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Pull the Pin Programming Teams Up with CrossFit Faru, Trains Anti-Poaching Team in the Serengeti

June 22, 2021 by
Credit: Wesley Gold
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Pull the Pin Programming, a training program run by Seminar Staff member Rob Lawson of CrossFit Aberdeen has partnered with CrossFit Faru, home of an elite anti-poaching team in Serengeti, Tanzania, to keep their scouts ready for action.  

The big picture: Pull the Pin (PTP) is providing programming for this highly-tactical anti-poaching team, run through the Grumeti Fund, a conservation and community nonprofit in the area dedicated to wildlife protection.  

The anti-poaching team was created in 2016, as poaching became more organized in East Africa, explains Wesley Gold, their manager.

  • “Instead of someone [killing] an animal to eat or feed their family… very organized international syndicates — the same people who smuggle children, cigarettes, and all these other things — realized that there was a very high value, low-risk way of making money… to smuggle ivory and rhino,” Gold says. 
  • “As poaching became more organized, it became necessary for someone to organize the anti-poaching side,” he adds. 
  • They began training using CrossFit methods that Gold found online. Then in 2018, Kristen Chandler, currently the Communications Director for Loud & Live Sports, moved to Tanzania, connected with Gold, provided some initial programming resources and education and founded CrossFit Faru.
  • “Connecting Gold and the anti-poaching scouts from the the Grumeti Fund with CrossFit was important to me because it brought together two passions of mine, encouraging health through fitness and protecting wildlife. The anti-poaching scouts work tierlessly to protect and iconic ecosystem that will not last if poaching continues unabated, and it was an easy decision to put my effort into getting the gym affiliated,” Chandler says.
  • “Becoming a CrossFit gym was a badge of honor for the scouts,” Chandler says, “Natural athletes, the scouts were fit when I met them, but their incredible endurance was not matched with requisite strength for some of their tasks. Wes identified these areas and we have been addressing them with the constantly varied stimulus found in CrossFit.”
  • Chandler looks toward the future: “Their work continues and we are slowly building a gym with enough equipment to run a normal CrossFit class. The gym has received some generous donations from different companies, and we will be making shirts to sell to raise money for more equipment and kit for the scouts.”
Credit: Wesley Gold

Why it matters: Gold believes CrossFit lends itself perfectly to preparing the anti-poaching team. 

  • “We’re physically preparing these scouts,” Gold says. “We’ve had one scout shot in the arm with a poison bow and arrow, we’ve had another scout shot and killed with a bow and arrow, we’ve had two scouts mauled by lions and survived.”
  • “I can tell you, one of the guys that survived actually had to make a decision in a split second when this lion was charging him, to stand and face the lion instead of running. He knew that if he turned and ran, the lion would get him in the back of the neck, and probably instantaneously kill him,” Gold continues. 

Both Gold and Lawson bring up one of the foundational philosophies of CrossFit: being prepared for the “unknown and unknowable.” When the anti-poaching team is out in the field, they often chase poachers on foot; being ready for anything is key. 

  • “[The scout] had the presence of mind to actually stand and face this lion and put his arms up and his gun,” Gold says, continuing the story. 
  • In terms of being ready for any eventuality… that is what is important. They need to make these split-second decisions, and the wrong one can kill them. The right one saves their life,” he concludes. 

The programming: CrossFit Faru has been affiliated with CrossFit since 2019, but bringing on PTP and Lawson will take their training to the next level, Gold says. 

  • “It’s a very important, new addition because we were becoming like a hamster wheel,” Gold explains. “We were just doing the same stuff over and over. What the PTP has done now is completely mix it up. The guys are doing completely different things.”

Lawson’s programming for the team focuses on general physical preparedness and the classic CrossFit methodology. 

  • “The backbone of that is… just being ready for any physical task or contingency [the team] is faced with,” he says. 
  • In the future, Lawson would like to incorporate some more military-style training, combining rifle accuracy with a workout. “The ability to fire and control the heart rate and be calm and collected while still being accurate is going to be key,” he says. 
  • Lawson also provides no-and-low equipment options, so members of the anti-poaching team can keep working out, even if they’re in the field. 

Along with the workouts, passed down to CrossFit Faru from UK-based Lawson via SugarWOD, he also provides in-depth coaching notes. He calls these notes a “whiteboard intro,” each giving a full explanation of stimulus, scaling, and for coaches — who are all relatively new — teaching progressions, group management, and more. 

  • “The squat is a basic CrossFit movement,” Gold says, explaining how useful Lawson’s notes are. “[But] the detail that has gone into doing that squat through the PTP program… the detail in that can take somebody who hasn’t worked under Rob before, read those notes, and actually, you know, improve the skill of those scouts.”

CrossFit has changed the way the team works together, according to Gold. “It’s given them a bit of focus in their fitness. It’s boring, going out running every day, [and now] they’ve got a bit more excitement, keeping them stimulated,” Gold says. 

  • “I think you talk about bringing guys together and bringing a team together — what brings guys together is suffering together,” says Lawson.
  • “If a moment comes where they need to trust someone, then they know they’ve done the same training, and hopefully this will just bind them tighter. That would be the ultimate plan, the mental aspect to it, not only the physical,” he adds.
Credit: Kristen Chandler

The bottom line: “CrossFit’s emphasis has always been on human health and improving human health… and this is intertwining how human health can then help the conservation of wildlife as well,” says Lawson. 

  • “What CrossFit is doing here is what they know best,” adds Gold. “They are helping conservation, they are helping save these animals, they are helping rapid habitat loss in the best way they know how by making sure the people doing this job are at their peak physical fitness. That’s really what it is.”

Lawson is planning to arrange Zoom calls with the coaches at CrossFit Faru to help them with any questions. In the future, he hopes to head over to the Serengeti with Gold to spend some time working with the anti-poaching team, so he can tailor and specialize programming to their needs. 

  • “To be a small part of this is super humbling… I mean, damn, at the end of the day, I’m just writing programming. These guys put their bodies on the line. If PTP can play a small part in that, that’s great.”

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