Inclusive and Affordable: Two CrossFitters to Open Luxembourg’s First Affiliate in a High School

March 1, 2021 by
Credit: Pit Reding
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In mid-April, two Luxembourg-based CrossFitters plan to open CrossFit Iron Sparks, the country’s first affiliate inside a high school.

The big picture: Sybille Blitgen and Mandy Loes, the athletes and English teachers behind the project, are designing their affiliate to “stick out.” When open, CrossFit Iron Sparks will center on inclusivity, offering classes at an affordable rate to students and members of the community, with a focus on those with learning or intellectual disabilities.

  • Here in Luxembourg, I think only my mom, she’s the only person I know who’s older who actually does CrossFit,” Blitgen explains. “It’s not done. CrossFit boxes here only welcome mainstream athletes. And if you’re not mainstream, it’s like ‘Oh, we don’t know how to coach someone like that.’”
  • “We thought, ‘Why not make it open really for everyone and get people of all genders, of all ethnicities, of everything, really, to come train with us,” she continues. 

Behind the project: The idea for CrossFit Iron Sparks is a product of lockdown, when the duo invited friends and family members who were struggling with their mental health to come train with them. 

  • They really liked the workout, the atmosphere, the way we were coaching, and just who we are as people, and we [thought] it would be kinda cool if we could make this bigger,” Blitgen says. 

They brought the idea to their school and with the proper approvals, securities, and safety measures in place, were granted a budget and a space – an unused, outdoor basketball court –  to host classes.  

The program: Blitgen and Loes will offer classes to students during the day in place of physical education classes, and open the space to community members in the evenings or when school courses aren’t taking place. 

  • Students at Blitgen and Loes’ school are between 13 and 25 years old, but the pair plans to start the program targeting 16 to 25-year-olds.
  • Their space is open-air and considered to be an all-weather gym. Blitgen says in the case of heavy storms or rain, they have an indoor facility. 
  • Because of income restrictions connected to their jobs, Blitgen and Loes are not permitted to make anything more than they earn. So, Crossfit Iron Sparks will run like a non-profit, with the money from membership fees going back into the gym to purchase equipment and competition tickets for their athletes. 

For a student, a four-month term including nutrition coaching — both Blitgen and Loes have their Precision Nutrition certificates — costs around €37, or $45 USD. Non-school members, for the same term, will pay about  €123 ($150 USD) or €494 ($600 USD) for a year. Blitgen says that this cost, on average, is about a 60% reduction from the typical CrossFit gym. 

  • “[We] keep [membership] as low as possible so that everyone can say, “‘I can afford this,’ Blitgen says. 
  • Even though Luxembourg is considered to be one of the wealthiest places in the world, we have a lot of poverty that no one really addresses, and now, with the pandemic, this gap between social classes has become even wider… We want people to not have an issue paying a fee,” Blitgen explains. 

Loes, the only Luxembourgish person to medal at a European Championship, is also an ex-professional gymnast, which both coaches view as an asset to their programming, especially with the younger athletes. (Eventually, Blitgen and Loes plan to add classes for the 13 to 15-year-old students.) 

  • “We’re trying to get younger kids into sports and help them with the movement, but maybe not immediately with heavy weight,” Loes says.
  • “I think [gymnastics] movements are very good for young people because they use their own body weight and they don’t work with heavy weights right away,” she adds.

A focus on inclusivity: “Now that the [Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion] (DEI) Council has been announced,” Blitgen says, “We want to touch on that.”

  • I read a lot of comments from people saying, ‘Why do we need a DEI Council,’ and I was just like, because actually, inclusion doesn’t exist. Everyone’s talking about it, but no one does it. So, it’s perfect timing with the DEI Council and what we want to do with our CrossFit,” she says.
  • Blitgen has a brother with Down syndrome and has been coaching him in CrossFit for the past year. “I saw how he developed in all areas, motor skills, everything,” she says, “And thought if we can do that with him, we can do it with students who might be on the autism spectrum or that might have dyslexia or dyspraxia.” 

Moving forward: Blitgen and Loes say that CrossFit isn’t big with young people in Luxembourg yet, but they’re not concerned about finding members. 

  •  “[We’re] a bit scared that it might take off a bit more than we anticipate,” Blitgen says. “We asked the students if they’d be interested, and when they heard the price they were like, ‘Ok, I’m going to cancel my other gym membership and come with you.”
  • “The students will be our influencers because they talk about it everywhere. I think they will be promoting this much more quickly than we can ever anticipate,” she continues. “Teachers, they said, ‘This is an amazing idea.’” 

Blitgen and Loes don’t have their affiliate yet, but have filed all the paperwork. They’re hoping to get approved in April and will start holding classes subsequently. 

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