Core City Kids, Fighting to Make CrossFit Accessible to Detroit Youth
We often overlook how difficult it is for some to find and join a CrossFit affiliate.
In the best case scenario, potential members pass an affiliate while driving to work or school; they stop in, sign a waiver, and pay for their membership. Often, affiliates welcome kids with a program geared for them or an area where they can hang out while their parents take class.
For Helen Taylor, she knew it would be tough for kids in the neighborhood where her CrossFit affiliate was located in central Detroit.
An ex-martial arts coach, Taylor transitioned to a full-time CrossFit coach in 2018. COVID hit soon after, and Taylor noticed how much it impacted the kids of Detroit.
- “They were in quarantine for so long, and many of them could not continue with their education. Some lived with grandparents and couldn’t keep up with the online programming and also missed a lot of fitness. It’s a general struggle in the city of Detroit with health, and COVID made it worse.”
At the end of COVID, Taylor found a home coaching at Core City Fitness in the center of Detroit and convinced them to let her start a kids program.
It wasn’t as easy as she thought it would be.
- “I didn’t realize how difficult it would be. I couldn’t get anybody to sign up. I had no kids. The affiliate didn’t use the word CrossFit in their name because they didn’t think anyone would know what it was, which to me was crazy. But they were right.”
- “I went to schools in Detroit to tell people about the program, and I talked to teachers, athletic directors, and coaches, and most people did not know what CrossFit was.”
Taylor discovered that the people she spoke to who had heard about CrossFit did not believe it was an activity accessible to them.
A big reason was the cost.
Taylor refused to give up.
- “The only way I could start the program was through our affiliate owner. He was a part-time basketball coach with his son on the team, so he would bring the entire team in. I would train them, and that became Core City Kids.”
Taylor finally had participants, but she wasn’t serving the population that she knew needed it the most. There was a school across the street from the affiliate, so she made flyers and headed over. Taylor met with the principal, who wasn’t interested, and when she started passing out flyers to the parents, the school stopped her, took her flyers, and said she needed approval.
Months passed, the basketball team returned to school, and Taylor was left with one kid in the program.
- Taylor: “One day, three months later, one of the teachers came over to the gym with a stack of my flyers. She said she was cleaning and found them and asked about the program. I explained it to her, and she was all about it.”
At that point, Taylor was not yet a non-profit, and the kids from the school couldn’t afford membership, not even at a discounted price.
- “The teachers all went in together and paid for six weeks for each kid to attend. I had 12 kids sign up for a six-week trial program with me.”
- “I would go to the school and walk them over to the gym so they could train, to make sure they got there safely.”
Within about six months, Taylor had gotten her non-profit status, and donations made their work possible. She runs two classes, two days a week, and what started with one kid has blossomed into a long waitlist.
- “The goal is to expose them to as much fitness, self-esteem, fun, and positivity as possible. Now I have kids from outside the school from different parts of Detroit who want to be part of the program, and I have a waiting list!”
She knew she needed to expand to give the kids the appropriate level of coaching. Enter Sophie Shaft. A teen CrossFit Games athlete, Taylor had known her for years, and Shaft drives in from outside the city to help coach and impact these young athletes.
It isn’t just fun and games in Taylor’s program, and the results speak for themselves.
- “I don’t run it like a kids program – I run it like an adult program. I don’t do the ‘CrossFit Kids methodology’ because this is a unique program–I want to be focused on coaching and learning and have more structure. We run it like an adult CrossFit class, and the kids don’t know any different. I want to give them lessons in fitness and in life.”
By treating the kids like adults, Taylor is holding them to a higher standard, and in a way, they’re living up to it because they haven’t had someone hold them to that standard previously.
And she runs a tight ship.
- “I have to be very strict with my program. If my kids get in trouble at school or get bad grades, they can’t be in the program as much as I love them. I have to set some standards and boundaries.”
Taylor mourns when she loses a member due to behavior.
- “I lost one of my best female athletes. She was gifted, but she had gotten herself in so much trouble at school, bullying and giving teachers a hard time. So we had to ask her not to come back. She knows we’re here for her, and I hope she can return one day.”
The day we talked, Taylor was picking up several of her students from school to drive them to the Pit Fitness Ranch Elite Teen Throwdown. Although her kids are too young to compete officially, five were invited to come out.
It was nerve-wracking getting them ready to go. Two of the youngest kids had never left Detroit, and Taylor worried about them like any coach would for their kids.
- “I just want them to feel included and loved. And I want this to be a super positive experience.”
Taylor understands that supporting her community doesn’t stop with CrossFit.
- “Last year, I started a backpack supply drive for the school that the kids attend, and it turned into a huge Family Fun Day. We had families come through and get all their school supplies, and it turned into a massive event.”
What Taylor is doing is working. Raheem, one of her students invited to participate in the Pit Throwdown, was excited to compete and not one bit nervous.
- In his words: “I’ve been training enough. I’ve been working hard.”
Core City Kids has found a way to use the sport of fitness to teach kids the value of hard work, discipline, self-control, and how to do hard things. Taylor is doing everything she can daily to build mentally and physically stronger kids.
And it’s working.