Credit: Courtesy of the Panther CrossFit Club
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When Gemma Morrison made her decision in college, she kept CrossFit in mind. “There had to be a gymnasium within walking distance or something on campus,” she said.
Morrison, a sophomore, landed at Penn State University, one of many colleges with a CrossFit club on campus; she is now a member of the Penn State CrossFit Club leadership team.
CrossFit in college: These clubs, although run by students, adhere to the values of sport. The emphasis is on healthier lifestyles and hitting a WOD hard, along with the kindness and support you expect from any CrossFit community.
- “I know for me, at least, CrossFit was sort of one hour a day… We didn’t have to think about school or the stress that comes with school, we’re all just there to spend time and have a good workout ”, explains Haley Flambaum, Head of Health and Welfare -be for the Penn State CrossFit Club.
The Penn State CrossFit Club is one of several in their area – there are at least six others in the Mid-Atlantic, including Panther CrossFit at the University of Pittsburgh and CrossFit Gold and Blue at the United States Naval Academy. In 2019, 17 college-level clubs competed in the Collegiate CrossFit Championship (including one in Korea).
- According to CrossFit, all university clubs are welcome to join free of charge, provided they meet the required conditions
How they work: Each of these clubs on campus functions like your typical affiliate, hosting free WODs several times a day for students (and faculty, in some cases) of all skill levels. Elections decide their leadership, with students playing the roles of president, vice president, health and wellness officer, etc.
In Annapolis, Maryland, CrossFit Blue and Gold runs on two racquetball courts and their school’s public gymnasium. For about a year, they’ve been following CrossFit Mayhem programming.
- The club, led by their competition team (Sacred Champions of the 2021 CrossFit Collegiate Championship), runs workouts for around 12-14 people in the morning and afternoon, with teacher lessons at lunch.
- Classes have a long waiting list; Katie Hofman, the club’s former vice president, said before COVID, more than 300 wannabes were on their emails to sign up.
- At the Naval Academy, many use CrossFit as a way to stay on top of their game for the personal readiness test – a one-mile run, maximum plank, and maximum push-ups – tested every semester.
- “We took a good pace”, says Ben Hilliard, president of CrossFit Blue and Gold, saying that as a coach he can see the club members “grow and develop over the years and sometimes be part of the team”.
At the University of Pittsburgh, there is no designated Crossfit box for Panther CrossFit members to train; they use their college recreation center. Vice President Ryan Costenbader says that makes them “a little limited in what they can do.”
- But, the college club formed a partnership with the local Pittsburgh FIT gymnasium; on Sundays they are able to do longer workouts, focusing on the things they miss during the week.
Jill Haffner, head coach of the Penn State CrossFit Club, says they structure their workouts with a strength part followed by a WOD and typically run about four classes a day for over 50 to 60 members. (Before COVID, their club had around 140 members.)
- The Penn State CrossFit Club has a large garage to hold workouts, with “a ton of space [and] lots of amenities. “
- Joshua Southwick, the club’s treasurer, describes the atmosphere as “second to none”.
These three clubs are also active in competitions, whether internal, regional or national.
- Hilliard jokes that this is a “pretty good team for college age kids.” CrossFit Blue and Gold has sent athletes to regionals in the past, and next year, in addition to more funding and recognition from their school, they hope to send a team to the semi-finals.
All skill levels: “[What] I really like our club, is that we are open to anyone and everyone who joins, no matter your skill level or your experience, ”says Costenbader. The management teams at each club say their squad is a mix of athletes: some members, like Morrison and Costenbader, made CrossFit a goal of their university research, others stumbled upon the club and never left.
- Anna dow, President of the Penn State CrossFit club, discovered the sport at a club lounge while researching the swim club. “I’ve never been to swim club training,” she laughs.
- Hilliard came to the Naval Academy as a walk-on for wrestling, and after being cut halfway through his freshman year, found CrossFit. “Maybe I wanted to be a Seal and do all that, so I needed a domain to grow and train with the people around me. I chose to try to do [CrossFit], it was a lot of fun and I enjoyed it.
Community: Although fitness is a main focus of CrossFit clubs, many students value it more for the community. These clubs bring together students of all skill levels, levels and ages, forging a bond that many members say cannot be replicated anywhere else.
- “Our gym was transformed into a classroom this year, that’s why we didn’t have space on campus. Our equipment had just been locked… It would literally be like 10 of us pulling dumbbells, wall balls and mats out into the grass and concrete every day, just to exercise together. You just don’t see people trying so hard to spend time together elsewhere, ”says Dow.
- “II met my best friends and roommates thanks to CrossFit… I couldn’t imagine where I would be without this club, ”says Flambaum.
- “I think it’s something really specialMorrison adds. “So many of my class coming in struggled to find friends… because of COVID, and I can honestly say I easily found the best group on campus.”
- “Our club is all about CrossFit, but it’s not about trainingit’s about the community, ”says Lauren Charlton, Panther CrossFit Officer and Coach. “I think the great thing about CrossFit is that it’s so disciplinary and fun and it’s just a great support system to have in college… I don’t know if I would still be in Pitt. without this.