Nichole DeHart: From CrossFit Kid to Veteran Professional Coach
It was 2004: Nichole DeHart was a high school student who was passionate about Krav Maga. Like most people at the time, she had never heard of CrossFit.
- Then one day, Jeff and Mikki Martin, who at the time owned CrossFit Brand X in Ramona, CA and were in the process of developing CrossFit Kids, saw DeHart and “kind of tricked me into doing CrossFit,” said DeHart, now 35, of how she became one of the original CrossFit Kids.
- Had someone told her back then that 17 years later she would have a very successful career at the world-renowned CrossFit Invictus in San Diego, CA, DeHart said she never would have believed it. After all, nobody even knew what CrossFit was.
What happened next: In the years that followed, DeHart started helping CrossFit Founder Greg Glassman and his wife at the time, Lauren Glassman, at various CrossFit Kids seminars, and in 2007, at the age of 21, she showed up in the Aromas, CA and threw her name in the hat — there was no qualification process back then — to compete at the first ever CrossFit Games. She placed third.
- After finishing college in 2009, DeHart moved to San Diego, CA and began training and coaching at CrossFit Invictus. At the time, Invictus had a contract with a nearby charter school, so DeHart was originally hired to coach PE classes there. This is when she started to believe coaching CrossFit could become a legitimate career, she explained.
- “Before that, for a long time, I just volunteered. We all did. We did it because we loved coaching. There was no money involved, and it wasn’t something I ever really considered could be a career until I came to Invictus,” said DeHart, who also competed with Team Invictus at the Games four times.
- Twelve years later, since moving to San Diego, DeHart is arguably one of the most successful coaches around. She developed and runs the Invicuts Masters program, and works with athletes all around the world.
- Each year, DeHart has had between 10 to 20 athletes, “depending on the year,” qualify for and compete at the Games. Some of her past Games athletes include two-time Women’s 45-49-year-old champion Cheryl Brost, two-time Men’s 50-54-year-old champion Kevin Koester, and two-time Women’s 40-44-year-old second place finisher Karen McCadam.
- CrossFit Invictus owner CJ Martin said DeHart’s biggest strength is her ability to form connections with her clients. “She doesn’t just make people feel special, but rather she fully believes they are special and treats them accordingly. Those deep relationships have led to many long-term coaching relationships…Her ability to foster those relationships and then create a safe community for people to celebrate each other’s successes and help each other through their struggles is her greatest gift,” Martin said.
One big thing: While burnout and an inability to make a decent enough living financially are often blamed for high coaching churn at CrossFit affiliates, and in the fitness industry in general, DeHart credits Martin for putting in place a system that allows for coaching longevity, which was one of Martin’s main goals when he started CrossFit Invictus.
- “When we set out we had two missions, one was client-focused and the other was focused on creating professional opportunities for coaches,” said Martin, who today has many 10-plus year employees at Invictus.
- DeHart explained: “How CJ structures Invictus and how he sets up coaches from the get-go really establishes this to be a full-time career, so there’s not that same turnover (at Invictus). He sets expectations for us that we’re professionals, so there are things like continued education options.”
- “But more than anything, he gives us opportunities to grow in different avenues so you can develop financially if your clientele grows. He really gives us the freedom to explore our own interests in avenues that we really enjoy,” she added.
- Ultimately, this approach has provided DeHart the opportunity to make her living from working with the specific demographic of people she enjoys coaching the most: masters athletes. “I just think they’re incredible. It’s amazing what they’re capable of doing, and I love the balance they strive for in life. They’re also so appreciative of being coached, and they create such amazing bonds with other people,” she said.
The big picture: Seventeen years and counting, DeHart is proof that you can be a professional CrossFit coach who pursues a lifelong career in fitness. And she has no intention of giving it up anytime soon.
- “I love helping people. I still love seeing people set goals and helping them achieve those goals and have those aha moments, not even just in the gym but in their lifestyle. I love seeing them create a healthier space for themselves and their families,” DeHart said. “I want to continue to do this for as long as I can.”