As a Varsity athlete at Steve's Club Camden, 21-year-old Ray has been training for the Open - and life- since he walked into Steve's Club in 2013.
Growing up on the harsh streets of Camden, NJ, Ray remembers being young and not being about to go outside of the house he shared with his parents and siblings. Ray is the youngest of 5.
“My oldest brother got caught up on the streets, hooked on drugs and was constantly in and out of jail,” said Ray. “We couldn’t play outside, there were drug dealers on every street, prostitutes everywhere. It was scary to open the front door.”
Ray found Steve's Club Camden three years ago just as he was beginning to follow in his brother's footsteps. "I was hanging around the wrong people, drinking, going to parties. Then my friend told me about Steve's Club."
The Club became his safe haven. He had always had a passion for sports, and that helped fuel his passion for fitness.
“I enjoyed my first day,” said Ray. “We did sit ups, dumbbell thrusters and box jumps. The next day I was so sore I couldn’t move, and I contemplated not coming back. But I didn’t have a good enough reason not to go, so I went. I’ve never regretted that decision.”
Steve's Club and CrossFit have helped Ray realize his potential and given him new possibilities for the future. He recently earned his Associates in Exercise Science from Camden County College and plans to continue on to Rowan University to finish his four-year degree. In addition to juggling school, Ray works part-time in the Steve's PaleoGoods warehouse.
His aspirations include coaching high school track and owning his own gym. Ray earned Level 1 CrossFit certification last year and is an intern at CrossFit 1Force. A proven leader at Steve’s Club Camden, Ray regularly helps Steve coach class and is a junior counselor at SCNP's Summer Leadership Camp.
“My favorite part of Steve’s Club is the people,” said Ray. “I enjoy lifting weights and getting stronger, but it’s more about the community. These people are my family. I can talk to them. They are always there for me. It’s really comforting to be around them everyday and it makes me feel at home.”
Ray is a role model for the other Camden athletes and truly exemplifies the 9 Steve's Club Values (integrity, respect, improvement, teamwork, positivity, support, discipline, character & community).
He shows up every day and puts in the work - and it shows. He can clean & jerk 255 lbs., back squat 335 lbs. and deadlift 450 lbs. He does 'Fran' in 2:42, 'Grace' in 2:40 and the 'Filthy Fifty' in 18:50.
The CrossFit Open challenges everyone that takes it on. It makes you stronger; physically and mentally because it's hard and takes you out of your comfort zone. But hard is something Ray is used to, and he's ready!
Follow us on social media during the Open for weekly interviews with Ray. Watch him do the WODs and help us cheer him on!
At Steve’s Club National Program, miracles happen every day all around the country. Each and every Local Club is working towards changing lives through fitness, nutrition, and mentorship in the CrossFit classes they offer for free to at-risk youth in their communities.
Just this year, Lisa Agnew, a member of CrossFit King of Prussia, home to Steve’s Club KOP, in Bridgeport, PA (just 20 miles from Steve’s Club HQ), along with her husband Chris, officially became “mom” and “dad” to three young children who faced seemingly insurmountable odds and a long future in the foster system.
Steve’s Club KOP, founded in 2011, was the third local club added to our national program that now consists of 30 clubs across the country. Every year KOP gives scholarships to several at-risk kids to attend their CrossFit Kids and Teens classes.
In April of 2013, two twin boys, Jayden and Davin, were left alone in their mother’s apartment when it caught fire. According to the firefighters on the scene, had they arrived just ten minutes later, the boys would not have made it out alive. Both suffered from severe smoke inhalation and were hospitalized.
At the time, the Agnews were still in the process of getting their foster parenting license when they heard the story on the news.
“I remember thinking how wonderful it would be if we could foster them. It happened right around the corner from our house. Fast forward three months later and we get a call asking if we could take two boys and they were the very same ones from the fire,” said Agnew. “I don’t want to call it divine intervention, but it was meant to be.”
Just two and a half years old at the time, Jayden and Davin fit in to their home from the start. Lisa, an active member of CrossFit King of Prussia since 2009, began taking the boys to CrossFit Kids and Steve’s Club classes as a way to get them to interact with children their own age, burn off energy, and give them focus.
“The support from Aimee [Lyons], the head coach and owner of CrossFit KOP, and the rest of the community has been overwhelming. They’re going to grow up in that place and have an entire gym full of mentors to look up to and learn from,” she said.
In fact, if it weren’t for Aimee and the other CrossFit Kids moms, Lisa and Chris would have been utterly overwhelmed when four months after they took in Jayden and Davin, they found out that the boys’ mother was pregnant with a baby girl. Once again, they received a call from Child’s Protective Services who were asking if they would consider fostering a third child.
“We couldn’t not take her. But her arrival was in two weeks and we barely had anything set up. Then the moms showed up with car loads full of baby items and suddenly, we were all set and ready to bring a newborn into our lives again,” said Agnew.
With two kids of their own already in high school, Chris and Lisa never thought they would be raising young children again. But as of July 7th, 2015, they are officially the adoptive parents of Jayden, Davin, and baby Naomi. It has been a long three years for their family - full of court dates and stressful supervised parental visits – but they are now the parents of three children with a new lease on life and a huge extended CrossFit family who loves them.
“The judge said she had never seen so many people show up for an adoption. We must have had 60 people in the courthouse that day excited to celebrate with us,” Agnew said.
Now, with the boy’s soccer season wrapping up, they are excited to get back to CrossFit. Jayden loves box jumps, and is quick and agile. Davin, the bigger of the twins, is the powerhouse and Lisa is excited to see him grow into a strong young man. Over the past two years at CrossFit King of Prussia, the boys have gone from shy, reserved members of the group to active, enthusiastic participants thanks to the Steve’s Club Coaches at KOP. They even show kids at their school how to do burpees and air squats.
Right now, Naomi just loves watching her brothers play and workout during the Kids classes but her mom looks forward to her participating in the future.
“She’s going to be an athlete. She loves to run, jump, and is already fast. I can’t wait to see where she and her brothers are going to be several years from now. All three have a shine to them – they’re going to do something with their lives and they are going to excel no matter what,” said Agnew.
It’s a fitting name for an inspirational girl. “Genesis” means a new beginning, and that’s exactly what she received when she walked into Steve’s Club 4 years ago.
“I used to be a hard core anorexic,” said Genesis. “Steve’s Club helped me see I was better than that. CrossFit became my escape and gave me an amazing view of my future. I refuse to be a statistic.”
Every day after school, about 40 young athletes from the hard streets of Camden City, NJ pour into Steve’s Club Camden. They lift weights, jump on boxes, climb ropes and do pull ups–as a way to pull out of the perils of street life. Some of the older teens even work next door in the warehouse where Steve’s PaleoGoods are made, packed and shipped.
A positive force within the group, Genesis is an excellent role model for the female athletes. Always the first one to arrive and the last one to leave, Genesis loves warming up the group, helping new kids acclimate to the program and putting in extra work on her Oly lifts and higher-skill gymnastic movements. She is 19 years old.
“I’ve come so far, and I am responsible for my own success,” said Genesis, who studies Physical and Health Science at Camden County College. “It’s my goal to get my Masters in Physical Therapy and get certified to coach CrossFit.”
Genesis was born and raised in Camden, often touted as one of the most dangerous cities in the country. The harsh reality of her everyday life is something most only see on television. But thanks to the strength she gave herself within the walls of Steve’s Club, she wants to help others find a better way.
“I want to give back to my city,” said Genesis. “I’ve always loved Camden. Even though I’ve grown up seeing things I shouldn’t have seen so young. After seeing everything good and bad, it’s molded me into the person I am today.”
Although Steve’s PaleoGoods has grown, one thing will never change. Helping at-risk youth like Genesis realize their potential through fitness, nutrition and leadership skills is the driving force.
“People think Camden is so bad, yet there’s still people like Steve who see the good in us,” said Genesis. “I wanna let more people see the good and see there’s more to Camden then just drugs and violence. We are so much more.”
*Learn more about how Steve's Club has helped Genesis become a better person in this video:
The greatest lesson for anyone is learning how to do something on their own.
That’s not some inspirational quote someone shared on Instagram or something I found deep in the pages of a self help book. It could be though, because it’s a simple truth. It resonates and ripples out, starting with something as small as making breakfast for yourself to clawing your way out of a difficult upbringing and being the first in your family to attend college.
Learning by doing and finding initiative within yourself will create a work ethic to last a lifetime. Work ethic is an increasingly foreign concept today, because most take the easy path. Today’s culture gives everyone a trophy for just showing up. Teachers are afraid to use red pens. People want things they haven’t worked hard enough to deserve. Champagne dreams in a soda reality.
I try to teach the athletes of Steve’s Club that a strong work ethic is the key to success. I give them the tools they need to make good choices, a place they can come to get strong and a network of coaches and teammates to rely on. But my athletes have to use the tools they are given, and ultimately, they have to do the work.
We started the Steve’s Club Summer Leadership Camp so kids from all across the country could come together and learn from each other. Every August, we travel to a National Guard Training Center in the hills of Pennsylvania for a week of fitness, nutrition, leadership training and sharing. We take the kids out of their environment and their norms. For seven days, gone are the typical mornings when they can get up whenever they want.
Life often doesn’t let you get up whenever you want, unless you’re checked out or you’ve worked your ass off to earn the right to. Ideally, there’s an alarm clock or a parent there to wake kids up and remind them there’s responsibility on the other side of the snooze button.
In a perfect world, that responsibility is waiting in a classroom or at a job and not on a street corner or a couch. The temptation to accept entitlements is real for many kids, they could take the easy-but-costly path and sell drugs or leech off anyone else in the family who is taking responsibility.
Sometimes, there may not be anyone around to help, no one to wake the kids up, make them breakfast or give them lunch money. That’s why Steve’s Club exists. It’s those kids in particular that we want to help, throwing mentors and good advice their way until they are transformed into self motivators who wake themselves up and become agents of change in their own household, and maybe later their whole family, and then within the walls of our club.
At Leadership Camp, our kids are woken up early. Their bodies are in motion all day and they have to bring their brains out of bed with them. It’s much more than sweat or throwing the weights around. For that week, I expect more of them and in turn, they demand more of themselves. It’s a beautiful balance.
The kids learn problem-solving skills and the value of working together for a common goal. Camp can act as a seed, planting responsibility and self sufficiency in their minds. Add some luck and love and that could all grow into a young man or young woman who’s not afraid to lead, not too proud to get up early and work their way toward their goals while the world tells them to sit back, relax and let things come to them.
Sometimes, these lessons are more of a virus than a seed. They have to infect their way through a whole lot of history and preconceived notions that might be deeply rooted from influences at home or in their neighborhood. It takes a lot of guts to get up and throw on a McDonald’s uniform when your buddies are hanging out and playing video games. And even though the promise of a pay check is at the end of the shift, there’s a million deterrents pulling, tugging and shoving for kids to go the easy way. It’s my job to provide them with the tools to battle the deterrents.
They don’t always win the battle, but when they do, the victory pays it forward. My best athletes often become responsible leaders and stay around well into their early 20s. They coach classes after becoming certified. By providing a few key tools for success, we can help them create their own success and in turn, they will help others be successful.
Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn. –Ben Franklin
-Steve Liberati is the founder of Steve's Club National Program.
Steve's Club is dedicated to strengthening a nation, one kid at a time. To learn more about how you can help, click here.
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Did you know that the profits from PaleoKits and PaleoKrunch go to support the Steve's Club National Program? The first PaleoKit was made to help the young boys and girls of Steve's Club in Camden, NJ, eat better during the school day...(read more).