G City CrossFit Owner Jenai Gonzales Wins Chalk Up Community Choice Award
To celebrate the start of the Open in March, we created the Chalk Up Community Choice Awards to honor one man and one woman that embody the spirit of the CrossFit Community. We received so many inspirational stories, but two of them stood out to our staff. Jenai Gonzales is our female honoree. The elements of her story that stood out to us included: her creating a truly inclusive gym, bringing her community together after a hate crime, and creating a specialized strength program for junior high and high school aged girls that helps foster self-confidence.
The details: Bellum Strength and Conditioning – G City CrossFit focuses on providing necessary services to the community, a list that includes workplace wellness programs, kids courses, fundraising events, and personal training for adaptive athletes. G City CrossFit also has a reputation as an inclusive place for youth and adult members of the LGBTQ community. There is a Pride flag outside the gym, and Gonzales welcomes every single person that enters the building with open arms, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, or anything else.
A crime fueled by hate: In August 2020, 35-year-old Dwayne A. Vandergrift Jr. placed an explosive device at the front door of G City CrossFit in Gloucester City, NJ. The explosion occurred at about 4 AM ET, before normal operating hours, but it caused damage to the building and shattered the windows. Local police arrested Vandergrift two days later.
- “She was obviously incredibly shaken because she literally… looking at videos on the security cameras, she realized that could have been her. She could have been in the building,” explained Angela Hanna, the community member who nominated Gonzales.
- “There was never a time where she questioned like ‘maybe we should change what we are doing. Maybe we should close the gym, maybe we shouldn’t hang up these Pride flags. She never did.”
Repairing the damage: Hanna explained during the nomination process that Gonzales did not react to the bombing with rage. Instead, she rallied the community and began to repair the physical and mental damage. She painted another Pride flag on the boards that covered the front of the building and apologized to her members for having to close the gym. Even when she met with Eric Roza and the head of Culture and Inclusion at CrossFit, Gonzales still focused on the bright side and ways to make the world better.
- “In terms of the actual incident, I think that really blew people’s minds that that still happened in 2020,” Gonzales explained. “I think it definitely was eye-opening, and just made people who might not totally realize that this type of discrimination still happens and that this kind of hate is actually real. (It’s) not just this made-up thing.
- “I think that it opened a lot of people’s eyes and really drove our community together. I feel like we were stronger than ever after that incident. So as horrible as the incident was, it was amazing to see how one act of hate led to so many acts of love and kindness.”
A welcoming approach: When Hanna discussed the bombing and Gonzales’s reaction to the hate crime, she used the opportunity to deliver a very strong message. She explained that the G City CrossFit owner would have welcomed Vandergrift with open arms had he walked in off the street. Hanna said that Gonzales would have put a barbell in his hands and helped him work through his hatred.
- “That is the most ironic part of the whole thing,” Hanna said. “Like, if he was so angry and she was like, ‘here let me show you how to use this barbell. You’ll feel better.’ This person, if he had just reached out to her, he probably would have fallen in love with her just as everyone that knows her does.”
- “So I think that at my gym, I try my best to foster a place of inclusion,” Gonzales added. “No matter what you look like, what you believe in, your age, your size, who you love, you have a safe place within the four walls. Anyone who came in, I would treat exactly the same. I truly believe in the ability to positively change lives.”
Positively impacting the youth: When Gonzales opened G City CrossFit, she was running it as more of a hobby while continuing to work full-time. She realized that she was missing out on working with kids, so she began helping a junior high girls soccer team with their strength training. As Gonzales saw them progress from having no confidence to making major strides, she decided that the girls’ strength program was extremely important. She resigned from teaching and began putting more emphasis on kids’ classes.
- “To see these young teen girls who are so self-conscious and so worried about what they look like,” Gonzales said. “(You) see that shift, to go from not focusing on working out as punishment but as a celebration of what their bodies are actually capable of.”
- “Empowering them, seeing the confidence they gain. That’s kind of the thing that motivated me to make it a bit more of an ongoing program. I think that teaching young girls to love themselves is the revolution that we need.”
The bottom line: Whether Gonzales is working to provide an inclusive community in New Jersey or working with the next generation, she is continuing to focus on positively influencing people around her. She explained that her goal is to foster love and kindness, as well as inspire others to be the change that they want to see in the world. For these reasons — and many others — Gonzales deserves to win the Chalk Up Community Choice Award.