Air Force Base Affiliate Offers Free Memberships for 14 Years and Counting
When the former gym manager stepped down two years ago and the future of Lightning CrossFit hung in the balance, Jason Theriault knew someone needed to act in order to keep the military affiliate alive.
A long-time member of the gym and coach at Lightning CrossFit—located on Eglin Air Force Base near Fort Walton Beach, FL—Theriault had witnessed what the gym has been able to provide to those living on the base, not just physically, but also emotionally.
- “It’s huge. Those are the people that you see all the time and you get to talk to. Outside of work and outside of your family, you either get to vent, or hug them, or be around them, and then they push you in a workout,” Theriault said. “If people don’t show up, then you’re texting them, ‘Where are you at? Everything cool? You alright?’ And you don’t get that from the normal gym down the street.”
Needless to say, it didn’t take long for Theriault to realize it might as well be him to take on the gym manager role.
So today, Theriault, who has been a member of the gym since 2010 and a coach at the gym since 2012, volunteers, not only as the gym’s manager, but also as a 5 AM coach.
The details: Since 2009, Lightning CrossFit has been a 100 percent non-profit gym, run by volunteer coaches, that offers free memberships to anyone living on the Air Force base.
Through the years, Lightning CrossFit has been home to countless veteran CrossFit athletes and has also introduced hundreds of military personnel living on the base to CrossFit, a handful of whom have gone on to open their own affiliates after retiring from the military.
- “If you look at 90 percent of the CrossFit gyms in this area, the majority of their coaches all started at Lightning when they were active duty. They were either a part of our family working out, or they started coaching with us, so we’re a breeding ground for other CrossFit gyms in the area,” said Theriault, a retired Air Force veteran who still works as a contracting officer for the Department of Defense.
Theriault admits there are challenges that go along with running the non-profit gym, namely the fact that turnover among coaches is incredibly high.
- “It’s a constant, constant rotation of people,” he said, adding that even with 18 coaches on their roster today, scheduling can still be a nightmare.
- “We’ll set the coaching schedule, and as soon as we put out the schedule, someone’s like, ‘Hey I have to go do this temporary duty for the military and I’m going to be gone for two months,’ and so our class schedule really fluctuates depending on who is available,” he explained.
Another challenge is finding the money to pay for new equipment. As a result, most of the gym’s equipment has been donated through the years, some of which has been there for the entire 14 years of the gym’s existence.
That being said, occasionally, the gym does receive some “end year money” from various units on the base, Theriault explained, but other times there’s no money to be had, which is why they also rely on donations.
The big picture: Despite the challenges of being a largely unfunded non-profit gym run by volunteers, Theriault and his ever-changing group of coaches keep going because what they offer is invaluable to their community on the base.
In 11 years at Lightning CrossFit, Theriault hasn’t taken home so much as a dollar, but that’s not what’s important to him. What’s important to him is being able to offer military members, both active and retired, access to CrossFit free of cost.
And just like any other CrossFit gym, they keep going because they’re changing lives and keeping people accountable to their health and fitness. On a personal level, this has certainly been the case for Theriault.
- “It has become my family over the years…having that group is what keeps me going,” he said.
Interested in supporting CrossFit Lightening? Check out their Murph 2023 apparel. All proceeds go directly to Lightning CrossFit.