26 Aug The Backstory..
PART I: THE PROLOGUE
So there I was….
4 years in business/operations is fast approaching. It’s been an incredible ride and we’ve been proud to be apart of the lives of those who constitute PSKC. Since we’ve moved to the new building we’ve had a lot of new members join and we realize not everyone knows the backstory of how this venture got going. This is the attempt to tell the story how PSKC got rolling..
In college I received an Army ROTC scholarship to Capital University in Columbus. Growing up I loved sports and working out and I knew more than anything I wanted to serve in the military. While in college I needed some spending (beer) money, so I answered an ad to manning the front desk of a Columbus area fitness center (the Power Shack). My duties included opening at 430am,..and closing at 10pm somedays. In between, I manned the front desk, sold memberships, cleaned, swept the floors, sold supplements, did my homework, and whatever else was required of me. Plus I got to workout for free. I loved that job and learned a lot. I got to train and ask questions from bodybuilders, powerlifters, and gym rats. However, what that job taught me the most was that a gym is about the people.
The 5 minute interactions I had with the members at the end and beginning of their workouts left the most impression upon me. It was those connections that made the lasting impact. From there I became a personal trainer in 2000 and worked at 2 different PowerShacks in Central Ohio until the time I graduated and left for the Army in 03. Some days my schedule consisted of 6am ROTC PT, classes from morning to mid-afternoon, then working and working out at the gym till 10pm at night. Between, the gym, ROTC, and school it was a busy 4 years that flew by.
It’s funny to look back, but that “side job” that I took so I could have beer money and an opportunity to do homework taught me a lot of lessons for the future. At one point I thought it would be amazing to own a gym one day. At no point did I ever believe I could actually own a gym.It was just a dream. Little did I know those 3+ years working at a gym would teach me a lot of lessons that would come in handy for the future. After graduating there were much more pressing issues, it was 2003 and wars to be fought.
PART II: “FILTHY 50”
Fast forward…it was 2007 and I was a Captain in the Army preparing to exit from the service and join the “real world”. I had spent 4 years prior as an Intelligence officer assigned to the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne). I wasn’t tabbed (Green Beret), but the through the grace of God had been able to spend my short career as a junior officer with 10th Group. It was during this time supporting 10th Group that would shape the way I wanted to live my life. The lessons I learned during this time would be the foundation for how I wanted to run what would later become PSKC. These men were incredible, what they did for the people of Iraq was amazing, what they did in service of their country was heroic. A small group of men armed only with intellect, attitude, and teamwork did huge things.
After 2 deployments in as many years it was time to move on from the Army. At the end of my active duty service I was introduced to CrossFit by 2 Special Forces Officers who were also ETS’ing out of the Army, both of which whom were former Team Leaders. CrossFit in 2007 was small and unheard of…this was before Nanos and the CrossFit Games. It was very popular and gained a following early on in the Special Operations community. After much harassment and insults by my friends, I decided I would try give a shot. They said we were doing “Filthy 50”. I looked it up and it was almost laughable, the heaviest movement being 45lb push presses. Needless to say at 6500ft elevation in Colorado Springs, 50 minutes later I was dry heaving in the bathroom as I was quite literally eating medicine balls during the wall ball portion. I DNF’d (did not finish) and from that moment was hooked. This was the spring of 2007.
I got out of the Army and my wife and I were fortunate to find a jobs back in our hometown of Portsmouth. As I transitioned into the civilian world my love for CrossFit grew. Hours were spent reading CrossFit journal articles (the the old .pdf days) and watching online videos. The only problem was that I was in Southern Ohio and had no place to do CrossFit, let alone train at an actual affiliate. I was working out at the only gym in town and tried to do what I could there, but it wasn’t enough..I wanted to learn the right way. So I pulled up the google and at the time one of the only affiliates in the state was ROGUE FITNESS in Columbus. They offered free group workouts on Saturdays and that August a few friends of mine and myself went up to get drilled. It was the first time I’d ever been to an affiliate. I was a kid in a candy store. The owner of Rogue Fitness, Bill was a great guy and thought it was awesome that we drove 2 hours just to come and workout. Later that day ROGUE posted this blog: click HERE. I’ll never forget the feeling being on a website. It was cool, empowering and inspiring..something that would stay with me.
After that workout, Bill asked if we wanted to join him and his crew for lunch. A workout followed by some grub and beer? This was like being in the military..a sense of community and camaraderie after going through some shared suffering. My first experience at Rogue formed my basis on what “CrossFit” should be. From there I trained a few times under Bill and got more and more fascinated with kettlebells, to the point where I purchased my own set and learned everything I could. During the times he taught me about CrossFit and kettlebells he talked about an idea of offering equipment to CrossFit affiliates. In 07-08 you couldn’t find kettlebells, rings, bars, bumpers, at a reasonable price in the US. No one was producing them domestically…let alone on a economic scale. Enter Bill’s dream…manufacture high quality American made equipment.
Over the next year or two during the trips I made up to Columbus to seek training/advice, Bill’s “dream” was growing bigger and bigger. He and his team’s vision was beyond the affiliate model..it was to serve multiple people and affiliates. From watching Rogue, some lessons would stick with me.
Customer service – Rogue is awesome and they go above and beyond the normal to provide quality service to the customer.
Veteran owned – made in America: Give back to the military, pay it forward, and always have their back. Do every piece of business you can locally and do it with American made products and companies.
PART III – ENTER THE KETTLEBELL
Fast forward a few years, I was working my “real” job and everyday having to carry in my kettlebells (53s and 70s) to the the local gym. Everyday I plugged my headphones in and had a small corner in the gym where I’d do a mix of swings, snatches, burpees, squats, TGUs. Sweating…grunting.running from the wizard. Some days would be spent with a rucksack on the treadmill or walking around the track doing various KB carries. Day in and day out I’d have to carry in and out the kettlebells..finally I asked if I could just leave them there and anyone was welcome to use them. “No, we can’t do that, it’s a liability issue” was the response I received. Additionally,multiple times trainers lectured me that I was going to hurt myself and damage their property for the way I was so “haphazardly exercising”. My discontent for conventional gyms began to grow.
In the end of 2009, a lady approached me and told me she was opening up a new gym in town and wondered if I would teach a “kettlebell” class there. All she knew was that I was the crazy bald guy in the corner swinging kettlebells and she wanted to offer that at her gym. “Ummm sure, I’d love to” was my response, in November of 2009 I traveled to CrossFit Maximus in Lexington, KY and attended Jeff Martone’s CrossFit Kettlebell certification. That “Black Friday” I traveled up to Rogue to get my bells. I’ll never forget, Bill gave his entire shop (approximately 5 employees that Friday off), I came in to grab my “massive” order – 10 total kettlebells. It was only Bill manning the 700sq ft warehouse adjacent to the gym in Gahanna. I got my bells and he gave me a free Rogue Barbell Club shirt, one man solo manning the Rogue ship on Black Friday – yet another lesson (hustle) I learned from Rogue. That January of 2010 on my birthday I began offering Kettlebell classes at the new gym in town.
At the time I could only commit to 3 classes a week (2 in the evening and 1 on Saturday) due to my full time job. In the beginning I was shocked that anyone showed up, a couple months later I could count on 3-5 people that would be there 90% of the time (one of those being the Cyborg aka Coach Mo). That was winter of 2010 fast forward to early summer we regularly had 15 people and had to improvise with doing workouts outdoors. We were outgrowing the 500 sq ft. “group fitness” space we had.
One day a member approached me and said a friend of his had a warehouse we might be able to use. At that point it was extremely scary and risky for me, it was never my determination to “build it and they will come”. I had (and at this point do have) a very comfy job, it was never my intent to open a gym in Portsmouth. However, the 8 months prior I fell in love with the members and I fell in love with watching people achieve things they thought were impossible. I wanted to teach the same lessons I had learned in the military, provide mental and physical fitness to Southern Ohio.
PART IV – WAREHOUSE WARFARE
So I went to check out the warehouse. 4 walls, 2 roll up doors, 1 ceiling for a total of around 2500 sq ft. That was it…it was perfect. It was raw, grimy, dirty, unheard of, hard to find…it was perfect. I didn’t really know if it would work, it was a risk. But the one thing I did know was that it was a passion. So I took $8000 out of my savings, but some more equipment, flooring, and a 14ft wall mounted rig. We charged $5/class and if we had enough money to cover the rent we defined it as a success. I negotiated a short term lease, and I figured it was a complete failure I would have a well equipped garage gym for myself. I choose the name Portsmouth Spartan Kettlebell Club (PSKC) in honor to the original NFL team the Portsmouth Spartans, it represented a throwback to the times when Portsmouth was booming, an Ohio rivertown founded on hard work. I wanted that same spirit. It was a risk, and I knew I couldn’t do it alone. So I approached Monica (Coach Mo) and Dave if they would help cover classes if I had to leave for my “real” job. They graciously accepted knowing they wouldn’t be paid.
After a few weeks of cleaning, scrubbing, setting up, scrubbing, and cleaning..the first official PSKC class was held on August 28th, 2010.
If you never had the opportunity to workout in the warehouse you missed A LOT. No heat..none..the winters were BRUTAL. Your hands would stick to the kettlebells and the barbells would be so cold you could barely grip them. You had to dress in layers..as the hour progressed the layers were stripped off. In the summer it was brutal, no fans. The the roof leaked and the gym flooded after every good downpour. We used the “lane of pain”, built an outdoor rig, we improvised, adapted and overcame. And we were thrilled to have what we had. Those days were special, memorable, and literally filled with blood, sweat, and tears.
The project was off and running. We offered 1 class in the evening Mon-Thurs and of course the Saturday Pain Clinics. It was awesome. The risk paid off and slowly but surely we began to grow. We made enough to cover the rent and if there was any extra it went back into the gym. Every single additional cent in revenue went right back in equipment. There was no “capital investment” and/or “seed money”, this was straight boot strapping.
We began to develop a rhythm and we learned via experience and attended as many certifications as possible. We evolved as the days went by…hours upon hours were spent inside that warehouse training members..the spark was lit and the fire grew. Every month or so we’d add another barbell, a rower, an airdyne, a GHD, etc. The members were and are our the foundation of our success and passion, so many special memories and the forging of a unique type of bond. No matter the type of a day we as coaches are having the highlight is to coach a warehouse full of athletes ready to take on whatever was thrown at them. And they did exactly just that..Tough Mudders, 5K truck pushes, 5K buddy/yoke/kettlebell carries, helping our local Marine recruits.
Mo’s countless hours coaching classes and intros from day 1 showed an incredible dedication to the members ane allowed the community to grow and gym grow to what it is today. In addition to Mo we picked up incredible coaching talent in Zak, Ash, Sara, Ann, Perry, and Kendra. All former members who were bitten by the CrossFit bug to and had the same passion to help other people. In 2013 we became an official CrossFit affiliate and we were packing the warehouse with members, equipment, and classes. What once seemed like an enormous space was soon closing in with people, equipment, and memories. Once again we were blessed to be outgrowing our space. A decision had to be made…
PART V: LET’S DO THIS
In the summer of 2013, we got a call about a building downtown that was just put up for sale. It used to be a warehouse, however the previous took the 4500 sq ft warehouse and built out 19 offices into it. We never saw and grasped the MASSIVE amount of work it would take to tear it all out, build it out, and get the neccesary city approvals. All we saw was the vision of what it could become. We had to make the call. Could we do it? This time it was serious, much more risk involved. All the coaches talked and weighed the possibilities. If we wanted to be serious, it was time to get serious. As we preach so often, we just repeating “You got this”…and pulled the trigger.
Last summer was insane, operating a full time gym, trying to demo and renovate another building, having full time commitments, and on top of everything everyone’s hero Boston was bravely fighting the last rounds of his battle with cancer. It was stressful to say the least. But through everything as usual it was the members that made it happen. It was a true family effort that pulled that building together: so many people stepped up and donated time, money, and resources. It’s unbelievable to sit back remember what everyone did.
“TO HAVE A GREAT DREAM, IT TAKES A GREAT TEAM”
Now, it’s been close to a year in the new space. Looking back on a decision that seemed so risky, fortunately it was the best thing we could have done. At the center of those decisions, I would always remember a speech by the founder of CrossFit, Greg Glassman regarding what makes a good affiliate:
Quite simply it is “THE BLIND PURSUIT OF EXCELLENCE”, which translates into everyday we step into the gym and every class, our sole mission and purpose is to make you better. Nothing else matter other than providing a space and a program to make your better, the heart of gym is the members. Apart of that means facing some fears in regards to opening/expanding a business. At the forefront of any decision regarding business, you must simply ask “is this best for the members“. That advice is the foundation of our philosophy and it has paid off.
VI: THE FUTURE
Where do we go from here? So many wonderful memories and happiness you have given us over the last four years, our only way to repay you is to give you the best we can offer. We can’t predict the future, but it will be exciting and we have a lot of great ideas in development. We exist solely for the betterment of our members. Our passion is you. Each hour long class we want that to be the best hour of your day. That is our goal. Somedays we fall short, but we will forever endure to make that happen.
As a 20 year old, the dream was to open a gym one day. Because of you all, I’ve lived that dream for the last 4 years. Thank you for that.