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“Small Town Strong” and the Power of Fitness to Fight Opioid Addiction

Morning Chalk Up

October 4   |   POWERED BY


Good morning and welcome to the Morning Chalk Up.

In today’s edition:

  • “Small Town Strong” is out now; check out our early review below
  • What do Google search trends tell us about CrossFit’s growth or decline?
  • “The Heart of Mayhem” reveals a different side of the elite gym
  • Chalktober, an auction benefiting Compete for a Cure, is live

Nominate your gym for affiliate of the month and be sure to include a note about why we should feature it.

QUOTE OF THE DAY + Send us a Quote

“I would like this to help connect CrossFit gym owners and behavioral health agencies–I would like to see thousands of partnerships between CrossFit gyms and addiction treatment centers to offer what we do.” - Dale King, "Small Town Strong"

  “Small Town Strong” Doc Highlights “Hill Billy Rehab” and the Power of Fitness to Heal Addiction  

“Small Town Strong” Doc Highlights “Hill Billy Rehab” and the Power of Fitness to Heal Addiction

Spoiler Alert: This article contains major plot points of “Small Town Strong.”

After his tenure in the US Army, Dale King returned to Portsmouth, OH, and opened a CrossFit affiliate to make Portsmouth residents stronger and healthier.

  • But, King realized quickly that to truly serve the residents of Portsmouth and help them build better lives, he needed to think bigger.

Portsmouth is a part of Scioto County, which ranks in the worst ten percent of the nation’s counties economically.

The county has the second highest rate of opioid addiction in Ohio, with almost 80% of all treatment admissions due to opioid addiction.

In 2018, a partnership was forged between King’s affiliate, Portsmouth Spartan Kettlebell Cluband the Counseling Center, a nonprofit addiction treatment facility. Through CrossFit, those in recovery build a sense of camaraderie through mutual suffering.

The idea to document this unique story came from one of King’s Army buddies, Chase Millsap, who was working for a production company in Hollywood. Millsap would return to Portsmouth to visit, and every time, he would comment on how great the story was of what King was doing.

He started bringing his camera on every visit, and when Covid hit, Millsap moved back with his family and continued to film.

  • King remembers: “It was always supposed to be like a developmental project. We were going to put together a sizzle reel and then pitch it to networks, studios, or streamers. We got meetings, but they never went anywhere.”

King and Milsap quickly decided to finance the film themselves when Billy Dever, King’s close friend and fellow CrossFitter, died.

Billy’s death became the center of the documentary.

Viewers meet Billy early on, a strong supporter of King and his vision, and together, they push the all-encompassing power of PSKC CrossFit.

The cast of characters in the film are diverse.

We meet Sarah Wilson, a young woman battling addiction who has been given a job working for King at Doc Spartan, a business committed to selling products 100% manufactured in Portsmouth. We see her hit one year sober after being an addict for 16 years.

In the same factory, we learn Rooster’s story. “Rooster” is a young man working at Spartan Solutions that King is helping to teach to read. We also meet Mo, the second in command at the affiliate and King’s primary coach. The no-nonsense coach runs the gym and takes pride in pushing her members past their comfort zone.

Andrew Wright is another coach at PSKC–he was the athlete who unknowingly created King’s program. Wright spent over a year and a half in jail, then came out and was homeless and addicted to heroin. After 14 attempts at rehab, he took CrossFit classes in the morning and then left each day to head to the homeless shelter. King stepped in and employed him.

We learn about “The Gauntlet,” a yearly day-long fitness event run at the affiliate in its 12th year.

  • King explains The Gauntlet: “In the Shawnee (a Native American Nation from the Ohio region) days, to prove your worth to the tribe, they would line up several warriors with clubs. To run the gauntlet, they would push through the beatings, and if you fell down and didn’t get up and continue, you would just get beaten worse. It was a test of worthiness to the tribe. I do it to test the athletes’ ability to communicate and work well under stress.”

But the main story is about Billy Dever. 

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Gaux and Do It

Gaux and Do It

Marqaux Alvarez doesn’t let fear inhibit her curiosity for life. Instead, she has learned to just “Gaux and do it.” With an endless list of passions and places to be, here a few ways she embraces life’s journey:

  • Wins only last a few minutes. You’ll spend so much more time chasing goals than celebrating them, so learn to love the process.
  • I enjoy a glass of wine at the end of the day, but with moderation and accountability the next morning.
  • Hydration is a lifestyle. I add a teaspoon of salt to my morning water, and bring my YETI bottle everywhere I go.

Check out Margaux’s go-to bottle: YETI Yonder Bottle.


👨‍🎨 💪 Ponder and pump? Check out this art exhibit by Lithuanian artist, Augustas Serapinas. It features homemade fitness equipment based on classical Greek sculpture. The art installation is designed to reflect on the core principles of art training–replication and repetitive actions–and the diligence of working out in a gym.

🎟️  🎟️ Grab your TYR Wodapalooza tickets, on sale now! And don’t forget, for guaranteed seating for elite events at Flagler and Bayside, select “Elite Passes” or “VIP Passes” for even more options and perks.

🎙️ 🎙️ The Weekly Buzz: Check out the new collab between the Morning Chalk Up and Kettlebells and Cocktails and get caught up on some of the top community, affiliate, and sport stories of the week.

  • In this episode: Who is competing at the Down Under Championship?, Khan Porter leads a group of Games athletes on the reboot of Australia’s Gladiators, All Level CrossFit and the Chasing Hazel Foundation use CrossFit to help people with Downs Syndrome find fitness and comradery, WarriorWOD saves veterans’ lives, and more.

ICYMI: Our Affiliate of the Month, Big Lick CrossFit in Roanoke, VA, takes on all the charitable causes.

  Is CrossFit  


Is CrossFit "Over"? An In-Depth Review

Did CrossFit reach its peak many years ago or is the best still yet to come?

Last week, CrossFit Mayhem’s newsletter had the subject line “CrossFit is Over.”

The body of the newsletter noted that searches for “CrossFit” on Google have significantly declined in 2023 compared to previous years, indicating that the sport may no longer be thriving, but just surviving.

It turns out, however, that it may not only be a recent occurrence but perhaps a continuation of a steady decline that has been going on for years. See the Google Trends charts below that illustrate global searches for “CrossFit” over the past twenty years and then a close look at the past five years.

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"The Heart of Mayhem" Documentary Shows Different Side of Programming Behemoth

CrossFit Mayhem and Mayhem Athlete are set to release a new short-form documentary on Friday, showcasing the story of Phil Gentry Jr, a CrossFit Mayhem athlete who turned his life around with the support of the gym and has created a resounding effect.

Rich Froning started CrossFit Mayhem, known for its high-caliber athletes and elite coaching staff, in 2009, and he says that the daily WOD, regular members, and typical CrossFit activities weren’t a priority at first. But as the Cookeville area has grown and locals have tried out the sport that’s put their town on the map, Froning has become aware of the impact it can have on the general population.

This is where Gentry, a disabled veteran who has lived in Cookeville his entire life, comes in. With ten years of on-and-off CrossFit under his belt, he’s become a fixture at the gym that goes beyond the elite.

  • “The hard part for us for the longest time was to get past that, ‘oh, it’s just for elites, that’s the showcase of CrossFit’ but that’s not what CrossFit is. CrossFit is the everyday people doing it,” Froning said in the documentary. “It’s not going to get views on YouTube, it’s not somebody hitting a 400lb clean and jerk, but it is such a cooler story because a life has changed and has changed others’ lives.”

Gentry has had his fair share of “bad brain days” (as Mayhem coach Josh Malone puts it) since starting at the gym. For one, a hard fall during an obstacle course when he was in basic training left him with severe foot and ankle issues.

He’s always had a problematic relationship with food, as well. He says one of the biggest challenges came in 2016 when he suffered a severe mental breakdown and was non-verbal. During this period of time, he had suicidal ideation and said that he wasn’t really in control of his thoughts or actions.

  • “It was like I didn’t know what was going on. I couldn’t focus on anything, it was almost like my personality took a backseat to everything else,” Gentry said.

Despite all of this, or perhaps because of it and his tenacity fighting through, the CrossFit Mayhem community all agrees that Gentry is a shining star at the gym and truly exemplifies the spirit of CrossFit.

In the documentary, Gentry walks in the door to the coffee shop inside the gym and is greeted with a round of cheers and ‘hellos,’ from regular affiliate athletes to coaches to Games athlete Sam Cournoyer.

  • “I consider it an honor to be on that journey with him,” Malone said. “He’s a staple and a rock and a sign of consistency wherever he goes and I don’t think he necessarily realizes that about himself.”

The film, which was directed and produced by Josh Gunkler, will be released on Friday on the Mayhem Athlete YouTube channel.


Chalktober: Benefitting Compete for a Cure

Bidding is OPEN on select items for Chalktober: an auction with products donated from your favorite brands with all proceeds going to Compete for a Cure, a 501(c) non-profit that funds breast cancer survivors’ and thrivers’ wellness within local communities, and provides education for coaches, trainers and athletes. Show your support for Breast Cancer Awareness month, and win some great prizes! 

If you would like to donate directly to Compete for a Cure, text “mcu” to +1-325-603-3395! 



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Celebrating a PR, hosting a fundraiser, this, that, or otherwise. Send us a tip.

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