After a few months of immersing myself in the exercise craze called CrossFit, it’s become pretty clear that, despite the rippling biceps and thunderous thighs, the heart remains the strongest for many of the coaches involved. They look out for their participants’ well-being both in and out of the gym while actively trying to build meaningful communities amongst their athletes.
And out at CrossFit Goodland in Goleta, owner Nick Conn is spreading the goodwill beyond his gym with a June 4 competition to benefit two Santa Barbara area nonprofits, Praying for Nina and HEEAL, which stands for Hope through Exercise, Energy, and Art for Life. The 24-year-old, who grew up in Bishop near Mammoth Mountain and then lived for a time in Sacramento before moving to Goleta to attend UCSB, recently spent some time answering a few of my questions about his business and the event.
What was your athletic history before discovering Crossfit?
As a kid I lived in the mountains so I was into outdoor sports: skiing, climbing, backpacking, wakeboarding, surfing, skating, basically a little of anything and everything. When I was younger I wasn’t allowed to play any team sports during ski season because I was forced to ski. Unfortunately, I didn’t really appreciate skiing much until right before my family moved to Sacramento and now I miss it dearly.
In high school, I participated in water polo and swim team year-round for four years, with a season of wrestling, and a little rugby. When I came to UCSB, I discovered that I am much more functional athletically as a land-based mammal; I got more into rugby and fell in love playing for the Gauchos. It’s simultaneously the most fun and stupid game ever created.
How did you find CrossFit? How has it changed your life?
In the winter of 2007 I was home from school for break and training for an upcoming rugby season when my good friend Justin, owner of CrossFit East Sacramento, basically forced me to give CrossFit a try. Coming from a traditional bodybuilding background in my strength training, I was very hesitant to try CrossFit because it was so different from what I was used to and I thought I was in great shape already. Basically I thought I knew it all.
When I did finally open my mind and give my first WOD (Workout of the Day) a try, I was instantly humbled. I was addicted as soon as it was over as I lay on the floor in an altered consciousness brought on by extreme metabolic duress. I’ve been doing CrossFit ever since and haven’t looked back. Every day is legitimately the fittest day of my life. Growing up I was always the fat kid so it’s awesome to be able to say that. CrossFit has also given me a vehicle to fulfill my dream to help others find and share a love of the quest to earn more work capacity and thus be fitter and happier humans.
What made you start a CrossFit gym in Goleta?
I fell in love with Santa Barbara and Goleta while I was here earning my degree in physiology at UCSB. I remember the exact moment I decided to go for it and open CrossFit Goodland. I was sitting in my car in the spring of 2009 driving my girlfriend at the time to the train station going down Los Carneros. On this particular evening there was an epically beautiful Goodland sunset. The only thing going through my head was, “I really love living here but there is no CrossFit gym here yet.” At that moment a light bulb appeared above my head and I made the decision to start my own. I started putting together plans and opened CrossFit Goodland in November 2009 just a few months after graduating college. It’s a ton of work, but I absolutely love it.
Tell me a little about your clientele.
My athletes come from a wide range of backgrounds. Some were or are already competitive athletes in sports such as volleyball, triathlon, rugby, football, soccer, etc. CrossFit has a unique ability to make athletes more effective in any sport they play or to fill the hole in your heart that comes with no longer being able to compete in higher level athletics. The majority of our studs and studettes, however, are students and local professionals who are simply seeking to feel, look, and perform better in life. A few of my athletes have never really been into working out before at all, and have discovered their love of fitness here at CFG.
What sets your gym apart from others in the area?
Community and results. Our gym is more of a team than a gym. We workout together, cheer each other on, support each other when things are hard, and congratulate each other when we set PRs (personal records). We all know each other on a first-name basis and each athlete feels at home at CFG because they are. Our workouts are much more effective than any number of repetitive bicep curls, bench press, and Swiss ball sit-ups done at the “Globo Gym” because they are functional, varied, and intense.
The type of fitness we forge has a high carryover to real life skills. The coaching our athletes receive in each session maximizes their results in less time than if they were to work out without a coach. We stress technique, consistency, and then intensity to ensure proper mechanics for the sake of both form and safety. We honor effort above scores in every workout so when it comes time to do work we rage.
Have you seen CrossFit improve the lives of your athletes?
Absolutely. Every one of my athletes has improved their fitness and love of being healthy. There are too many stories to share, but I think the most amazing thing to see is any PR. We track all our workouts and thus have goals and scores to beat. Whenever you beat yourself, you are fitter. The goal is to consistently become faster, stronger, and more skilled over broad time. I have seen athletes come in with no pull-ups and rip out 100+ in a workout after a few months.
Every day my own love of fitness is reinvigorated through the amazing performances and accomplishments of CFG athletes. I get emails, texts, and calls regularly thanking me for how sore and happy my athletes are. It is incredibly rewarding.
What’s the event on June 4 about?
We are hosting a fundraiser called “Raging for Nina” for two amazing causes: HEEAL and “Praying for Nina.” Basically we will be holding a competitive CrossFit style workout that is open to any and all comers who are willing to participate, support our causes, and have a great day celebrating fitness. At CFG we always cap a day of competition off with a potluck BBQ for those who want to join.
For more information or to sign up, please visit our Web site here.
What’s HEEAL? How did you hear about it?
HEEAL is a new nonprofit serving the Santa Barbara community. It offers an alternative to traditional talk-therapy for those dealing with grief and loss by focusing on creative and physical outlets involving exercise and art to advocate healthy and holistic healing. It was cofounded by a close friend of mine: Macie Berlin. They have some amazing ideas about coping with the harder side of life. I have always been thankful to have a barbell when things get rough so it’s a perfect fit.
What are the other groups involved?
“Praying for Nina” is a foundation to support the family of a little girl who was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and recently passed away just a few days shy of her sixth birthday. Her family wishes to keep things fairly private, but a few of our athletes work closely with Nina’s mother and I wanted to help in the best way I could.
How many people do you expect?
Hopefully upward of 40 athletes and likely double that in volunteers and spectators. There will be CrossFit gyms participating from up and down the coast including CrossFit Pacific Coast and CrossFit Ventura. We will be running heats as long as we need to for the workout and then firing up the BBQ.
Can anyone take part?
Definitely. The workout is gnarly as RX’d [prescribed] as it includes Erging for Calories, 155/105-pound Cleans and pushups; however, there are versions for less advanced CrossFitters and even people who have yet to sample the CrossFit Kool-Aid. We wanted to be as inclusive as possible in programming the workout for this event.
Anything else to say to potential CrossFitters?
If you are on the fence about trying a workout, please do not be hesitant or intimidated to contact the facility nearest you. CrossFit is life changing in more avenues of life than merely the physical.