to both of them that there’s something special there, a sense of comfort that’s usually found with family. Duncan was there at camp that first year. When Luiz has been randomly absent over the last couple of years, Duncan has reached out to see what’s up.

“Duncan, he was probably my biggest support,” Luiz said, “because last year, I was having trouble with getting through high school and he just stuck with me until I got it done.”

Luiz graduated high school this past spring. His girlfriend and Duncan were the ones cheering him on at Commencement.

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Luiz (left bottom photo: in stripes; right bottom photo: in purple) graduated high school this past spring, along with another Steve’s Club athlete, Jorge.

Consistency. That’s the main thing Duncan and the rest of the Steve’s Club volunteers seek to provide to their students. It’s the main thing their students have in common, in terms of what they lack. If the adults in their lives are consistent, it’s often consistency in disappointing them or not keeping promises or just not showing up.

Go back to that Wednesday morning at the former Project Rise location. After a warmup and a game involving too many yellow cones to count, the kids are walked through the day’s workout: three rounds of 15 PVC thrusters, 15 bent-over rows, and 15 V-ups. It’s one step on the way to Fran.

As the coaches hand out PVC pipes, they offer various warnings and directions:

“This is a tool. It’s not used to hurt anybody.”

“On the ground next to you, please.”

“They’re not for sword fighting. They’re not for hitting each other. They’re not for pole vaulting.”

Every movement in the WOD is demonstrated and practiced, and then the workout begins. Most kids scale down from V-ups to sit-ups. When his coach isn’t looking, one boy in a Broncos jersey changes his thrusters to some sort of PVC push press air ballet, until another coach comes along and does thrusters right next to him.

Toward the end, coaches keep working alongside the few who still have reps to go. The last girl to finish in Trisha Hussian’s group stands after her last sit-ups, crying.

“I said, ‘I’m sorry. Did I push you too hard?’” Trisha recalled. “And she said, ‘No, it just means so much to me that you care and that when I come here, everybody cares, and I just love coming here.’”

Steve's Club 7

Trisha Hussian cheers on a Steve’s Club athlete.

Every session brings some sort of story. Sometimes they’re emotional; sometimes they’re transformational; sometimes they’re physical breakthroughs or realizations of some strength the students didn’t know they had before. A high school boy deadlifting more than 400 pounds. A high school girl walking with a new confidence and rocking exercise gear, asking how the female coaches got their legs so big. Another high school boy discovering his natural ability on the pull-up bar and ignoring the tears on his palms to keep pounding out reps.

Duncan describes Steve’s Club as a bottomless pit that will take everything he gives and still need more. Often, kids show up to Steve’s Club on empty stomachs. You never know what sort of sleep they got the night before or what trauma they’re walking around with. Coaches have to be sensitive and careful. This isn’t the freewheeling, no f****s given of your typical CrossFit gym. You have to care about the reactions that could come from a careless word or action. You have to care about the possible misinterpretations of what you do or say.

“If we’re going to mentor these kids, if we’re going to have that close bond, if we’re going to be a consistent adult in their lives each and every week, then we have to treat that relationship very carefully,” Duncan said.

That’s how you earn trust and gain rapport and build a healthy mentoring relationship. And once you’ve built it, don’t screw it up. Be someone they can count on. Sometimes, showing up is all that it takes.

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2016-2017 high school athletes at Project Rise facility. Photo credit: Laura Mahoney Photography

Learn more about Steve’s Club Denver and give a donation at their Facebook page.

Know a Denver-area CrossFit story that needs to be told? Tell us about it.

If darkness was all you could see, would you still work out?

Terry Garrett is blind. So what? He still does CrossFit.

Put on a blindfold before you start your WOD and you’ll get an idea of what Terry Garrett experiences every time he sets foot in CrossFit Crush.

Completely blind for nearly twenty years, Garrett (whose thirtieth birthday is this month) has been working out at CrossFit Crush since the end of 2013. He does all of the movements — box jumpovers, double unders, clean and jerks, wall walks — and only adjusts two of them due to his blindness:

  • When he runs, he holds onto another person’s arm for guidance.
  • He no longer tries to catch wall balls.

When he talks about that second one, he doesn’t mention his lack of sight.

“I can’t catch it because I’ve almost strained one of my fingers and I’ve hit myself in the head a lot with it, so I have to let it drop every time,” he says. “It’s throw, drop, pick it up. Then you have to stand all the way up before you start the next squat, so it takes me forever.”

In a world seemingly driven by visual stimuli — sparkling screens and flashing lights and solar eclipses — Garrett travels in darkness, guided by his seeing eye dog Hazel, his own keen sense of space, and the help of friends and family.

Originally from Fort Lupton, Co., Garrett grew up on a farm with his mom, dad, and two brothers. He was an active kid, but several eye problems led to a series of surgeries, and at the age of 10, Garrett’s eyes had had enough. Scar tissue took over and his sight was completely erased.

At the time, Garrett was relieved to be done with eye surgeries, but that didn’t make transitioning to a life of blindness any easier. He was a 10-year-old boy and an active farm kid who liked to run around, ride bikes. He hated being different from all of his peers.

“And then my parents sent me to the deaf and blind school which was a hundred miles away,” he said.

That’s a literal hundred miles. The Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind is in Colorado Springs. Fort Lupton is 30 miles north of Denver. Garrett only saw his family on the weekends.

Still, his time at the school was pivotal.

“They have some really gifted people who were able to turn … my blindness from something that hindered me to something that now strengthens me,” Garrett said. “It doesn’t define who I am, but it defines how I live my life.”


Terry Garrett in front of the gorilla mural at CrossFit Crush.

If there’s one word to describe Garrett, it’s gumption.

As a CrossFitter, he’s competed in The Open, CrossFit Castle Rock’s Battle at the Rock, and the Festivus Games. Before CrossFit, he did triathlons. In high school, he wrestled and ran track. His Facebook cover photo is of him on the rocks at Windom Peak, the highest peak of the Needle Mountains in southwestern Colorado, which he climbed in 2015 — his eleventh 14er (he’s climbed a total of 12).

He enjoys pushing himself physically, but those aren’t the only challenges that call his name. Garrett works as a second level software engineer for Northrup Grumman and hopes to become a third level engineer in the next year. He owns his own home and does all of his own lawn care, including gardening — vegetables in the backyard and what he calls “lookable plants” in the front.

“I also have a history of playing video games,” he said. In 2011, Wired published an article about his endeavor to play Zelda: Ocarina of Time. He beat the game five years later. “I really haven’t played video games a lot since.”

His attitude toward the challenges he faces is overwhelmingly positive. You get the sense that he enjoys engineering situations and circumstances in order to accomplish success.

“The world’s not going to bend over backwards to help me, so I have to do what I can to adapt to the world around me,” he said. “I’m not going to feel sorry for myself.”

When Garrett came into CrossFit Crush for the 4:30 p.m. class on a Friday afternoon this past July, he put his bag down in the same corner he always does and started joking with coach Travis Lay.

“Who else is here?” he asked, and Lay told him. Then Garrett started warming up, taking another member’s arm to run the first 400 meters. Strength was the deadlift, and Garrett loaded his own barbell. Before long, the WOD was on the screen, and a total of 400 double unders glared down.

The clock started and Garrett strung together his personal best of 100 double unders without stopping.

He’s a spirited competitor. Throughout the WOD, he kept tabs on where the other CrossFit Crush-ers were in the workout.

“How many is Gavin at?” he asked in the middle of his seated strict presses.


“Okay, I’m fine then.” And he pressed on, throwing the bar from the front of his upper shins to his shoulders to pound out a few more reps.

Garrett is your typical CrossFitter. He loves (and hates) a hard workout. He enjoys joking with and razzing his coaches and fellow athletes. He’s got the shoes and his own jump rope.

Yes, he’s blind. Yes, he can’t see what he’s doing. But watch him navigate a workout and, except for when he’s loading the barbell or moving to the next movement, you can’t really tell. It’s enough to hear the rope click against the floor, to grip the bar with two hands, to pull and push.

“Just because my eyes don’t work doesn’t mean that the rest of my body should suffer,” Garrett said. And while those outside of CrossFit might consider a typical WOD straight “suffering,” the rest of us know better.

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Denver’s homegrown team heads to the CrossFit Games for the second year in a row

CrossFit Omnia’s garage door is open. Music pumps through the air and you can hear the slamming of weights from inside. A couple dogs wander around the entrance, comfortable, like this place is their second home.

For the members of the CrossFit Omnia team—headed to the Games for the second year in a row—this place really is their second home. Other than work (they all work separate full-time jobs), the box sees most of their heartbeats, maybe even more since, you know, when they’re here they’re working out.

Kelly Stone is new to the team this year. A doctor of physical therapy who swam Division One at the University of San Diego and grew up doing competitive gymnastics, she’s only been doing CrossFit for a year and a half. This year, she qualified for Regionals as an individual. She gave that up to compete with the team.

“They almost killed me the first time we touched the slug,” she said, referring to what is also called the worm, a 17-foot-long cylindrical sack that weighs 435 pounds.


Worm-wrangling at the 2016 Games.

It was the first day of training for Regionals. She was the only one who’d never worked with the worm before.

“The first rep we did … we flipped it onto Kelly,” said John Birkmeier, a returning athlete who describes his athletic background as nonexistent—he was a skater boy. Not the flat-brimmed hat kind, more the long-haired surfer kind. He also did competitive sailing.

“I got talked into buying a Groupon,” he explained, and he and a few friends dropped into a CrossFit box. “I got my ass kicked for a month and I looked at myself in the mirror and I said, ‘I’m going to get really good at this.’”

That was the beginning of 2013, before Omnia opened, at owner RJ Smith’s first box. When Omnia opened, Birkmeier followed RJ.

“I’m the Omnia OG on the team,” he joked.


Laughs at the 2016 Games. Birkmeier front and center.

A few minutes with the team and it’s clear they’re a bundle of laughs—despite near-death experiences with the worm.

“We don’t take each other too seriously,” said John Carter, an Army veteran and former wrestler who also grew up playing baseball. Carter got into CrossFit in 2011 while he was in the service, stationed in Colorado Springs. He’s been at Omnia since the end of 2015.

“We don’t stress out a lot,” he said. “We’re pretty cohesive. We’re really good at communication.”

“We laugh,” Birkmeier added. “We’re constantly making fun of each other.”

“We’re proud of being a homegrown gym, too,” Carter said. “A lot of gyms out there will—”

“Assemble a team,” Birkmeier said.

“Yeah, assemble a team. Fly people in from across the United States to be on a team. We’re all from the area.”

“It’s a hobby to us,” Birkmeier said.

A hobby that requires a lot of time, effort, and willpower. Or, for Jeff Schuette, just more of what he loves. The exercise physiologist who played football for Minnesota State Moorhead also coaches at Omnia a few hours each week.

“Everything I do is exercise related, one way or another,” he said. With the exception of reading. He takes pride in the fact that he, unlike the Johns, has actually read George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones.

“We’re kind of like a family, I guess,” he said. “We fight. We get along. For the most part, we don’t have any huge egos … We all kind of understand each other’s limits.”

“People underestimate us—I feel like they have, last year, this year,” Carter said. “But we like that. It gives us a little chip on our shoulder that we can use in competition.”

The team’s time to train together has been limited. Six people, each with their own full-time jobs, schedules, and commitments. They’ve had to be strategic about what they do when they’re together and what they do when training alone or in smaller groups.

Ashley Gaillot, a former volleyball player for St. Louis University, works as a firefighter in Thornton.

“I do 48 hours on, 96 off,” she said, “so when I’m at work, I can’t spend time here with the guys training … but my days off are really good ‘cause I can spend more time training.”

It was actually through firefighting that Gaillot got into CrossFit: one of her classmates at the academy coached at Omnia and invited her to try it out. She had familiarity with some of the movements, but not the barbell work. That was almost three years ago.

“The learning curve for the Olympic lifts is so huge,” said Sarah Manuel, the sixth member of the team, “and everybody feels like a baby deer for like a year, until they actually learn them.”

Manuel did track and field at Colorado State University and didn’t start CrossFit until she moved to Denver after college. Manuel remembers the first time she snatched 120 pounds and how heavy it felt. Now, she warms up with that weight.

Looking back at last year’s Games, the returners recalled a few favorite moments. There was the time Carter’s calf cramped up and he couldn’t keep running, so they threw him on the litter that they were supposed to carry a teammate on anyway. Then there was the swim-and-run in the Pacific.

“We’re a landlocked state, and we got fourth [place],” Manuel said.

400 meters: swim 300, run the last hundred. In pairs. Cross the finish line together, all six holding hands. Birkmeier and Schuette were the last pair to go.

Manuel saw Birkmeier come out of the water and Rich Froning pop his head out right after him.

“Birk is half dead and we’re dragging him across the finish line, trying to run as fast as we can,” she said, “and Rich Froning’s team is also half dead.”

CrossFit Omnia beat Rich Froning’s team.


From left: Jeff Schuette, Sarah Manuel, Kelly Stone, John Carter, John Birkmeier, and Ashley Gaillot.

The 2017 Games are this week, August 3-6, in Madison, Wisconsin. The team is gearing up and ready, but they’re not exactly sure what to expect other than that, as Berkmeier said, “It’s gonna hurt.”

Regionals this year, they agree, was harder than last year. They knew they had the ability to get to the Games, but they had to dig deep and fight hard.

“CrossFit is so definite and indefinite at the same time,” Manuel said. “You can train every energy system, every movement pattern, and then you can think, ‘Okay, what kind of weird shit can they throw in this week or this year?’ And it shows up.”

“I’m looking forward to seeing how well we can stack up against other teams,” Carter said, “after being together for a year and having the experience of not being a rookie team like we were last year.”

“I think we’ll be more consistent across the board,” Schuette said. “I just think experience pays off … and we’ll just carry Kelly through.” He tossed a joking look to Stone.

In a few days, they’ll know for sure.

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