A young, dark-haired gym attendant watched me try the door from the other side.
He nodded at me and moved to let me in.
This wasn’t exactly what I expected. The name was all wrong. The sign above the storefront read “SmithFit,” but it looked about right.
During the last couple of weeks, while I’d been learning and trying to embrace the CrossFit lifestyle, all of the CrossFit gyms I’d visited were repurposed buildings. They’d been warehouses, machine shops or computer centers.
This gym looked like it might have been a comic book shop or a yarn store in another life. Who knows?
Jeremy Dosier, the owner of Mountain State Force CrossFit in Hurricane, told me he hadn’t started this “box.” A high school football coach, he’d joined a gym for fitness and then bought the place from the owner 2 1/2 years ago.
CrossFit tends toward being no-frills, which suggests a kind of frugality.
I thought maybe Jeremy just hadn’t gotten around to buying a new sign, but I was annoyed and nearly late. On my way in from Charleston, I’d driven past the place, even after my GPS announced, “You have reached your destination” and pointed to the little gym on its small screen.
Getting turned around
The attendant ushered me in.
On a wall, I saw a buff image of Jesus carrying a cross and thought, “Well, there’s your CrossFit right there.”
On the websites of some CrossFit gyms, faith in God or Bible verses turn up. Some gyms have that added dimension to their programs. This was one of those places, apparently. Instead of the usual active rock or hip-hop, I wondered if we’d be working out to Bill Gaither instead of Rob Zombie, which sounded unusual.
“Can I help you?” the dark-haired guy said.
I nodded and said, “Hi. My name is Bill. I’m supposed to meet Jeremy.”
A blank stare.
“I’m with the Gazette-Mail,” I said. “I’m doing a month about CrossFit. I’m supposed to meet the owner.”
“What?” he asked, and looked toward a woman dressed for a workout.
“Mountain State Force CrossFit,” I said.
“I don’t even know where that is,” he told me.
I rolled my eyes and explained, “The guy’s address on his Facebook page was wrong. It says 112 Midland Trail and here I am.”
“This is 44 Midland Trail,” he replied and I groaned.
Sabotaged by GPS yet again.
The woman leaned in.
“I think what you want is down the road,” she said. “Past the elementary school.”
Embarrassed, I backed out the door, apologizing and thanking them as I slinked away toward my car.
“Hey, if that doesn’t work out for you, come on back,” the guy said.
I nodded and waved.
Not a great start
I worried that the trip was wrecked. I’d wanted to visit Mountain State Force CrossFit if only because of the name. It sounded like a superhero team, like the fitness version of The Justice League or maybe The Avengers.
I have a certain fondness for that kind of thing, but I had gone from being almost late, to being late, to being very late. I was supposed to drop in for the 4:30 class, but it was 20 minutes to 5 by the time I finally pulled into the correct parking lot.
The class would already be underway. The timer would be running, and the best I could hope to do was watch, which bothered me.
I’d begun to look forward to these workouts. Sure, I hated them. I hated not being good at the exercises and didn’t like being last, but I felt amazing afterward. I felt energized and alive.
Right through the door, I found a crowd of sweaty people racking weights and doing front squats.
A front squat is where you squat while holding a barbell across your collarbones, instead of keeping the barbell across your shoulders.
Charitably speaking, it is an unpleasant exercise and unloved by most lifters. It’s an awkward move and doesn’t look cool.
Jeremy spotted me right off and crossed the floor to shake my hand. I apologized for being late and explained my GPS dropped me at what was probably his nearest competition.
“Yeah,” he said. “That happens. I don’t know why.”
He laughed it off and gave me the nickel tour.
The Mountain State Force CrossFit building was another old storage building that had been repurposed for exercise. It was about half the size of CrossFit WV in Charleston, with about half the stuff.
The decor was sparse, but instead of the usual white boards used for posting workouts, Mountain State Force had a pair of flat screen monitors linked to the CrossFit “Wodify” website.
The website keeps track of the workouts of the day and can hold user performance data, which could be used for future workouts.
“The great thing about this is the math,” Jeremy said. “It does the math for you.”
Different CrossFit exercises call for different weights. For example, one day you might be told to lift one weight 10 times during a particular exercise. During a different session, you might do the same exercise but perform the movement more times using less weight or fewer repetitions using more weight.
The website figured out what weight you should probably use based on what you’ve already done.
I thought it was cool. I’m lousy at math.
The website could be accessed through smartphones and, if you wanted, you could look at what other people were doing and use it as a motivation tool.
“There’s a competitive element to this,” Jeremy said. Then he asked, “Do you want to work out?”
I sighed. Yes, but what was the point? Everyone else was already going.
Jeremy told me all I’d really missed was the warmup. I could still do the lifting portion, if I wanted.
So, I jumped in with Jason Asbury and Herb Hernandez, a couple of CrossFitters who’d been with this gym for five or six months.
Herb was just getting back to it after breaking both of his wrists in a military training exercise.
“We have more than a few military guys here,” Jeremy told me. “We have ex-military and some nurses. I’d say that’s a lot of our membership.”
Not exactly stretched out and maybe a little cold, I did the drill as best I could. We did pullups, front squats and then burpees — which are pushups and jumping jacks rolled into one — as fast as we could.
I kept the weight I lifted on the lighter side, which helped get me through to the end before the 12-minute cap.
After the workout, we put up our weights, which is something I love about CrossFit. You’re expected to put up your weights and equipment.
At other, non-CrossFit gyms, cleaning up after yourself is often a suggestion, not an enforced policy. Musclebound meatheads scatter steel plates and iron bars like they think gym membership includes a maid.
I’ve been guilty of it, too, I’m sure.
As the class cleaned up, I talked to a couple of the members. Everybody has a reason for joining a gym, but it’s not always to get washboard abs.
Andy Theodos, a former petroleum engineer, started coming to Mountain State Force CrossFit after he retired three years ago.
“My mother is 103,” he said. “She told me you have to stay active. You have to get out.”
Andy joined because his son worked out here. He wasn’t in terrible shape to begin with and, at 63, he’s the local terror of the rowing machine.
He loves the community and camaraderie.
“The people are just amazing,” he said. “It’s real friendships.”
It’s a long way until August
Like other CrossFit gyms, the members get together outside of class. Two years ago, Jeremy said he and about 20 people from the gym did West Virginia’s Spartan Race at Summit Bechtel Reserve.
“We didn’t really need to do any special training,” Jeremy said. “We just kept up with the workouts of the day and by the time the race rolled around, we were ready.”
“Well, we did practice some bucket carries,” one of the other CrossFitters acknowledged.
The bucket carry is one of the least-loved Spartan obstacles. Participants carry a five-gallon bucket filled with stones up and down a steep hill.
The bucket weighs between 70 and 100 pounds.
On my way out, Jeremy told me to stop back in anytime. I told them I would.
If nothing else, I’d like to hear more about getting through a Spartan Race.