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.

Boston Iron Kids Club

Posted on May 31, 2017 by Steve's Club National Program
Filed under: Local Clubs


Any CrossFit athlete knows the feeling of failing and bailing. The bar rattles as the bumper plates bounce off the mat. Your face goes flush from both the expended effort and the emotional upheaval of missing the lift and your brain reels as it tries to figure out what went wrong.

Every Steve’s Club coach knows this moment of failure is where the magic happens. Watching and coaching athletes as they deal with a setback, is the hub from which all the goals and missions of this organization radiate.

Tina Ramos, owner and founder of Boston Iron and Grit and founder of Boston Iron Kids Club (a Steve's Club program), knows that lifting and pursuing fitness goals have a lot of similarities to overcoming struggles in other areas of life.

Steve's Club coaches and volunteers are passionate about CrossFit and know that it's a powerful vehicle for giving kids a way to manage some of their life challenges. Fun fitness is the hook to get them moving and slowly they begin to realize that they can do even more than they imagined, if they commit to their goals and work hard.

But overcoming challenges isn't just for the kids and teens we serve. Recently, circumstances forced Tina Ramos to make some big moves both at her affiliate and with her Steve’s Club program. She had to make drastic personnel changes and start back almost from square 1.

“There are a lot of hard learned lessons in business ownership.” Ramos said. “I thought what am I doing? I feel like I'm failing at all of this.”

“But I came back to the only reason I opened my gym was to support a Steve’s Club program for at-risk kids and teens in my community.”

Ramos, a Harvard educated former school counselor, didn’t come to Steve’s Club through the usual route of discovering CrossFit, becoming a coach, starting a gym and then learning of Steve’s Club and adding it on. No, Ramos became aware of Steve’s Club in the early days of her CrossFit journey. It was the idea of Steve’s Club that motivated her to leave her job in education, become a coach and start her own gym.

“From the very beginning, within the first three months, I knew this is what I wanted to do,” Ramos said. ”So I left my school counseling position, got my level 1 and applied to be a Steve's Club program.”

Ramos’ first experience with CrossFit was with the Boston affiliate CrossFit New England. The positive support of the community drew her in and paralleled her earliest experiences as an athlete.

Ramos attributes much of her life’s success to her high school track coach, Mr. Kyser.

“If I hadn’t had Mr. Kyser, I don’t know if I would’ve finished High School. I don’t know if I would have gone on to college.” Ramos said. “I know that having the right role models and the right mentors, was so important to me staying off the streets and going to college.”

It's those role models and positive experiences that she wanted to pay forward to underserved youth in Boston. Tina's goal with Boston Iron Kids Club is to create a community and support system to nurture disadvantaged kids and help them become future leaders in the community.

After acquiring her level 1 and coaching in a gym, she came to understand that the only way she could realize her goal of implementing a Local Steve’s Club was to open her own affiliate. “That was the scariest step.”

Nevertheless, Boston Iron Kids Club held their first fundraiser "BEAT the Streets" in 2014, and in 2105 raised $14,000. When faced with some operational challenges at her gym this past November, Ramos had to “rebuild, regroup and refocus.” Throughout this process she relied on the CrossFit community and her commitment to Steve’s Club.

“I felt like quitting in November but I started calling other CrossFit Affiliate owners and I was introduced to Brandon Peterson the owner of CrossFit Free. We met and now he does our programming and is my business advisor. He has also agreed to join our BEAT The Streets fundraising initiative and I'm super excited to get the 2017 fundraiser organized!”

Ramos also continues to develop her relationship in her local community. Boston Iron Kids Club partners with the 3 Point Foundation to work holistically with inner city youth on both their fitness and academic performance. She also recently started a pilot program with a local high school to train even more kids.

Ramos feels stronger for the failures she experienced, the obstacles she surmounted, and is back at it with more dedication than ever to improving the lives of kids, one kid at a time..

Steve's Club at the core is about acknowledging that we're all on a journey, with many ups and downs, and it's a lot easier to go through it with other positive people who care about your success. If we can give that gift to at-risk kids, who might not have that in their lives, then we're contributing to making the world a better place.

Tina and all the other Local Club coaches nationwide are making sacrifices each day, week, month, and year to make this mission happen. We're proud to have such amazing leaders and volunteers.


If you'd like to get involved with an existing Local Club like Boston Iron Kids Club or one near you, please email us at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Making a Difference - Steve’s Club Denver

Posted on February 16, 2017 by Steve's Club National Program
Filed under: Local Clubs


One of the great things about the Steve’s Club model is that it can adapt to the needs and resources of different communities around the country. In Denver, they built their program from the interests of their founder and founding board, the volunteerism and financial resources of a nearby community, and some of the highest needs kids from their corner of the city. The combination of variables produced one of the larger and fastest growing clubs in the Steve’s Club family.

Within parameters set down by the National Program, each Local Club can decide who they work with and what at-risk population they will serve. In Denver, the founders want to pull from their immediate community, while also serving kids with high mental health needs. In partnership with Third Way Centers, an area non-profit providing housing and treatment to teens, Steve’s Club Denver (SCD) works with 3 different types of athletes in treatment.

For one, they send coaches twice a week to a locked residential treatment center and these athletes are considered higher risk for their recent history of neglect, abuse, or legal problems. Secondly, they work with more stable teens who attend a school run by Third Way and access CrossFit Broadway, or who live in Third Way group homes and workout at Project Rise Fitness-Stapleton. These students have staff with them at all times, but are farther along in their treatment than those in the locked facility. The third type of participant is an older adolescent, living in an apartment run by Third Way, and attending workouts at CrossFit Broadway.

“Since our start, we’ve wanted to follow students within Third Way from their highest risk, to their most stable. This way, Steve’s Club gets to be a consistent part of their week, every week, regardless of where they go next with their treatment.” Duncan Seawell, a clinical psychologist and the founder of SCD, takes great pride in the fact that teens within this part of his program have the benefits of consistent high intensity exercise, consistent adults as coaches and mentors, and consistent positive peer culture within workouts.

“If we know consistency is a key ingredient in healthy child development, why not mix it in with other essential ingredients like effective workouts, healthy relationships, and the good time we all enjoy by working out with our friends.”

The Denver Club is successful in a number of ways and for different reasons. Throughout their development, however, they have proven a key piece of the National Program philosophy shared by all locations: Give Local Clubs the opportunity and freedom to work with who they want and they will find a way to build an effective program for at-risk teens.


Learn more about how to start a Local Steve's Club in your community HERE.

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