South African Competition Aims to Connect Africa Through Affiliates
Africa’s 1,200 or so affiliates make it the continent with the least amount of boxes CrossFit in the world. In fact, 133 of those affiliates come from a single country – South Africa.
Former General Manager of Affiliates, Gary Gaines, who was replaced by Austin Malleolo in December, had spearheaded a plan to help CrossFit reach into new areas. Also, the Games’ push of highlighting National Champions and the inclusion of Africa in Semifinals hopes to bring new athletes from around the world into the sport.
Separate from HQ itself, though, one gym in South Africa has already made big moves to include new regions of the world in the sport of fitness.
The Fittest Games, founded by CF-L4 candidates Ryno and Bronwen Verster, takes an affiliate-focused method to qualify for their in-person competition. Athletes compete in their box in the first stage of competition, then go through a series of higher-level qualification events to get to the finals, which takes place at CrossFit Ground Zero–nicknamed “The Small Ranch”–in Potchefstroom, South Africa.
The competition, which the Versters started in 2019 to connect the community countrywide and provide an extra source of income for affiliates, has quickly gained steam. In 2020, six affiliates competed with 30-40 athletes each and has grown more than tenfold for the 2023 season. Their goal is to host a world championship in the future.
- “I’m a bit in awe of what we’ve done to say the least,” Bronwen Verster said. “It really did just start as a small thing with the intention of helping a few boxes through lockdown, and three years down the line we’re a licensed event. In that sense, I’m grateful that it’s grown as much as it has.”
For Ryno, the biggest takeaway from the past few years of hosting the competition has been what he’s been able to give back to affiliates and athletes. He says that while many top-level athletes in the Americas and Europe are able to train full-time, there isn’t as much financial support for CrossFitters in Africa. He hopes that competitions like this allow up-and-comers to focus on their training.
- “It’s not just that we’re able to host an event like this, it’s that we’re able to provide the community in South Africa with options,” Verster said. “We can provide (prospective athletes) with an avenue where they can focus purely on (performance) if we can give them prize money that’s worthwhile.”
The Versters’ love and passion for the athletes doesn’t stop with competition weekend. Their box is equipped with an athlete recovery area and a designated competitive athlete area. Also, they’re constantly expanding and developing their spot. In fact, the next addition they’re looking to complete is a “Colosseum” built out of shipping containers that brands can sponsor and host guests in for the final stage of competition.
For Ryno, who grew up in a tumultuous environment, including leaving school before his teen years and having to teach himself math when he got to university. Though difficult, he says that the lessons he learned in his childhood have helped him succeed through his process of growing a gym and competition.
- “We have to just stay grounded and founded in that we want to uplift the community,” Verster said. “Everything we do, what we do at ground zero, is through the love and the passion for the athletes.”