Some of you have been with me from the start, and will have lived through all of this with me. Some from CrossFit Hammersmith will have heard it at our 4th anniversary and some may be wondering what on earth I’m blabbering on about, but for any of you who may be interested, here’s a potted history of how we went from an idea of owning a gym to 4 arches and soon to be 5. Plain sailing all the way, surely?
My best friend from university told me about CrossFit back in 2010. I called up my local box (one of only 20 in the UK at the time), told them I’d studied Sports Science at Uni, worked as a personal trainer so surely I could just turn up and dominate? Andy Edwards, a regional level athlete and now owner of Dragon CrossFit suggested I come in for an induction with him to see how I moved. He tore me to shreds in a way only he can, but his level of knowledge, enthusiasm and ability to make me better made me commit to not opening a gym until I could take a session as well as he did. It was the first time I’d been on the end of really good 1-2-1 coaching, and it had a profound impact on me. I still think making me do a WOD with 40kg thrusters just as the next class was about to start was a tad mean, but like most of you guys after that first session, I was hooked.
I started coaching 2012 in CrossFit Northampton. Their gym was in the front room of a house on a golf course and made any of our arches look palatial. It was a wonderful little community though, and I got to learn how to be a better coach. I had a job in sales at the time, admittedly not the obvious career choice for someone who isn’t much of a talker, and each time I moved city with work I’d coach part time at another gym. This not only allowed me to keep trying to be a better coach, but gave me a wonderful community the moment I walked through the door. All of this allowed me to continue to gain experience at HG3 and Gymnasium and to pester the owners with questions I had about running your own gym.
My business partner when we opened CrossFit Hammersmith was Neil Hanford. I’ve been friends with Neil since secondary school, and after university we started hitting the gym together. It was the usual stuff, back and bi’s one day, chest and tri’s the next. Squats just because we felt we should but no commitment. We’d argue every session over who was stronger or bigger despite neither of us deadlifting more than 100kg. We also played the odd game of squash together which resulted in a number of smashed racquets when things didn’t go my way. Neil used to find this hysterical and came to a fancy dress party as “angry me” one year. Still not forgiven the bastard for it. Everyone else however found it very funny.
We opened the Yellow Box, or simply CrossFit Hammersmith as it was then, in November 2014, roughly a year after we first saw it. We very quickly discovered the floor was made of cheap screed so usually looked like we had been attacked by giant moles every time a bar hit it. Weekly we had to take up the mats, fill in with sand Neil had “borrowed” from the sandpit at his school (true story) and hope Amos wasn’t going to deadlift anytime soon. This continued for a number of months before TfL got their contractors to take responsibility and fix it for us.
Naturally opening a gym wasn’t enough to keep me busy so I got married in Jan 2015 and swanned off to NZ for a few weeks on honeymoon. Two weeks in I had a call off TfL telling me we had to shut down as we didn’t have an acceptable Fire Risk Assessment. The call was somewhat softened by the fact I was at the end of a biking wine tour. Fun times.
Eddie joined us in October 2015, and starting coaching part time. Neil had arranged for him to take a session and for me to assess him before he started. Eddie naturally wanted to programme the warm up, the skill, the strength and the workout. Neil told him to just do what’s on the website and good luck. Eddie obviously wanted to impress and still programmed his own warm up. It was incredible, funny, engaging and overran by a good 20 minutes. Still he got the job, mainly for managing to control the previously uncontrollable 6pm class.
Initially we had 4 or 5 part timers to help coach as I had a fulltime job as well as coaching. This was fine, but for most of them their focus was naturally never gym first. When Eddie said that if we could give him a few more hours he’d happily come and work full time for us, we jumped at the chance and he become full time at the start of December 2015. Later that same month I was made redundant. I felt I couldn’t and shouldn’t back out on our agreement with Eddie. Instead I agreed with Neil that Eddie and I would become the two full time coaches. It meant that I made a commitment then that if we were to take on staff again, that they would be needed, integral and protected.
March 2016 hit us with our biggest challenge to date. I had a call from Neil one Sunday morning to say there had been a fire in the gym. After telling him to stop messing around I realised he was serious and Kat and I rushed down. Apparently a dehumidifier in the men’s changing room was on recall as it was faulty and liable to catch on fire. You’d have thought this was something the makers may want to share with the owners of them but evidently not. It shut the Yellow Box down for around a month, with Eddie running sessions in the Park while we desperately tried to complete on the Black Box so we wouldn’t go under. Our members were truly incredible at this point, and paid us for the time we were closed and were happy to wait for the refund until the insurance paid out. So many individuals stood up at this point to help out which I will be forever grateful for. Eddie however went one step further and after a month or so of 12 hour days said he didn’t need paying as he knew we had no money. I knew then that he was someone I wanted to part of the gym for ever.
In the summer of 2017 I had the opportunity to do just that and make my wish a reality. Neil always wanted to be a bigger part of CrossFit Hammersmith but he kept getting promotions at work, and the commute from East London was a killer. He asked if I’d like to buy him out, which I did and Eddie then joined as an owner as well as taking over as head coach. The timing was great as I had my first little man in August 2017 and I could take a step back for a bit and enjoy the delights of no sleep, getting weed on lots and pterodactyl like crying. If you’re interested he doesn’t pee on me that much any more but the bugger still doesn’t sleep.
One of our first part time coaches was Nathan Lutz, who used to be the “go to man” to run our introductory sessions. His smile and charm were always far more effective than mine in getting 1st timers to join to madness. He approached us in early 2017 to say he’d found some arches and would we be interested in opening a gym with him there. We agreed and 12-18 months after seeing the arches initially, we opened up CrossFit Shepherd’s Bush in April 2018 and our coaching team grew again. Suddenly we started to feel like an actual business and not just a fun hobby. I also realised that the gym had become successful enough that I now had an office job, after leaving an office job “forever” to open a gym. Thank you fate/karma/some sod with a sense of humour.
We knew we wanted to bring the gyms together under one name, even if they’re run as two separate businesses. Cue lots of brain storming on names and tag lines, and you very nearly got to be part of brand called Sweat before our business consultant helped us stumble upon Tribe. It struck all of us immediately and he had a great time stopping my desperately itchy fingers registering the domain name that instant while we worked through a number of other options first. You can read more on why Tribe here.
Moving forward we have just opened the White Box in Hammersmith. We will also keep doing whatever we can to make Tribe the biggest success it can be for members, coaches and owners. Here’s to an incredible next four years. Little man number 2 is due in five weeks so not sure sleep will be on the agenda for a while, but if other than that they want to be slightly less eventful than the last four I’ll take it.
How the hell is it over 3 years since I wrote this? Then again, I can’t imagine anyone foresaw the events of the last few years back then.
We’ve been through lockdowns, we’ve moved online and back again. Twice. We have 3 arches that no longer leak in Hammersmith. Mostly. Daine has become our General Manager. Coach Leo has gone to NYC. Shepherd’s Bush has flat flooring. My little man number 2 is now three and he has a 6 month old sister. Eddie and Nadia have gotten married and have welcomed Matilde in the world. We’re all used to wearing facemasks. There is still that really awkward moment when saying hello to people about what to do. Fist bump? Shake hands? Hug? Some sort of mistaken combination of all three followed by a muffled apology?
Hopefully what hasn’t changed is that Tribe is a wonderful place to workout. To have fun. To laugh, to sweat, to enjoy. To get fitter along the way.
Let’s see what the next few years bring. My wish for a less eventful few years was horrendously misplaced last time, so this time I’m not saying anything so foolish. Whatever it brings though, let’s face it together and with a smile.