Barbells for Boobs Abruptly Dissolves After 13 Years as Transparency Issues Remain

January 24, 2023 by
Photo Credit: HarborSide CrossFit (@harborside_crossfit)
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On Sunday, Barbells for Boobs hosted a virtual Town Hall meeting to announce they are dissolving the charity that has supported CrossFit women affected by breast cancer for the last 13 years. 

Two days later, the charity’s founder Zionna Hanson followed up with an email statement that said: “This was, of course, an incredibly difficult decision. The past few years have been challenging for everyone, and like many nonprofits, we found ourselves challenged repeatedly.”

Remind me: Hanson founded Barbells for Boobs in 2009. In the last 13 years, the CrossFit community has raised more than $20 million for the non-profit, mostly through hosting competition fundraisers that often include the classic CrossFit workout Grace — 30 clean and jerks for time.

  • Their charity’s mission was to support women in various stages of their breast cancer journey by providing them education, resources and support, which they did through their Resources After Diagnosis (RAD) program. Most importantly, though, they helped women use fitness, and specifically CrossFit, to improve their lives after a breast cancer diagnosis. 

The details: Barbells for Boobs did not not provide any more details in terms of the specific “challenges” the organization has been facing, only that their Board of Directors will be leading the dissolution alongside their Executive Director “to ensure that the legacy of Barbells for Boobs will live on through contributions to like-minded organizations.”

  • In her statement, Hanson also went on to thank all those who contributed to Barbells for Boobs over the years: her staff, the RAD athletes, their partners, all those who gave a donation, as well as more than 4,000 CrossFit affiliates who hosted fundraising events through the years. 

What the RAD athletes are saying: Prior to the announcement on Sunday, things had been “weird” in their community for a couple weeks, explained RAD athlete Erin Michael.

  • For example, video streams that would normally be available to the athletes weren’t made public, and Barbells for Boobs employees, including their most beloved coach, had been removed from the Barbells for Boobs website.
  • Michael, and other RAD athletes, reached out for answers as they were “looking for transparency,” Michael explained, but they never received it.

And while Michael grew more and more suspicious that something was up at Barbells for Boobs, the news of the dissolution on Sunday still came as a “shock,” to Michael, as well as other RAD athletes like Colleen Grote and Wendy Nielson, all of whom were left devastated.

  • “In about 10 minutes, they took away everything that all of us have relied on…We lost our community…with no answers and no plan for moving forward. Just, ‘We’re done,’” Michael said.
  • “We have women literally fighting for their lives in various stages of treatment, and so much is uncertain during treatment and after treatment, and now this is just another thing added to that list of, ‘Ok, go figure it out on your own,’” Grote added.

Though still in shock and deep in the grieving process, Michael, Grote and Nielson know that just because the organization has been dissolved doesn’t mean their community is dead. And while they’re not sure what the future looks like, the friendships and support network they built and nurtured through Barbells for Boobs is still very much alive.

  • “We’re all still just very much in the shock and grief phase…but I think, I know, the most prominent thing in our group is we have each other. BFB brought us together, and for that we will forever be thankful…But we (still) have one another. We will have one another forever, and we have a lot of ambitious women in this group, so I anticipate that something is coming,” Michael said.
  • Nielsen added: “We’re not just a breast cancer group. We’re a breast cancer group of active women who want to maintain their strength or get stronger…and that made it so much more powerful than just a breast cancer group. That connection is just the thing that really glued all of us together for so long. And it will continue.” 

The big picture: Barbells for Boobs shocking news has led to more questions than answers from the RAD athletes, and from all those who have raised money for the organization through the years. The overarching one being: After nearly a decade-and-a-half, what really happened to cause Barbells for Boobs to suddenly, without warning, shut their doors forever?

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