Idaho Gym Is Home to Thriving Masters Community
Septuagenarian Gwen Engle has been CrossFitting for over a decade.
She has participated in ten Opens, has a 275-pound deadlift and a 207-pound back squat. She has never lacked motivation when it comes to her fitness, and as a caterer, baker, mother of three and grandmother of five, a sedentary lifestyle has never been on the table.
Gwen is a member of Arbor CrossFit, in Boise Idaho.
Owned by Jonathan Gonzales and María Aragón de Gonzales, Arbor is home to a community of like-minded, fitness-focused youth and adults. Members range in ages from 4 to 81, as Arbor offers classes for kids and Masters athletes throughout the week.
Gwen trains alongside members of all ages throughout the week, and is an integral member of the Masters class. Held every Monday and Thursday, athletes aged 65 and above complete the programmed house WOD. In addition to Gwen, there are 20 other members that regularly attend the classes.
The group’s oldest member, Tony, at age 81, began at Arbor as a personal training client. While this jump-started his fitness, he wanted more: he wanted a community, and specifically a community of athletes his own age, with similar goals and drive.
- “My daughter encouraged me to join,” recalled Tony. “I was unhealthy, not very active, you know. And look at what this has become. This is amazing. There are so many of us.”
Over the past three years, with the help and encouragement of Tony and Gwen, more and more older athletes have joined the gym, many of them new to CrossFit, and have formed a tight-knit, supportive community amongst each other.
- “In the time since the class started,” said Tony, “no member has dropped off, besides for an injury or something serious. We’re all here, we just keep coming.”
Fitness director and coach Eric Taylor expressed that when he originally began coaching the class almost three years ago, he was surprised by his athletes. Despite age and major physical confines, they were capable of so much more than he had anticipated.
- “I’ve learned not to put limitations on them from the outside,” he said. “There are athletes deadlifting over 200 pounds, box jumping without ever having done anything like that before.”
He went on to explain that they’re capable of so much and that many of them have had to learn how to push themselves. When asked if things like box jumps are typically scaled, Coach Eric explained that while the height is often scaled, the jump is not.
- “I always encourage them to jump,” said Eric. “It’s important that they’re producing power output that will enable functionality in life. They can jump on a plate, jump over a line, or a low box. If they can jump, they can more easily walk or climb stairs.”
Coach Eric makes sure to emphasize things like balance and mobility, as these are components of fitness that most of his athletes struggle with increasingly as they age. His warm-ups emphasize this, as well as the scaling options for the workouts.
As I watch the athletes finish their WOD, I see comradery, encouragement, competition. Coach Eric turns down the John Cougar Mellencamp blasting on the stereo and leads them in a quick cool-down.
They discuss their plans for Murph, approaching in several weeks. Athlete Kevin is disappointed because he will be out of town, thus unable to complete the workout with the crew. He recalls how much fun they had last year, completing the annual Memorial Day workout together. In the midst of this discussion, they hurriedly grab their bags and water bottles to prepare to leave, as their time together will continue at the coffee shop across the street.
- “We go out for coffee after every class,” Gwen informed me. “It’s the most important part of all of this: the community. It’s the best mental health remedy there is.”
Coach Eric agrees. He tells me that it’s the community aspect that keeps them motivated. They have all learned to prioritize their fitness, and have developed a fervent love of CrossFit, but it’s the support and friendships they’ve built that keep them coming back week after week.