Following in CrossFit Crave’s Footsteps, CrossFit for Change Graduates Three Juveniles From its Inaugural Program

July 19, 2023 by
Photo Credit: Jessica and Courtney Cook
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In May, CrossFit for Change in Belmont County, OH, celebrated its first graduating class with a major milestone: three juveniles were removed from probation. 

The big picture: CrossFit for Change–which is run by JR Shortall, owner of OV CrossFit, and husband-and-wife, CrossFit-coach-and-probation-officer Jessica and Courtney Cook–allows juveniles to remove their probation through CrossFit. All participants in CrossFit for Change classes are currently on probation and receiving counseling, and many of them have been court-ordered to be a part of the program. 

  • The program is not only designed for the kids to get to know fitness but for them to grow, form relationships, and build life skills.
  • If there have been no new violations at the end of their court-ordered CrossFit term, each juvenile will graduate from the program and be taken off probation. 

How it began: CrossFit for Change was inspired by a similar — and very successful — program run by CrossFit Crave in Celina, OH, that provides CrossFit classes and support to juveniles with criminal records.

  • “I had always been a big proponent of providing a framework to be able to do more than just our regular CrossFit classes,” Shortall said. 

Shortall then took this idea for CrossFit for Change to Jessica and Courtney Cook, a CrossFit L2 certified coach and probation officer for Belmont County juvenile judge, respectively — the perfect team to lead it. 

  • “JR presented the idea,” Jessica Cook said, “I spoke with Courtney and knew it was perfect for us. It’s something we care about, working out and the kids.”

From there, Shortall said, Courtney and Jessica Cook just “ran with it.”

The program: The juveniles in CrossFit for Change work out a few times a week, the structure of each day like that of any other CrossFit class. The classes start with a 30-minute period where the kids can change clothes and socialize, followed up by a warm-up, a WOD, and, to end, a healthy snack. 

A big emphasis for the Cooks has been to make CrossFit for Change as accessible as possible by removing obstacles like transportation — they pick up every kid and bring them to CrossFit classes — and apparel. (On their first day of class every kid gets to pick out a new pair of CrossFit shoes.)

  • “We didn’t want them not to come because ‘I don’t have anything to wear. I don’t have the shoes, the transportation,’” said Courtney Cook. “We took away all of those obstacles for them to give them every opportunity to have success.”

Relationships play another big part. Courtney Cook has at least five POs workout side-by-side with the kids every class, stressing that the kids get treated like any other athlete.

  • “They’re athletes in the same class. No one is a juvenile. No one is different,” he said.
  • “We create those relationships to get to know [the kids] on a different level, to see where they’re coming from [and] see the problems they’re dealing with. We’ve created a safe space… where they can talk through those things.”

Seeing success: At the beginning of a CrossFit for Change term, all of the kids are given physicals by a local doctor and a fitness assessment of push-ups, air squats, a 500-meter row, and knee raises. 

At the start, many kids can’t do the movements in that CrossFit-based assessment. But by the end, Courtney Cook said, most can do everything, even RX push-ups. 

Apart from physical improvements, Shortall said he’s seen the kids “blossom” socially:

  • “At the beginning, they were standoffish, and now… they are growing as a group. And to think that a lot of these kids are there for bad reasons… it’s a proud moment to be able to see that we can provide that opportunity for them and see those kids grow.”
  • “Just to see the confidence that some of these kids have gained is astronomical,” Jessica Cook added. 
  • “When we first started the program, the news interviewed [a kid]. He did a great job, but they re-interviewed him one year later, and to see his whole demeanor and the way he spoke and the confidence he had gained in that one year with the program, it was amazing.”

Perhaps their biggest show of success, however, is that out of the entire year-long CrossFit for Change program, only one juvenile got in trouble again.

  • “The whole goal is to put [CrossFit] in their life so they don’t offend again,” Courtney Cook said. 

And, with the clear success of their inaugural program behind them, Shortall and the Cooks are now thinking about how to replicate a program like this in other counties.

  • “Trying to replicate that is challenging,” Shortall said. “We’re unique in how we’ve taken this idea and crafted it so it works for [us], the kids, and the County.”
  • “It’s great we have our success, but there are a million other counties,” Shortall continued. “We’re here to help as many kids as we can. But we need to have that bigger question of getting other counties, CrossFit gyms to buy in this idea.” 

“[I just] tossed this idea up into the air, and it’s crazy where we are now. We hope by getting that word out… it opens a door for other opportunities, other people.”

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