CrossFit Inc. has not been immune to the challenges and controversies of 2020. Amid social media backlashes, leadership changes, and dealing with the training hurdles associated with the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on in-person fitness training, CrossFit has looked to grow its outreach through a new youth scholarship program. The program, led by CrossFit Games Head Judge and Level-1 Trainer and Flowmaster, Chuck Carswell (CF-L4), is looking to expand its message of health and fitness through nutrition and exercise to areas of underserved youth in cities around the country.
The CrossFit Scholarship program partners with local youth organizations (like Steve’s Club) in each city and sets up a weekend-long CrossFit Level-1 (L1) seminar. The program gives inner city youths a chance to complete the L1 certification weekend with no cost to the kids. At the end of the weekend, participants are matched up with mentors to continue with their local affiliate and have a chance to continue to train and be involved with CrossFit. Various end goals include becoming a trainer or potentially working towards their own fitness business.
Expanding the program was the vision of Carswell and other CrossFit Level-1 trainers, but they knew they couldn’t do it alone. The CrossFit Scholarship program, as it is known, kicked off in Atlanta and Portland this summer and has recently held seminars with kids in Nashville, TN as well.
Carswell explains, “The coolest thing about the program is that it was literally born out of trying to figure out what we can do to impact the rest of the planet. I think the idea is a combination between some of the vision we had and Dave Castro becoming the CEO; carrying on now to Eric Roza becoming the owner of the company. But literally our goal was to duplicate a (the CrossFit Scholarship) program that was started out in Scotts Valley (CA).”
Carswell talked about what it was like to spread the message of CrossFit’s philosophy of fitness combined with physical and mental wellness to underserved youths in the midst of social unrest this summer.
Carswell recalls, “We did the first one in Atlanta and the second one was in Portland which was pretty incredible because there were literally riots going on right down the road from where we were; protests and riots.”
He added that some of the affiliates they reached out to were a little hesitant because of the backlash and de-affiliating that had happened over the summer. This created a hurdle for the CrossFit Scholarship program which was partially caused by various controversies involving social media comments by and accusations against then CEO/Owner Greg Glassman.
“Some nonprofits that I called that were not willing to partner with us just yet. I think that those people who were cautious, were smart especially if they put the kids first in their decision making. They had to figure out what, ‘what does this company stand for right now?’ I get that,” Carswell explained.
“But at the same, I’ve been a part of this community for a long, long time while I don’t have much social media or a huge online reputation, some of the places could have just leaned on what they knew of me when making their decision. But with persistence, we’ve been able to make so progress on growing this program and opportunities.”
Now that CrossFIt continues to repair its image and find its direction and focus under new owner Eric Roza, Carswell sees the CrossFit Scholarship program as a way of bringing the next generation of CrossFit leaders into the fold.
“In addition to (the seminar) it can potentially lead to careers outside of CrossFit. It’s not a requirement for any kid to stay involved in the program. It’s our opportunity to essentially reach out and expose kids to health and fitness as CrossFit defines it.”
Aside from the training and potential to earn a L-1 certification for no charge, Carswell knows the overall social emotional impact it can have on these kids who would probably otherwise never have been exposed to CrossFit’s philosophies and training.
“We partner with affiliates, non-profits or clubs and organizations to provide the L-1 experience, without the test at the end. For two days they get to sit there and observe. It starts with the L-1 and continues with mentorship. We have 52 trainers, at last count, to help with the mentorship. They can look to working towards an internship with the gyms they are partnering with. Last tier could be a job with a CrossFit affiliate or training as a personal trainer,” Carswell states.
Even with the challenges that the CrossFit Scholarship program faced in 2020, Carswell has been able to keep his focus and drive moving forward into the new year.
“[T]he impact is such that where trust is earned they’re even more cautious now because the potential for it to go south or go wrong. These trainers, or most of them, look a lot like me.”
“When you’re thinking about the day-to-day idea that I could walk out of my house as a young 14-16 year old kid and because of the color of my skin or some preconceived idea I may not make it back home is a scary thought,” Carwell explains.
While the seminar isn’t going to solve all of the issues these kids are up against in the environments they live in, it does offer a reprieve from some of the unrest in the world around them.
“Our goal is to try to provide them with two days of not having to worry . . . two days of a safe environment. Two days with lack of worrying about physical harm, but also two days off in terms of you’re free to express yourself in here as long as it’s respectful and you get a chance to talk in here.”
Because of this impactful inclusion, Carswell sees the potential for this program to go beyond the walls of the CrossFit affiliates where these seminars are held.
“The coolest thing is that we have finally put ourselves in a position to where we are finally having a direct impact on communities and kids who might not have access to the program. We’re doing that in a fashion that doesn’t exclude them based on their racial make-up, their sexual orientation, their ability to have gone through a recovery program or being immigrants. We don’t discriminate on any of that stuff. What we’re doing here is to expose as many kids as possible who are considered underserved as we possibly can.”
As far as the future of the program, Carswell believes in the vision of Eric Roza and his new vision for CrossFit which he believes could help rebuild trust in the community and beyond.
According to Carsell, “In the coming years, it’s going to be interesting to see where Roza’s head is in terms of growth and development. He’s a guy who seems focused on exponential growth for our community and the question is going to be ‘what impact does diversity, equity and inclusion play?’ I know it’s forefront in his mind and I know it’s going to be awesome to watch what he lets us do to create towards his vision for those three things.”
Images courtesy CrossFit/Tyson Oldroyd