Georgia Gym Owner Devotes his Affiliate to Servicing Refugees

April 19, 2023 by
Photo Credit: CrossFit Liminal (@crossfitliminal)
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Living in Clarkston, GA, a city that takes in hundreds of refugees from all over the world each year, Nick Johnson noticed a trend: “For many refugees, health and fitness are just inaccessible, financially and culturally,” he said.

  • So three years ago, Johnson, who has always been passionate about equal access and equity, began training a small group of Syrian refugees from his garage gym.

He quickly realized he was onto something, and today Johnson is the owner of the non-profit affiliate CrossFit Liminal, and dedicates himself to helping refugees from all over the world have access to fitness. 

The details: From Syria to Tanzania, and from high school kids to adults, Johnson’s gym offers partially and fully subsidized programs—funded by donations and fundraisers—for various refugee groups who have resettled in Clarkston.

Today, 25 percent of his membership base are refugees, who benefit from the non-profit arm of his affiliate, while the other 75 percent of his clientele pay regular market rates to train at his gym. 

While many of his refugee members attend regular group classes, Johnson recently launched a three-days-a-week CrossFit program for Afghani women, which has been a quick success. Twenty-plus Afghani women are currently taking advantage of the class he runs just for them, an opportunity they couldn’t get anywhere else in the city, he explained.

  • “They needed an all women’s environment, and there wasn’t anything like that in the city,” he said. It has been a “really cool opportunity to create something that is, not just financially, but also culturally accessible to them.”

Further, Johnson runs an off-site program for refugee youth, and an after-school program for High School male refugees largely from Myanmar, Tanzania and Afghanistan. 

The big picture: As a gym owner, being able to provide access to those who might not otherwise have the opportunity to do CrossFit, is incredibly rewarding, Johnson said. 

Not only does he get to witness what all gym owners do—for example, stories about “shocking the doctors” by improved cholesterol numbers, or “seeing people take risks and do what they didn’t think was possible,” he explained—he also helps make people’s transition journey to the United States a little easier. 

  • “Can you imagine going to a completely new country with just the clothes on your back?” he asked rhetorically, adding that many of his members came to Clarkston without any resources and unable to speak English. 

But the moment they become a part of his gym, they have the opportunity, not just to get fit, but to build resources in the form of relationships to help make their lives easier. 

  • “We can’t underestimate the importance of having a social network. It allows real relationships to form and leads to the thriving of refugees,” he said.

Though Johnson has been the backbone of the gym, he credits his community, and the greater community in Clarkston, for their efforts in making his dream a reality. 

  • “We (rely on) volunteers and folks in the community to give financially to make this happen.  In that way, I’m not on my own,” he said. 

“This is a community effort and allows me to bring in partners and friends who care about this mission of making fitness accessible to refugees.”

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