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Chester County Press

Stronger than yesterday

08/19/2014 04:38PM ● By Acl

CrossFit Kennett Square celebrated its two-year anniversary recently. It is owned by John Wilkins, Nathalie Matte, Mike Haggarty, and Jenifer Haggarty.

By Steven Hoffman

Staff Writer

It's 4:30 on a bright afternoon in August. Everett Gordon's day started 12 hours earlier, when he arrived at CrossFit Kennett Square long before sunrise to write out that day's program of exercises on a board. Today, the classes are focusing on proper technique and Gordon takes his time demonstrating each of the exercises that the participants will be doing for the next hour. The class is as diverse as the movements and exercises that they are about to undertake: teachers are stretching next to police officers. Former competitive cheerleaders are sweating off the pounds next to moms. Children as young as 12 are working out alongside, and learning from, men who are old enough to join the AARP.

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Those who make CrossFit a regular part of their life say that with its functional and varied movements, the program results in what everyone who exercises wants—stamina, balance, strength, speed, agility, and coordination. And trainers like Gordon can adjust the workouts for anyone from beginners to accomplished athletes so that each person is progressing with his or her fitness goals.

“Anybody is able to do this at their own fitness level,” Gordon explained. “I have twelve-year-olds in here and I have a 75-year-old in here. The exercises are always done in a safe manner. We get rid of the egos at the door. The expectations are to have fun and feel comfortable in this environment.”

'It's about supporting each other'

Each class begins with an introduction of the workout and a warm-up for about 10 minutes. 

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Gordon illustrates the way to do a proper chin-up (keep the palms in toward you and absolutely no kicking is allowed). Next, it's on to the kettlebells for single-arm presses. This exercise helps with range of motion. Then the class does knee tucks while positioned on stability balls, one of many different pieces of equipment that might be utilized on any given day. Later, there will be sprints around the building. This particular class is typical for CrossFit in that no two days are ever the same.

“I have been doing CrossFit for about two years and I like everything about it,” said Lauren Byrd, a resident of Oxford who is a former competitive cheerleader. “Prior to CrossFit, I would go to the gym, but it was very monotonous. CrossFit is never monotonous. You do something different every day. I also like how it never gets any easier. You can always push yourself to the next level. The best part is seeing how far you can push yourself as part of this community.”

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Community. CrossFit Kennett Square participants use that word again and again. Even though each person is scaling an exercise to his or her current level, they are still working together—and pulling for each other.

“That's what CrossFit is all about,” Gordon said. “It's about supporting each other.”

Every week, one or two or five people will step through the doors of CrossFit Kennett Square for the first time and join Byrd and dozens of others lifting, pulling, bending, twisting and running their way to good health.

Gordon and the team of coaches—Brian Neely, Kelly Neely, Rachel 

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Blumenfeld, J.R. Bosely, and Laurie Palic—ensure that there is always a positive, supportive atmosphere.

Palic is a seventh-grade teacher in the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District. She was one of the first students to join CrossFit Kennett Square after it opened in May of 2012. At that time, she'd grown tired of her typical workout routine and was in need of a change to keep her motivated.

Palic said that she had played sports before, including softball, but was never really a standout in any of them.

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During her first class at CrossFit, she managed to do 100 push-ups, 100 sit-ups, 100 pull-ups, and 100 squats, and just like that she embraced the sport.

“I had never 100 of anything before that,” Palic admitted. “I hated every minute of it, but I did it. I was hooked. It turns out that this is my thing.”

Part of the reason that she was hooked is the family atmosphere that has been fostered here.

“A lot of families come here. {CrossFit is even}great for kids,” Palic said.

CrossFit incorporates a wide range of activities, including everything from powerlifting to sprinting to plyometrics to calisthenics to doing squats or push-ups, so there is no need to be a world-class bodybuilder to enjoy it and reap the benefits.

“CrossFit is good for a wide variety of people because it can be whatever you want it to be,” Palic explained. “CrossFit is so malleable to what you want to accomplish. You can make it challenging for yourself or make it easy for yourself.”

Fitness that will fit into your life

Gordon typically starts his day at 4:15 a.m. because there's a large contingent of CrossFitters 

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who regularly take part in the 5 a.m. class. For some, that's the only time of the day that they can fit exercise  into their busy schedules. Leigh and Erik Castle fit into this category. Erik started CrossFit in December 2012 and Leigh followed about six months later.

“I needed a change from the normal gym routine,” Erik explained. “You go to the gym, it's the same thing over and over again. With CrossFit, it's a lot more practical exercises. You get a full-body workout and there are no repetitive exercises.”

Erik's enthusiasm for CrossFit convinced his wife to try it as well.

“I saw how good he felt and how excited he was about his progress,” Leigh explained. “I had been working out, but I have trouble staying motivated without someone there to push me. I do this to be stronger and to have more energy.”

The Castles immediately liked the camaraderie and support of CrossFit Kennett Square, and they made time for several classes each week.

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“It's such an encouraging atmosphere,” Leigh explained. “We have a good 5 a.m. crew. It's a good routine to get into. We're modeling a healthy lifestyle for our kids.”

When CrossFit Kennett Square first opened, there were 12 classes a week. Now, there are 42 group classes a week and Gordon is always overseeing fundamentals classes and private sessions. There’s an American flag that hangs from the ceiling about one-third of the way across the gym. That marks the approximate size of the facility—about 1,200 square feet—when it initially opened. Walls have been knocked down twice since then to accommodate more space for people to work out.

Gordon, who holds an M.S. In Sports Management a sports trainer since 1998, is not surprised that CrossFit is proving itself to be much more than a fad. A fitness enthusiast, he started doing CrossFit in 2008, a few years after it was founded but still a few years before it exploded in popularity. He immediately liked what the exercise program had to offer, and he thought it would be an effective way for others to improve their overall level of fitness so he became a CrossFit Level I certified instructor. 

He was hired to manage CrossFit Kennett Square by owners John Wilkins, Nathalie Matte, Mike 

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Haggarty, and Jenifer Haggarty. 

When asked about success stories at CrossFit Kennett Square, Gordon doesn't like to single out one person over another because so many people have made progress. Like a proud parent who doesn't feel favoritism toward one child over another, Gordon wants to mention the accomplishments of every person who regularly attends CrossFit.

“I am very proud of all these members,” he said.

Indeed, there are many stories about men and women managing to improve their health and fitness.

Rebecca Avello, a resident of Kennett Square, said that before taking up CrossFit she felt like she was no longer making progress with her workouts.

“I hit a point where my body wasn't changing,” Avello explained. “I would say that probably three months after I started here I noticed a huge change in my fitness level.”

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Before CrossFit, Avello said, she didn't have the endurance to run half a mile. Now, she can run a 5K with energy to spare.

Richard Keitch and his wife, Maureen, have been working out at CrossFit Kennett Square for the last two years. Keitch said that the exercise program has helped him to find and maintain consistency in his workout routine.

“I would run half-marathons but I was never consistent,” he said. “I would run for six months then not do anything for six months” before CrossFit changed that.

Patrick Rita also admits that he doesn’t always love working out, so he favors short, more intense workouts that are possible with CrossFit.

“Because I’m not a natural workout guy, I would rather give it my all for 18 or 20 minutes instead

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 of working out for an hour,” Rita explained. “CrossFit really found that perfect balance of intensity and time for me. My goal is to keep up with the others, that really keeps me going. If I join the easy crowd, I won’t grow. I’ve never been a big workout guy, but if I am going to keep disease at a respectable distance, I have to do it.”

Rita said that CrossFit helped him rehab after he had surgery on a rotator cuff that was worn out after a lifetime of activities. Gordon was able to come up with alternate exercises that Rita could do while he was on the mend.

“We’re always strict on form, especially if you’re coming back from an injury,” Rita said. “It’s not about how fast you can run or how much weight you can lift. It’s always about doing it right.”

The spirit of community is strengthened by people like Rita, who was called by one of his peers as the biggest cheerleader for everyone else.

“It’s a family and we’ll take good care of you,” Rita said.

Functional fitness that works

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The functionality of CrossFit is illustrated by Brian Neely’s story.

Neely had re-injured his rotator cuff while on duty as a state police officer. After surgery to repair the injury, Neely’s arm was going to be in a sling for several months. He didn’t think that he could continue to work out at CrossFit Kennett Square until he was fully recovered. After all, Neely is right-handed and the injury was to his right arm.

But he talked to Gordon who assured him that they could come up with a regimen that Neely could safely handle while he rehabbed the injury.

“We worked together and came up with single arm movements,” Neely said. “It was definitely helpful. I had a lot of good support here.”

That support includes coaches who are constantly encouraging people to pay attention to even minor aches or pains.

“We want you to always listen to your body,” Gordon explained.

That’s especially true for beginners, who have to be cautious not to be too aggressive with 

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exercises that are new to them. These exercises can be scaled for the beginner with fewer reps, reducing the weigh lifted, or reducing the distance of a particular exercise.

“Everything has a modification,” explained Palic. “Take a standard push-up. If you can’t do a standard push-up, maybe you can do a push-up from your knees. Or you can do a push-up angled against the wall. Everything can be changed up.”

When Kelly Neely started at CrossFit, she had given birth to three children and wasn’t taking care of herself as well as she could have been. Her blood pressure and cholesterol levels were too high.

“I was in bad shape health-wise,” she stated.

Then she tried CrossFit and—like Byrd, Rita, Palic and so many others—quickly grew to like it.

“It tapped into the athlete inside me,” she explained. She started making some changes in her diet and felt even better.

“I am way healthier now than I was two years ago,” Kelly Neely said. “And I still have a lot of goals that I want to meet.”

Gordon said that it’s typical for people to see positive changes in their health after regular CrossFit training.

“You’re going to see improvement in athletic ability,” Gordon said.

That improvement is for any kind of person, whether it's a former athlete, a current athlete who is between sports seasons, a teen, a stay-at-home mom, or someone who is very serious about his or training. CrossFit is a good way to incrementally improve your fitness.

“I’m not a competitive athlete,” Byrd said. “For me, I work with the coaches here to reach personal goals for myself. The coaches help a lot. The coaches are incredible. I couldn’t think of a better group of people to keep you motivated. I can’t say enough about how good the coaches are here. They will encourage you to do your own workout and to do the your best. They love seeing you do your best.”

“The hardest part,” said Kelly Neely, “is putting your sneakers on and walking through that door for the first time.”

Taking that first step may be hard, but the CrossFit participants all say that the results are well worth it.

“You surprise yourself in this sport,” Byrd said. “You’ll surprise yourself every day doing this. I’ve gotten healthier and it has changed my outlook on health in general. It will change your life." 


How to begin exercising at CrossFit Kennett Square

Anyone interested in giving CrossFit training a try can schedule a free introductory session. During this session, certified instructor Everett Gordon will evaluate your current level of fitness and discuss some of your fitness goals. A brief questionnaire about health issues helps to ensure that the exercise regimen will be appropriate for the participant. Gordon will then oversee a fundamental training program that, on average, lasts eight sessions that will explain some of the basics of CrossFit. This helps to ensure that each new participant feels comfortable and confident about the CrossFit movements and exercises. Individuals schedule the fundamental training sessions with Gordon or one of the coaches, and these sessions serve as preparation for group classes. A participant in a group class will still have the exercises scaled to meet their individual needs. There are currently forty-two group classes taking place throughout the week. CrossFit Kennett Square is located at 529 Rosedale Road, Suite 101 in Kennett Square. More information is available by calling 484-732-8113 or visiting


Competitive exercising event on Sept. 20

CrossFit Kennett Square is one of the sites for the Diesel Thruster competitive exercising event on  Saturday, Sept. 20. The first heat starts at 9 a.m. The event includes a variety of categories and divisions. Registration starts at $50 per person. Limited space is available. More information can be obtained by calling 484-732-8113.

Chester County High School Sports