*The next series of blogs we release will be themed with the early stages of CFNP. In a time where mega-boxes are popping up, there is no better time to revisit the grassroots beginnings of CrossFit North Pasadena; the early concepts and obstacles, and what it looked like for a 24 year old to chase a passion and allow life to provide the steps along the way.
Part 2 “Humble Beginnings”
Lots of our members don’t realize it but one of our plyo boxes is the wrong dimensions. The 30” side is actually 31”, the 20” side is actually 21”, and the 24” side is actually 25”. I built it in my parents’ backyard (where I built most things), but I built the frame to the exact size I wanted to the box to be, THEN I proceeded to attach the ½” thick plywood on all sides, which also happens to add ½” to each side...and that my mathematician friends, is how you accidentally build a box 1” too big each way. The cuts were all crooked so I used wood putty to fill in the gaps and sanded them down, the idea was to cover the mistakes, but instead it sorta highlighted each botched part. To add to all this, I used the wrong type of wood, so the box, not only being too big, is also heavier than was intended. But this was my first plyo box for my gym that didn’t exist yet, and I loved it. We still have the box, amongst all the other later-purchased, precisely-machine-made, and lighter boxes. It sits there (standing out literally) as a nice little reminder to me of our box’s humble beginnings. I can get sentimental from time to time and this instance is no different, seeing that box makes me smile (just not when I’m the one that has to use it). I was just a kid, 23 years old, ready to take on the world with my passion for fitness and ready to change as many lives as I could...all that was apparently missing was basic carpentry.
Then there was the medicine ball, our infamous medicine ball; that is an entirely other story. You see an average 20# medicine ball (also called a “wall ball”) costs anywhere from $100-$120 (depending on how many you buy). Well I didn’t have that kind of money yet. So of course...I built one. I filled a sandbag up with sand and some small heavy rocks, to about 19lbs until it was about the size of a basketball. I then wrapped it in old beach towels, over and over again, duct taping each layer to the next. The size ended up a bit off, but the weight was surprisingly spot on. The tricky thing with this “wall ball” was that after a few days of being tossed up in the air and landing on cement, the towels became compacted and it well...reverted to being a 20lb sandbag with a “sort of cushion.” It was charming, in it’s last days it would leak sand while ten feet into the air, blinding you just before you had to catch the 20lb rock. All in good fun, our first equipment was perfect for what would be the shape that CFNP would take. No investors. One twenty-three year old owner. No fancy purchased equipment. The “gym” was literally run by energy and passion...and lot’s of sugar free Monster energy drinks.
You see, the near-impossible balance of starting a CrossFit gym the true grassroots style which people today may not understand, is that while you are starting up with no money, you have to build your own stuff, and in order to make money, you have to charge people to use said-crappy stuff. So there is a trust dynamic that your clients need to have in you. They need to be willing to get in on the ground floor and trust that as you begin succeeding, their money will get them even better equipment, and eventually a nicer facility. John Doe needs to see past that 20# sandbag-ball-thing, and patchy unstable plyo box, and see your passion; that is the true test. When you don’t have fancy equipment to hide behind, or top notch video equipment, all that is left is you, and that is what gets people to join a grassroots box. I can name plenty of times where I could see the look of disappointment on a potential client’s face when they saw the equipment I had, I would never hear from them again. I mean why would they call back? There were three other gyms in Pasadena (at the time) that had multiple owners or investors so they were able to buy the good stuff. You have two options at that point; one option is to feel sorry for yourself that you don’t have the buying power of those bigger gyms, or you put your head down and trust that your gym will rise above, despite its humble beginnings. CFNP rose. I still remember in our earliest days, one of our first members walked in one night while we were still laying down the rubber floors in our new building, three fans blowing on wet cement that was trying to dry, and old steel pipes on the floor that would eventually be cut and painted to look like a fancy pull-up rig, the place was a mess. She walked in and back-pedaled out, apologized “Oh I’m sorry I thought this was a CrossFit gym,” I ran out after her “Wait it is! It is I promise! We’re just still building it is all. But in a few days it’ll be CrossFit North Pasadena!”
You see nowadays, the grassroots approach is unheard of. You can literally go on the Rogue Fitness website, click on “Equipment Packages” and choose a price range anywhere from $5,000 to $40,000, which is a literal treasure chest of gear you can purchase to start your very own box. One huge shipment of top of the line equipment, and voila, a state of the art facility, click here to see what I’m talking about, many other brand new coaches have clicked on that same link. Wanna see another link that few people probably know about? It's to an article that was written back in 2002 by Coach Glassman entitled, “The Garage Gym,” it's almost elementary in its simplicity, until you realize it's absolutely perfect for what CrossFit was meant to be. In the article the basic blueprints are laid out; intended for people that love CrossFit, that want to outfit their own garage. From a list of the bare necessities, to ideas on how to convert old stuff into "new" CF equipment, the article reads almost as propaganda to spur this new "grassroots" movement called CrossFit. It even includes links as to where you can buy equipment online, Rogue Fitness is nowhere on the list because it wouldn’t come around for another five years the link to the article can be found here if you’re curious but here is a great excerpt that summarizes the theme nicely,
“If you only had a bar and a place to do pull-ups, you could do an acceptable variant of the CrossFit Program. With this minimal amount of equipment you could do deadlifts, squats, push-press, push-ups, clean, and pull-ups. In fact the minimalist/low-budget approach to our program is to do deadlifts and tabata squats on day one, push=press and push-ups day two, and cleans and pull-ups on day three, resting on day four. Repeat. In minimalist/low-budget mode we derive our metabolic conditioning from running and jumping rope. You could get amazing results on this regimen.” Glassman, Greg (2002)
Now this does nothing to say a brand new facility with world class equipment doesn’t have passion, that’s simply untrue and unfair to state. Some gyms around the world have had some very fortunate beginnings. Some have investors that pour a huge amount of money into the budget. Some open their doors with multiple partners and are able to spread out the cost and responsibility. Heck I’ve seen some boxes open already having shirts and bags! We had to wait a solid 2-3 months before we had enough money to design our first shirt. But again, just because an affiliate is able to begin at a specific budget has no correlation with their quality of coaching or passion. But what I can say is this:
Every sleepless night that I spent, trying to fix the floor that crumbled under us... Every 18 hour day of building the gym, coaching all classes during the day, only to stay the rest of the night at the gym with my dad building our homemade pullup rig... Every member that joined, that looked past out startup equipment and trusted on our passion... Every day that I spent haggling with other gym owners, trying to buy their old rusty stuff... I wouldn't trade a single day of it.
Not many gyms would brag about starting off poor and with donated equipment, but I can be proud of our journey, and truth be told, I’m not sure many other gym owners could’ve taken the road we did. Every single story about our humble beginnings...has created a love story I wouldn’t write any other way.
*Stay tuned for our final part #3 of our Early Days and Humble Beginnings blog series