How CrossFit Crave’s Rehabilitation Program is Going Worldwide

January 5, 2023 by
Image Credit: CrossFit Crave
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CrossFit Crave in Celina, OH has three core values: community, equality, and consistency. This code applies to their members, staff, and coaches, and they’ve created a strong community out of these three words in a town of 11,000 people. However, Crave has gone above and beyond its beliefs and created a one-of-a-kind rehabilitation program. 

The program, now called ACEP–Affiliate Community Empowerment Program–provides CrossFit classes and the community support that comes with it to juvenile athletes with criminal records. ACEP has dropped recidivism in the county from 60-80% to 23% among juveniles.

So, how does the program work? Athletes are assigned to attend CrossFit Crave classes by the court, although they’re not given a typical, straightforward order in months. Athletes stay in the program until they’ve been cleared by their caseworker. 

At Crave, program-exclusive classes are held four times per week, but the gym has made strides to make regular CrossFit classes impactful for kids in the program as well. At the end of each class, coaches give a short lesson on improving the quality of life for their athletes–this could include conflict resolution, communication, or even life skills like applying for jobs. 

The first athlete Crave worked with, a young girl pushing Type-2 diabetes, immediately found a home within the CrossFit community. Moreover, she felt valued enough to speak up about the abuse she had endured for the first time, which led to a long-term change in her living situation.

“She fell in love with the program, and more importantly with our staff and community that surrounds CrossFit,” coach Matt Schindeldecker said. “She felt like, “I do belong here, I am created equal.”

One standout feature of the program is the trauma and mental health training all coaches must receive before starting classes. Special considerations must be made when working with vulnerable populations, Debbie Wagner says, that can make or break their workout. 

  • “As a coach, we may subconsciously trigger something when we have the best of intentions,” Wagner said. The training includes education on second-hand trauma first responders often experience, depression, suicide, eating disorders, and many other traumatic scenarios. 

This training could be useful outside of just this specific situation–Wagner says that approximately 70% of the general population has experienced trauma at some point in their life. Being sensitive to and informed of these situations could help members of every CrossFit affiliate. 

Image credit: CrossFit Crave

The program’s success and story stuck out to former CrossFit CEO Eric Roza and Danielle Hale, Senior Director of Community Engagement, at the 2021 CrossFit Games when they met the CrossFit Crave team. Specifically, Hale was impressed by the program’s finances. Since CrossFit Crave worked directly with the county government as a rehabilitation program, they received a check every month. This was entirely unique for other charities and organizations within the CrossFit community. 

  • “(There are) thousands of these not-for-profit programs, and very few of them are sustainable. It takes so much emotional energy, it costs money, and coaches may not want to buy into free classes. The heart and the passion are there, but the sustainability isn’t,” Hale said. 

It had long been her goal to provide parameters for CrossFit affiliates to give back in a sustainable manner. This was the exact right program – in fact, Hale says it was “almost scary” how perfect the fit was–and the base model is now being applied to a number of other special demographics. As of December 2022, ACEP has more than 60 prospects in America and worldwide. 

While Shindeldecker and Wagner recognize the impact their program has outside of their gym, Wagner says the stories she hears from her athletes are what sticks out most. 

  • “I love the stories and phone calls I get on the weekends, kids showing up to the gym and saying “hey, here’s my cousin, they want to sign up”,” Wagner said. “These kids have success and they find their voice for the first time.”

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