Leadership Camp: Day 4

Posted on July 17, 2017 by Steve's Club National Program


It's day Day 4 of Steve's Club Leadership Camp. We woke up early at 6:30am for a 7:15am run with Coach Melody. I'm not much of a runner but some of the kids can fly! Terrell and Tray set the pace early and made for a fast first mile. They took off with Coach Melody on the last hill and were the first ones to finish. Tommy, Coach Matt, and I did a cool down lap around the barracks while the rest of the squad ran 100m sprints. It was a good start to the morning!

After an amazing breakfast from Coach Elise, we transitioned into our session with former Olympic weightlifter for Team USA, Chad Vaughn. Some serious knowledge was shared as Chad explained the foundations of being a good weightlifter.

Chad also shared some awesome messages encouraging the kids that they are all leaders and that other people are constantly looking up to them. Openness and effort are key traits he identified as important to being an effective leader.

Then it was outside for some movement prep drills which included a spicy air squat tabata where the "rest" was at the bottom of the squat.

It was then back inside where Chad nailed down some specific weightlifting concepts and best practices for "what it takes to be 'good' at weightlifting." Ultimately he described that effort and dedication are needed to reach one's full potential.

We all went back outside where Chad led us through several basic but surprisingly challenging hold positions with the barbell. This all served to re-emphasize his point about the importance of attention to detail if you want to perform your best.

After a quick lunch we all packed up and headed over to a local state park for some fun afternoon activities. While the campers played an intense game of kickball, us coaches planned out "Mission Impossible" a 4 station obstacle course that required attention to detail and teamwork while incorporating various gymnastic and CrossFit style movements. It was so awesome to watch as each team came together, dealt with the various challenges, and obstacles and overcame.

As if these kids hadn't had enough, we packed up into the vans again and headed up into the hills for a hike. This wasn't an average hike as the kids divided into two teams and had to carry two kettle bells and a heavy sandbag, working together without ever putting the objects down. Team leaders were identified and did an incredible job leading and guiding their team, making sure everyone was sticking together. There wasn't much of a break at the top either. We ran them through a relay WOD including goblet squats with the kettle bells and sandbag runs. Over all, it was at least an hour and half hike and the kids crushed it.

We wrapped up the evening with dinner and our sharing time, which has quickly become my favorite part of the night. Typically two coaches lead off the time by sharing their stories and then the kids can volunteer to share as well.

It's hard to best describe this time as individuals open up to one another and share their heart, their hurt, and their pain. The power of each and every story is evident and it almost goes without saying that these kids are my inspiration. Despite the pain and hardship that many of these kids are experiencing, I've seen an incredible amount of hope that comes from this community. From kids cheering each other on during workouts or comforting one another as they express painful feelings, I've come to realize in a new light how much hope we can provide one another. This is why I love Steve's Club and the platform CrossFit provides. It doesn't matter who you are or where you come from, we are stronger together, and together we can have hope. That's what these kids have taught me.

Coach Ben 


Leadership Camp: Day 3

Posted on July 17, 2017 by Steve's Club National Program


Day 3 started early like every day at camp with clear skies, and groggy teens and coaches. After the previous day of rain the sun was here to stay. Despite the long days of multiple workouts, writing assignments, and intense and often emotional moments as the kids share their life stories with each other, the mess hall and breakfast time was filled with cheerful greetings.

After just three days, the atmosphere of hesitation and awkwardness that was present, had vanished. These teens from all over the country were just recently thrown together, but now they were a team. They were friends. They were family. On this day, they put it all to the test on the military obstacle course and leadership reaction course.

In preparation the coaches read out the day's schedule and discussed safety, hydration, bug spray, and sunscreen. Then, everyone loaded up in the vans and trucked across the military base. The obstacle course is meant to test their physical limits and with several complicated, very tall wooden structures, it does that and more. The athletes were all different sizes, different physical abilities, and ages ranging from 12 to 20. Their ability to conquer the obstacles ranged as well. Some of them couldn't climb a rope and some were scared of heights, some were bigger and had a hard time climbing and jumping from object to object. The littlest one, Aiden, sometimes couldn't even reach the next log or handhold but he just kept smiling. They all cheered each other on and no one gave up.

The Leadership Reaction Course was a different type of obstacle. This was a task testing their ability to communicate, lead, form plans, and follow instruction. Sometimes, the tasks are meant to test your ability to accept failure. In many ways it was more difficult than the physically grueling obstacle course. These are kids that have frequently come from turbulent homes where healthy communication is unheard of, and very rarely have they been in a true leadership role. Some of them shine, showing such confidence it is stunning, but some of them struggle. The frustrations of not being able to clearly express their ideas or understand and act out the ideas of their peers and hours under the brutal sun took their toll, but these teens aren't like many other teens. They are tough. They are resilient. They are grateful to be there. And when tempers flared, and emotions boil, they worked through it. They opened up to the coaches about their frustrations and moved on with a smile. As the day ended everyone headed back to the mess hall to relax, unwind, and hash out the day with each other.

Sharing circle that night was different. A couple of the coaches shared their personal stories and then we divided the kids into groups of 4 and asked them to express whatever they were feeling or thinking about in art, any kind of art, a drawing, a short story, a poem, or maybe even music. They jumped on it. One kid, Alvin, got out his drum sticks that he takes everywhere. Luiz, from Colorado, wrote a beautiful poem comparing his feelings to the ocean. Terrell, from Philly, created a paper fortune teller that had some of his life decisions written on the different flaps. Francisco, from Camden, drew a picture of his cousin that was killed. Teens that hadn't opened up before wrote and wrote and drew stories of some of the things they had seen. These are the greatest moments of camp!

Providing these exceptional teens a safe environment to express themselves about the past, present, and future, is one of the best experiences I've ever had. Their stories break your heart! Again and again, I am shocked by some of the horrifying things they've gone through when in front of me I see this sweet, funny, hard working kid. I say this every year, but if I could just bottle up a piece of camp for everyone to see and feel, the world would be a better place. I hope this blog gives you a glimmer. Day 3 is in the books! Every other day I know will be just as amazing!

Rebecca Brown
Steve's Club Nashville 


Not Your Average Summer Camp

Posted on July 16, 2017 by Steve's Club National Program


"Welcome to Leadership Camp... We are not your camp counselors, We are your coaches". That's how my morning started when asked by an athlete why everything was on a schedule. I often catch myself making odd statements like that throughout the day at Steve's Club Leadeship Camp. As my 3rd Camp progressed I realized what my purpose was, and why I return year after year.

Structure is a large part of Camp. Something the athletes eventually appreciate by the end. In the beginning, not so much. They don't appreciate being woken up at 0730 by 5 coaches working out in thier barracks. They don't appreciate lights out at 2200, or meals when they are served ... not when they are hungry. In thier every day life they often lack structure and support at home. Most of the kids admit to getting up, going to bed, and eating when they want. Without beds to sleep on or food to eat, some of the athletes have no nessecity to schedule sleep time or meals. Each athlete coming from a different home life, but now living the same camp life.

Each day is full of various levels of "coaching". Everyday the coaches compare CrossFit to real life goals and situations. As coaches we are not here to babysit them or coral them from one activity to the next. We encourage them, support them, workout with them, educate them about nutrition and injury prevention, teach them how to handle negative situations, provide positive reinforcement or deploy consequences, open ourselves to them and be available for them to open up to us... 24 hours a day for 5 days. We are leading them down a path to lead others. We are coaches.

At the close of camp each year we are asked to leave a quote. My quote is "Be kind for everyone is fighting a hard battle". One of the most rewarding parts of Camp is listening to kids from all over the US talk to each other and help each other get through the challenge of Leadership Camp, 5 burpees at a time. The other is acceptance. A battle becomes easier to fight when you have a "battle buddy". Tonight after sharing my story of growing up as an "at risk youth" I promised each of the 28 kids one thing... They are going to leave camp with more than the luggage they came with. 

Sarah N. Sabella

A Knight in Shining Amour is a Man Who Has Never Had His Metal Tested

Posted on July 14, 2017 by Steve's Club National Program


As I traveled west on the PA turnpike at 70 mph (because that's the speed limit out here) it was shocking to see how different this region of Pennsylvania is from Philly. Don't get me wrong I love the culture, the hustle and bustle, and the FOOD of Philly. However, the rolling hills out here that were full of greenery, certainly live up to the term God's Country. Upon arrival it was inspiring to see all the service men and women in their uniforms, hard at work, protecting us from threats both at home and abroad. It made me think about how brave soldiers like that sacrifice daily, so that we may gather to participate in events like Steve's Club Leadership Camp.

When I arrived, the group of 28 campers and a handful of staff had just completed a WOD. I could tell by the flustered facial expressions, sweaty foreheads and their disheveled appearance that it was a Tough WOD (the kind I usually skip). I then witnessed the campers fumble through roll call which resulted in 5 burpees. A task that they would do a lot more over the course of the day. The campers were full of energy and were all welcoming as I took a head shot after head shot for each and every one of them. They spoke of being from places I had never been like Cashville (Nashville), Denver, and Alaska. There were also campers from places that I visit frequently like Camden, Philly, and Pennsauken. Although they had ventured from different regions and across time zones they all had one thing in common. They were glad and thankful to be here in Fort Indiantown Gap.

The campers were provided with a healthy snack and reminded to hydrate hydrate hydrate! The campers then made the quarter mile trek to the basketball courts to put in some work. It was there that they were lead by Coach Jack and Coach Matt in a progression that addressed the components needed to successfully complete a one legged squat, also know as a pistol. As the campers worked together in partners I was able to capture their excitement through the art of photography. The campers were nearing the half way point of a spicy WOD when ZAP!! lighting struck in the distance and Coach Steve made the executive decision to head back indoors. He emphasized that while fitness is the goal, safety is first! Once back indoors the campers worked as a unit to transform the mess hall into a House of Gainz! The campers completed a work out that caused chaos on the core. The workout culminated with a plank challenge. During the challenge one camper pulled of an accomplishment that I had never seen the likes of in all my years of CrossFit. He planked for 6 minutes and 30 seconds! If that doesn't impress you, I challenge you to give it a shot and see how close you can get. It was a sight to see, as his fellow campers rallied around him and cheered for his success and commended him on his epic feat. After rearranging the mess hall the group earned some down time, during this less structured time many of the campers showered, hung out , relaxed, enjoyed each other's company.

When it was time for roll call, the campers once again had to bang out some burpees. After getting back on track they were treated to a healthy yet tasty meal that was prepared by some of the campers under the direction of master chef Coach Elise. Smiles filled the room as stomachs filled with the delectable dining. When everyone finished eating, Coach Duncan provided the campers with a brief history on who he is and how he became passionate about the science of counseling. His knowledge and love for helping others was evident by the way he spoke and explained what it meant to be resilient. The campers paid close attention and participated in the activities that Coach Duncan led. The 28 campers were engaged and participated actively. I am sure that they all became more aware of what it means to be resilient.

After the lesson from Coach Duncan it was time for circle sharing. It was during this time when the mess hall transformed into a complete open and judgement free zone. Two coaches and two veteran campers shared their stories and the life events that brought them to the point where they are today. This was a moving experience that words cannot describe. The four individuals shared their lowest and most shameful moments with people whom they didn't know 48 hours ago. The room was silent as pain, fear, and heartbreak was shared. Each person who shared was faced with adversity and with the help of others they made it through. They each expressed thankfulness for growth that occurred and accepted that the past helped to create the better person they were today. There were tears that were shed thought out the room but that is to be expected when people with good hearts are emphatic toward others. But with each one of the speakers, after the struggle came progress. Today was truly a great day, one that I will never forget.


Coach JD and Coach Matt

I Support Steve’s Club: Denise Thomas - Life Does Not Give Handouts

Posted on June 20, 2017 by Steve's Club National Program


No handouts. That is one of Denise Thomas’ favorite parts about Steve’s Club. It is a simulation of real life. Yes, it is a non-profit, but it is by no means a charity. At Steve’s Club, you get what you earn.

"These kids are not just given things. Steve and Local Club leaders across the country teach that from day one. Also take Leadership Camp for example. You have to earn your spot. There is an application process. You need coach recommendations. There are no handouts,” said Thomas, an L4 certified coach, a key member of CrossFit HQ Seminar Staff, and a long-time coach at Reebok CrossFit One.

Denise is no stranger to hard work and competing for what she wants. As a former international soccer player, Thomas understood the implications of hard work and never shied away from it. It is for that reason in the summer of 2008, while working as a trainer in New York City, she approached a guy (Dave Lipson, who went on to become a close friend) doing all this “weird” stuff. “He would do pull ups till his hands were all ripped up. Then he’d continue to do more pull ups, and I just could not understand it,” Thomas laughed.

“He asked me if I wanted to do workout, so I said yes, confidently. I had done a few workouts before,” said Thomas. “It was a Fight Gone Bad style workout and it absolutely killed me. Naturally, I signed up for a CrossFit competition because I’m competitive and I wanted to prove that I could handle this type of workout.”

It was at this 2009 Mid-Atlantic Regional that Thomas met one of Steve’s Club’s major contributors, Lee Knight, who was also competing. Denise learned quickly just how strenuous CrossFit could be. Denise recalls, “I DNF’ed two workouts, and finished 2nd to last overall. I walked away wondering, what is this thing? Why does it make me feel so weak?"

"I quickly realized that you get what you earn, especially in CrossFit, and I had to put in some hard work to get where I wanted to go. My competitive nature took over in the gym and I would continue to show up and put in my best effort every day,” said Thomas.

She also knew that life wasn't going to give her any handouts so she went on to aggressively pursue her passion as her career. Immediately after the 2009 Regionals, she got her L1 certification and her L2 certification shortly thereafter. She has been a long-time coach at Reebok CrossFit One, was the head judge for the CrossFit Games in 2011 and 2012, and has worked extensively as a CF HQ Seminar Staff member.

Denise was also witness to the growth of the first Steve's Club in Camden, NJ where she got to workout alongside many of the youth in the early years of the program. She was part of several Beat the Streets Fundraisers and always admired the kids for their hard work. She remembered from those days that Steve would pick the kids up after school in a van, bring them to the gym, and stress that this was a hand "up" not a handout. Free CrossFit classes and people who care, but they had to do the workouts and continue to show up.

Today, Thomas is approaching six years at CrossFit HQ, with the last three and half years working as the flow master for CrossFit, while also helping on the L2 circuit. While CrossFit has changed Thomas physically (she DNFs far fewer workouts nowadays), the big changes she has experienced are far more than that.

“CrossFit has changed me as a human being. I am doing things physically in my mid-30's that I could never do before. I know I’ve changed outside of the gym too. I've become a kinder person, largely because CrossFit teaches you humility,” shared Thomas. “I’ve always had a little fire in me, but I’ve become much less abrasive, much more open-minded, and I don’t complain as much anymore. Ultimately, it’s made me a better friend, daughter, wife, mentor, and mentee.”

"CrossFit changes lives by breaking you down and building you up stronger than you’ve ever been before. I believe in what it can do for people in shaping their character."

That is one of the reasons that Thomas feels so strongly about supporting Steve’s Club. It gives at-risk kids an opportunity to experience this life-changing gift while also leveling the playing field. "When these kids are at the gym, they’re dealing with the same thing as the person next to them. No judgments and everyone is suffering together,” said Thomas.

Denise has also been a guest coach at the Steve's Club Leadership Camp in 2013 where she taught many kids how to do a handstand for the first time and helped them with a public speaking workshop. Denise's positivity and enthusiasm are second to none, and she was a visible reminder to the kids that people in the CrossFit community truly care enough to take time out of their lives to invest in their development.

"Leadership Camp was also a life changing experience for me. Especially when the kids are sharing their stories. For these troubled youth, this is the first time they allow themselves to be vulnerable. They feel safe and willing to share their struggles with each other. It's just amazing that CrossFit can bring them together like that."

Thomas, who has coached CrossFit in over 20 countries, believes in the community aspect of Steve’s Club and its power to generate positive change. “It’s helping them create a family through this national network of Clubs - teens from different cities come to Leadership Camp and forge a strong connection as they tackle workouts and challenges together. They put in the hard work and you see them begin to believe in themselves and accomplish the things they never thought possible before.”

And that begins with trust and knowing that if you put in the effort you will create opportunities. “Steve’s Club, CrossFit, and the real world, they will not just give you things. There is no entitlement. But if you show up, give your best, trust the coaches and support each other, you will have the tools to be successful at whatever you want in life,” said Thomas.

Denise wants the kids of Steve's Club to know that they can break the mold:

"No one says it'll be easy, but Steve's Club is an opportunity disguised as hard work. It'll give you the right mindset to face challenges that'll come up. And if you're feeling stuck, just let people know you need a little help. We won't give you a handout, but we'll be there to give you a hand up. You're part of the CrossFit community and have people looking out for you around the world."

If you'd like to join us in sharing CrossFit with at-risk kids, you can start a Local Steve's Club in your area or make a donation to help us continue to Strengthen the Nation, One Kid at a Time.

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