“Sport as a tool for social change”; How CrossFit and ULIFTU is Serving the Greater Philadelphia Area

October 14, 2019 by
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Wylie Belasik has owned Subversus Fitness for three years now. One of the first things he did as a brand new affiliate owner, with the help of one of his coaches, Tim Heckman, was institute ULIFTU, a nonprofit branch that works with citizens re-entering the community after incarceration, empowering them to become strong leaders in their own lives and communities. 

Before Belasik came into the CrossFit world, he worked as the Vice President of Programming for Back on My Feet, then the Director of Programs and Events for The Phoenix

“I worked using sport as a tool for social change and tools for social justice. One of the things that was really frustrating for me, particularly before owning a gym, was for individuals who have a forensic history, they’ve got a felony on their record, they’ve spent some time in prison, their opportunities to move their life forward upon release are very limited due to their record,” Belasik told the Morning Chalk Up.

“The cruel irony of it is that a lot of these individuals are extremely entrepreneurial, it just happens that the commodity that they used was not legal, but they are very driven, very motivated,” he noted.

With organizations like Barbells for Boobs serving cancer survivors and The Reveille Project serving veterans, Belasik had an idea. 

“I couldn’t find a good way to mobilize that entrepreneurial skillset upon release, once I got into the space of CrossFit and coaching and this world, I realized this was really great opportunity to not only provide a job training tool to provide folks coming home from prison, but then at the same time we can then empower those graduates to bring fitness to underserved parts of Philadelphia” Belasik said. 

How it works

ULIFTU began in 2017 with one program; onramp former inmates and get them started in CrossFit. 

Once they were comfortable enough in the box, they begin to shadow classes and be coached in interpersonal skills, how to be a professional in the industry and movement standards. Then, ULIFTU helps them prepare for, and pass, the CrossFit Level One Certification Course. 

Once they pass the course, they will become an official coach at Subversus Fitness or at CrossFit Center City. Several others have gone on to coach at neighborhood affiliates, local gyms, or area fitness centers. 

One of those men is Arthur McDaniels, who now coaches at Subversus Fitness after passing his Level One with ULIFTU.

McDaniels, who met Belasik and ULIFTU in a homeless shelter, told Morning Chalk Up, “I learned the CrossFit basics and after 1 year I took the Level1 Certification Exam. After passing the exam. I began Coaching at my Box Subversus Fitness. I was giving the responsibility of opening and closing and Coaching the Class on Sunday. I began Coaching Fitness Classes in the North Philly area to people who would otherwise not be able to afford CrossFit as part of ULIFTU.”

McDaniels is grateful to ULIFTU and CrossFit for helping him turn his life around. “This has made me a better person. I am no longer in the Shelter system. I am able to make a living for myself with this CrossFit Level1 Certification. I stay in shape and am always trying to get better at CrossFit and Coaching.” 

Jesse Dawson, another alum of the program, credits ULIFTU for changing his life’s course. “With the program it took me another level Wylie has been nothing but great to us. I now have my level one but it was a long process. It wasn’t just study for the level one. He showed us how to be great coaches in every way and certs don’t teach you  that. I ran into to some speed bumps but Wylie never gave up on me,” Dawson told Morning Chalk Up.

Both Dawson and McDaniels is the perfect example of why ULIFTU is organized the way it is. Belasik told us, “We know that the highest concentration of folks dying of chronic and preventable diseases in Philadelphia is also the same neighborhood where the greatest concentration of folks that are returning home from prison too. So I can go there and coach a class a couple nights a week, or we can empower folks who are coming home and are from that community to become leaders, to become coaches, and that’s going to be far more effective than whatever I am going to do.”

As a graduate of the program, that’s what McDaniels does, “What I love most about what I do is going into the community and bringing fitness to the people three times a week, with the idea of getting people moving in order to help prevent or curtail some of the chronic diseases (High Blood Pressure, Obesity, Diabetes ..) that are so prevalent in this area. I feel like this is my contribution in a small way to help make people and communities better.”

How can you help? 

Join ULIFTU from afar by running their signature fundraiser WOD “Inside/Out” at your gym on Saturday, November 23. In Pennsylvania, over 50% of those released from prison end up back in the system, so this partner WOD is designed to show how we all truly need the support of community to succeed. 

Contact ULIFTU more information about hosting a workout fundraiser.

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