Three miles from CrossFit Center City in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the life expectancy rate drops by almost 30 years. This shocked Wylie Belasik, but mostly because there was something he could do about it.
“What really struck me about that information is that we have this incredible tool with CrossFit, we have this scalable solution for where anyone is at in terms of where their fitness currently stands,” said Belasik, the owner of CrossFit Center City and Subversus Fitness. “We can find a way to get them moving, we can find a way to get them on a path toward health. And at the same time we can create jobs for people who need employment. What the program is doing, we’re attacking really a health care obstacle using CrossFit and using job creation at the same time.”
The program he’s talking about is his nonprofit called UliftU. With experience in nonprofits prior to opening his gym, Belasik had always found it difficult to bridge the gap between society and those coming out of pasts of homelessness, drug abuse, incarceration and unemployment. Sport had consistently proven to help people believe in themselves again and see what they were capable of; CrossFit was no different.
UliftU was started about 18 month ago. It offers a nine-month training program for about eight to 10 people at a time. Members of the program commit to three to four workouts a week at CrossFit Center City. In the afternoons on Tuesdays and Thursdays, they spend 2.5 hours in a classroom, learning everything from anatomy and physiology to nutrition and programming.
“Here we have this tool that people can learn that then provides a scalable solution to address fitness,” explained Belasik. “What’s really great about the fitness industry is that you will be as successful as you are committed to your craft. It doesn’t matter what your background was previously; it matters how dedicated you are to connecting to the members at your gym, connecting to your clients.”
The program accumulates to a single test. Literally. “Our goal is to both provide job training through our nine-month job training program, get them prepared to take the CrossFit Level 1 exam,” said Belasik. “It’s not to say that is the end all be all for all personal training type work or group fitness work, but the hands-on nature of CrossFit and the hands on nature of learning a Level 1 is really attractive because it provides a lot of different ways to learn.”
In the future, Belasik wants to have UliftU offered as a template for Affiliates to reach those segments of the population they aren’t reaching. But for now, he is simply getting his members involved in a simple way — one percent of all memberships goes to the nonprofit. It’s not about the finances; it’s about his members being a part of something bigger, just like UliftU’s mission.
“We really feel true wellness means access to sustainable employment and being able to contribute in your community, and so what we’re trying to do is address the needs of employment for a population that’s out of the workforce, but also to address long standing issues of chronic and preventable disease and our community here in Philadelphia,” said Belasik. “How do we think a little bigger than just what we’re doing day to day?”