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Building community, one pull-up at a time

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“I had expressed that at the gym that I really love coming here, it’s just an amazing community,” Wolniakowski said. “But my finances are so tight.”

JP CrossFit came to Wolniakowski with a solution: a needs-based solution, sliding-scale scholarship that would reduce its membership fees.

The compromise worked. So good, in fact, that Wolniakowski was able to get off the plan and now works as a part-time social worker and trainer at JP CrossFit.

“If I hadn’t been able to get to that sliding scale, I wouldn’t have been able to keep going to that gym,” she said. “[JP CrossFit] really focused on fairness and protecting its members, and meeting their members where they are in terms of financial burden.

Jasmine Gerritsen (left) leads Sara Garrard through an exercise during a class at JP CrossFit. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

The scholarship program has expanded since its launch more than two years ago to serve 13 members of the JP CrossFit community, “most of whom are people of color or queer people or both,” said said Jasmine Gerritsen, gym manager. the head coach. “It had a major impact on our demographics.”

Improving access across racial and socioeconomic lines was a logical next step for a gym that prides itself on accepting all athletes. The ten-year-old gym members are older (an average age of 36) than is typical for CrossFit gyms, and the majority of its more than 200 active members are from the LGBTQ community. Yet its members were predominantly white, middle-class people — a demographic that has dominated CrossFit in the United States since its inception 20 years ago. Now he hopes to change that too.

Gerritsen said the gymnasium has become more intentional in inviting more people of color, low-income people and trans people to better reflect the makeup of the Jamaica Plain neighborhood that surrounds it.

“I know these people are here. Why don’t they show up? What are the obstacles ? Gerritsen, who is Latina and comes from a low-income background, said she asked herself the question while building the framework for the scholarship program. “In my own experience, money is a big hurdle.”

For those who need the reduced rate, they must apply to be considered and come to the gym at least two or three times a week to remain eligible. The staff checks with them every six months if the rate they are paying is still suitable for them or if they need a further reduction or if they can contribute more.

But JP CrossFit doesn’t want gym-goers to feel like how much they pay defines their membership, so it keeps who’s on the sliding-scale exchange anonymous.

Noon class athletes use rowing machines at JP CrossFit.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

The program isn’t JP Crossfit’s only cost-effective initiative to increase accessibility. It also runs weekend classes open to everyone for $5 per person, allows members to waive fees (if they’ll be out of town for a few weeks, for example), and offers discounts to first-year teachers. and social workers, AmeriCorps service members, paramedics, and firefighters.

“Once we lift the finance barrier, the next challenge will be to make sure people see each other. You know, like there’s not a single black person in the class, because that’s very uncomfortable,” Gerritsen said, adding that they are also looking to get more people of color on the staff as coaches.

Damaria Joynar could be that coach. Joynar, who is black and currently on a sliding scale scholarship, said entering the JP Crossfit Coaching Apprenticeship Program is “my next step now because I was inspired and I I feel like my community deserves this experience.”

An athlete tracks his training during a class at JP CrossFit. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Jarron Saint Onge, associate professor of sociology and population health at the University of Kansas, studies the impact of social determinants of health on racial, class, gender and location disparities.

“What’s important for maintaining all health behaviors is social support,” and people from marginalized backgrounds often struggle to find that support, he said. “It has to be teamwork, and it’s the same when you get into physical activity, this idea that you feel responsible to someone or you feel responsible to a group. From what I understand, this is how CrossFit really works. It’s a social thing.

At the start of a recent lunch class, Gerritsen asked everyone to share their name, pronouns and the highlight of their weekend: A gym-goer was shopping for Christmas with his daughter, another was lighting the menorah. for Hanukkah, a third had participated in a dog show. For the folks at JP CrossFit, the thinking is that knowing a little something about the person sweating next to you makes a big difference. Four rounds in everyday life Training, as they struggled on the pull-up bar, class participants encouraged each other, complimenting form and progress while panting for breath.

Ed Yu (left) completes a pull-up in a class at JP CrossFit. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

“It’s not intimidating here, it’s the beauty of JP CrossFit,” said Michelle Flynn, 47, who has been going to the gym for a year and a half.

Gym owner Logan Miller said he grew up “a social outcast”, so fostering that sense of belonging among the members is important to him. Also, Miller said, being flexible with members financially is a good business decision.

“If we’re loyal to our customer base, then our customer base will be loyal to us,” he said, adding that the average JP CrossFit membership term is three years. “It kind of boils down to that sense of loyalty. If people are deeply committed to the community, why would they hurt us for being generous? That’s just not what the community does. The community supports each other.


Julian EJ Sorapuru is a development researcher at The Globe and can be contacted at julian.sorapuru@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JulianSorapuru


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