From Chuck Taylors to Nanos: Reflections From a Half Decade of Fitness Business

I suppose I’ll open this rudimentary exposé with our sincere and resounding gratitude. To those traveling alongside for the duration, those contributing (even briefly) along the way, those supporting from afar, and those recently joining our ranks, our parents, our siblings, and everyone from the in between – thanks! Without you, we are nothing. 423 Strength & Conditioning is simply an idea. You give it life and legs. You provide it’s breath, it’s breadth and a pulse to continue in perpetual evolution.

Some say an entrepreneur jumps from a plane without a parachute and learns how to build it on the way down. On July 24, 2010, Justin and I took the proverbial [CrossFit] lovers leap. Both of us forgoing moderately successful, yet completely miserable, careers in favor of a new pursuit. A pursuit aimed squarely at hope. Hope for happiness and fulfillment. A genuine hope for something greater (we weren’t sure what ‘greater’ meant). What we did know was twofold: we loved CrossFit and thought the greater East Tennessee area would as well.

At that time in Tennessee, we were the only gym of our kind East of Knoxville. And, as I mentioned during the 423 Games, we opened shop in similar fashion – with a competition, a birthday (baby J was 25) and a group of early-adopting, crude CrossFit-ers (maybe 15). We ‘prescribed’ a workout titled, My Pet Rock. It was terrible. Terribly programmed, terribly judged, terribly hard (considering the capacities of participants), and…terribly fun!

Oh, much has changed throughout the past 5 years. And, if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to wax nostalgic for a bit…

There was a time when we, Justin and myself, coveted a 100 kg  Snatch (that’s 220 pounds) like Blue covets Trista’s affection. In fact, I’ll never forget the day we both made the lift successfully. It only took 25, 30, or more attempts, but we did it. And, had you asked us that day, we’d have forever been satisfied with our first ‘three-digit Snatch’ for the remainder of our training life. I’m fairly certain we celebrated with a nice meal too. No, not 3 Hardee’s ThickBurgers, but a NICE meal – Golden Corral. A video, you ask? Good grief, I’m glad there isn’t one. We probably would’ve have spelled technique with a ‘k’ and looked equally as wonky. Yes, these were days predating Instagram, #hashtags, and most forms of self-loving, social media. Today stands in quite a stark contrast. A couple of weeks ago, Justin hit a 143 kg Power Snatch from the hang. Let that settle for a minute. For a period, we had ‘the chosen one’ – Trevor – join our ranks (he lifts professionally at MDUSA – look for him in the 85k A Session this weekend at USAW’s National Championship). His first Nationally earned medal hangs proudly in our halls. How much has changed in 5 years? This year, 6 of our lifters qualified for the American Open.

There was a time when we were enthralled by a series of videos posted to the Journal (THE journal, anyone?) titled, ’The Lake Tahoe Throwdown’. They featured an all-star team of proven CrossFit champions and a team with some unknowns (spoiler alert: see your program for team rosters). In Lexington, soon thereafter, we met Rich Froning Jr. and shared a conversation with him about this attractive chick with the voice only a mother could love (Camille). Yes, he was a ‘Jr.’ then – I’d bet his pops isn’t happy by the usurping of his namesake. By the way, he (Jr.) cursed freely in those pre-champion days. And, at the mention of videos, I’d be horribly remiss if I weren’t to reminisce about 2011’s YouTube sensation, ‘Caveman Kitchen’ – a Paleo cooking show offering a variety of weekly themes, dishes, and outtakes. I blush just thinking about the complete silliness we held in such esteem. Don’t bother looking, they’re safely set to private. But, if you’re lucky, we may share them again one day. As you’re all aware, CrossFit athletes are slowly turning into household names and the Games are broadcast on ESPN. Now, our idea of contributing to the canons of fitness knowledge is through a newsletter (The Outlier). By the way, we coined ourselves ‘Outliers’ before the book was ever sold.

There were times when we yearned for a 25 minute 5K run. Hell…not much has changed in that department. #hatetheruns. Speaking of them, they didn’t even exist. And we, Justin and I, were the great white hope for qualification (emphasis on great-in-size). Remember CrossFit Sectionals? It’s okay if you don’t. These were days predating the CrossFit Open. And speaking of the Open, the first workout asked for hand-release push-ups. Hand-release push-ups!? Around this time we called Steve, ‘Big Steve’, for obvious reasons. When he joined during week 1 (no, he hasn’t always been a coach), he could complete this many pull-ups —> 0. Goose egg. Now, he competes as a part of #hatetheruns at the regional level. This year we finished 20th in our region (our highest finish ever). And, ‘Big Steve’ has grown into the finest of coaches.

Yes, we trained with yard sale barbells before the Eleiko. We trained in Chuck Taylor’s long before Nanos. Much has changed throughout the last half-decade, indeed. And, while these changes have proven most enjoyable, much remains the same. Books, blogs, and podcasts alike preach from different stations to those seeking success. Often, they say, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.’ I tend to agree. Our ‘room’ simply masquerades as a gym and we’ve gleaned aplenty from your presence. To those that were, are, and all of you to come, I raise my glass to what you’ve always been – that je ne se qua, the fulfillment of hope…something greater. I’ll forever owe you a debt for supporting us along this journey.

Cheers to the next five,


Post Script: As an aside, I offer a both rare and rich glimpse into days long past. Months before 423 S & C crossed our mind, Justin and I attempted programming, competing and even a touch of writing in our very first blog. It was a flash in the pan and ironically titled, Fit Happens; Half Wits -N- Full Squats.