By Zach Mosbarger
Only at Reebok CrossFit One would it be possible to be partnered up during class with a Reebok employee who helped design and develop the very shoes you were wearing on your feet. Yes, RCF1 is a magical place, a Disney World for adults with a passion for fitness. Rigs, rings, rowers, perfectly aligned and dispersed in every direction. This box housed more GHDs and bars and weights and ropes than I’d ever seen together in one place. I really shouldn’t have expected the headquarters of one of the world’s leading fitness brands to have anything other than a top-notch facility, but this post isn’t meant to be about the equipment. On the contrary, it was the people of RCF1 that made the gym come alive. The spirit of the place could be felt from the top down, starting with the phenomenal coaching staff led by four-time CrossFit Games athlete Austin Malleolo. It was arguably one of the smoothest hours of class I’d ever had the privilege of being of a part of and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t jealous of the Reebok employees that get to work out there every single day.
The employees, it turns out, don’t take their functional fitness Shangri La for granted. In her well-researched account of CrossFit, Learning to Breathe Fire, author J.C Herz writes about how Reebok’s company morale shot through the roof when CrossFit programming was introduced on campus. Lexi and I, having both read the book, witnessed firsthand the type of corporate atmosphere Herz was describing. In our noon class we worked alongside designers, marketing executives, and entry-level mailroom assistants together, sweating through the vicious partner WOD combination of rowing and squat cleans. This place gives new meaning to the term ‘corporate wellness’. Several employees explained to us after the workout that it is quite common for people in different departments, who wouldn’t know each other otherwise, to ask “what’s the WOD?” in the hallways.
Ah, the Workout of the Day, which on this day greeted us as the aforementioned partner couplet. While setting up equipment after the warm-up I made eye-contact with a Reebok employee who introduced himself as Tim. He motioned toward my new weightlifting shoes (purchased just forty-five minutes prior in the HQ Store) and told me to let him know how they felt- he’d helped to develop them.
Tim and I proved to be a good match, finishing second in the workout to Lexi and her partner Ken. We high-fived each other and soon after, the other finishers. In the end, however, only one athlete mattered. Her name was Dawn.
On June 27th, 2010, Dawn Macomber collapsed suddenly at a bed & breakfast in Vermont. She’d suffered a series of injuries over the course of the previous twenty years, starting with her time in the U.S. Army. Surgeries on everything from her shoulders to her knees had severely altered Dawn’s prior athletic lifestyle. It all came to a head that morning in Vermont when Dawn learned she was paralyzed from the waist down.
Devastated, Dawn says that she let herself go to the point of obesity. She admits that the last few years have been a struggle. In 2013, however, she decided to take action. After trying adaptive skiing, she cranked things up a notch. Able to move with crutches from years of intensive rehab, she gave CrossFit a try.
We met Dawn at an interesting time. She was at Reebok CrossFit One to share her experiences and promote adaptive CrossFit, but also for her own personal celebration. It had been exactly a year since Dawn’s first WOD, and I watched her row 1500 meters and perform 30 cleans. I was amazed; I mean, this woman had been paralyzed. The doctors told her she would never walk again. I usually have tunnel vision during workouts- I don’t even hear the music once the clock starts. But I couldn’t help but to steal glances over at Dawn as she gritted her teeth and grunted through her cleans with unmatched effort a few feet away from Tim and I. An inspiring sight, to be sure; if Dawn can give 100% effort during every workout, what gives me the right to ever complain about trivial matters like being sore or missing on a snatch attempt?
The most remarkable moment of the day took place during the final minute of Dawn’s workout. By the time she strapped her feet into the rower to complete her last 250 meters, every other pair of athletes had finished. Anyone who’s ever tried CrossFit has been there before: the athlete struggling to wrap up the last reps of a tough metcon while your classmates cheer you on. It sucks, but it happens. From the outside looking in, though, this felt different. Dawn had the genuine support of thirty strangers as the meters ticked down. Coach Austin stood behind her, informing the crowd how many strokes she had remaining until she was done. When the count hit zero, the group erupted and I realized I had goosebumps up and down my arms.
A year after starting CrossFit, Dawn has no regrets.
“My blood pressure is down, my kidney and liver problems are nearly gone, I’ve lost weight, I’m moving better and I just feel healthy,” she said. “I don’t let anyone talk bad about CrossFit. This program and these people have done more for me than I can even describe.”
This isn’t just a story. Dawn lives this way every day. We were fortunate that she shared her experiences and advocated for adaptive CrossFit, a subculture of the sport that I wouldn’t have known about if not for Dawn. I watched with pure admiration as Dawn walked away toward the parking lot after our conversation.
Lexi and I were able to observe up close just what makes Reebok so special, and it wasn’t only the products. We looked a little deeper and asked, “why are the products so good?” The simplest and easiest answer we could come up with was the people.
I saw a sign in the Reebok Store on campus that said “Made by CrossFitters, for CrossFitters”, but I didn’t give it much thought until Tim mentioned that he was involved in the making of my new shoes. In the midst of the WOD, with Tim and I rotating every 250 meters on the C2 rower, I felt like the CrossFit version of Ray Kinsella’s dad wondering whether or not this was heaven. No, it seems it’s actually Canton, but you could have fooled me.
*Note- All of RCF1’s coaches were phenomenal. A special thanks goes out to Matt DellaValle, Conor Murphy, Joe Masley, and Zathan Simpson, all of whom were present during our class.