The two-word catchphrase is iconic in the world of comic superheroes. When it is called out, the 17 core characters that make up one of the mightiest teams in history unite. From Ironman to Captain America to the Black Widow, a wide array of names, powers and outfits join together to form The Avengers.
With such a variety of talent in one team, surely there are superheroes to be found in the world of CrossFit Affiliates?
However, when Chriss and Andrea Smith, the owners of Trident CrossFit in Alexandria, Virginia, were called “superheroes,” they immediately denied it and changed the subject. In fact, Andrea even laughed and brought up their friends, Juliet and Kelly Starrett.
That’s what all the best superheroes do though, isn’t it? Humbly skirt around the truth about how incredible they really are. If Superman strutted his stuff like a puffed up peacock instead of living life as Clark Kent, it’s doubtful he’d have half as many avid fans.
The thing is, it’s not just owning Trident CrossFit that puts Andrea and Chriss within the realm of superheroes. Outside of the industry, each has other pursuits – none of them superficial. On top of a consulting business, Chriss is actively involved in the CrossFit seminar staff, was the 2015 Atlantic Regional event director and takes on challenges, like kayaking around New York City. In fact, Chriss has even won an episode of One Man Army. It’s 60 minutes worth YouTubing, by the way.
Andrea is also actively involved in the CrossFit seminar staff and ran the expo stage at the 2015 Reebok CrossFit Games. Before Trident was even a glimmer of a possibility, she was already a businesswoman, co-owning and roasting coffee at Misha’s Coffee House. She’s been roasting coffee for 23 years. “I have the world’s least and greatest perk, which is I don’t even drink coffee and my wife owns a coffee shop,” added Chriss.
For two people who do so much, you’d think they must have super speed, or at least the ability to go several days without sleep. Though the latter might be attributed to Andrea’s coffee roasting skills.
But, Andrea and Chriss’ community soon proved the duo’s powers were a little less super and a little more human.
Two years ago, one of the Box’s head Coaches, Chad Ciri, found out his son was diagnosed on the autism spectrum. The therapy his son needed was expensive and wasn’t covered by insurance. “Talking with Chriss and Andrea and some of the coaching staff about it, they came up with the idea [of] a fundraising workout so we could have additional funds to cover his therapy,” said Ciri. “The turnout was just unbelievable.”
Close to 200 athletes came. The event raised enough money that, along with Andrea and Chriss’ matching donation, it paid for a year of therapy.
Described as one of his greatest memories, Ciri’s voice was still full of disbelief as he depicted the end of the event. “I won’t forget it,” he said. “My son loves to run, so at the end of the workout there was a run … I picked him up and he did the last run with us, so we were the last ones coming in and there must have been maybe 100 to 150 people waiting at the finish line for us.”
The impact of Trident doesn’t stop at Ciri. For most of his life, Robert Morton said he “sucked” at regular exercise. He decided to give CrossFit a shot when Ciri, his personal trainer at the time, told him about the new Box where Ciri was going to work. “Pretty quickly, it was a fit on so many different fronts,” said Morton.
Soon after, Ciri put on a nutrition challenge that Morton accepted. “Other than being an active eater, like I want to eat a lot, I wasn’t particularly [an] intentional eater,” he said.
Morton witnessed total transformation, physically and mentally. In fact, it was so much so that he made a leap in his career, going from a long and successful job in an education software company to a new business, called Power Supply, that was started by another Trident member. The company makes prepared meals for CrossFitters, and the best part was the backing Morton received from Andrea and Chriss. “Those two are these very supportive people,” he said. “They’re doing all this cool stuff, but they’re both very humble. They don’t broadcast half the stuff they do … They just do their thing. They’re just confident. They love what they’re doing.”
It was the impacting culture of Trident that the Box’s Coaches, members and owners continually referred to in their interviews. In fact, Ciri has been working at Trident since the Box first opened in 2010. It’s the longest he’s ever been a trainer somewhere, and he hasn’t looked back since joining. “It speaks volumes to the community that’s been created,” he said.
Karen Angeles, another head Coach at Trident, shared a story about a member who comes to the 9:30 a.m. class. At the beginning of every month, the member makes birthday treats to share with the class, simply because she loves her fellow CrossFitters, said Angeles.
“It’s actually her birthday coming up, and I was in class last week,” said Angeles. “[Members were] doing a collection to buy her a gift card and there’s a big card that was going around to be signed because people want her to know that she’s made their experience different and they want to give back to her, and that’s all initiative by the community.”
That very same community has also permeated the coaching staff which, in Ciri’s words, collectively shares Trident’s mission: affecting positive change and positively affecting people’s lives. Plus, he said while Andrea and Chriss are the founders and leaders, the feeling of being a team overrides the feeling of hierarchy. The Trident staff is involved in many decisions and puts forth a collaborative effort.
“As leaders, you have to have a really strong sense of what the business is about … but you also have to be open to suggestions and constructive criticism,” said Andrea. “It’s a fine line.”
Angeles said Andrea and Chriss trust their staff, which is demonstrated in the way they allow their Coaches to take on leadership roles. “There’s really a sense of camaraderie among the Coaches, and we all just really like each other,” said Angeles. “We all refer to [Trident] as our ‘happy place.’”
Andrea and Chriss have worked hard to make their Box’s environment one where leaders flourish, and they continually build leaders through Trident’s internship program.
In fact, it started with Angeles. As a mom with two kids, Angeles had confided in Andrea that she missed teaching gymnastics. Andrea persuaded Angeles to come in and learn about coaching CrossFit. “She, in her very assertive way — so graceful — suggested that I come in and start shadowing the coaching staff to really get my foot in the door,” said Angeles.
In the early mornings, Angeles would step into the Box and observe Andrea coaching, learning as she went. She was the first in what would become Trident’s internship program.
The internship can be described in two colors: red and blue. Blue shirts are assistant Coaches, who shadow and train for about two years before they can literally don the red shirt of a head Coach. However, it takes time to build a solid staff, as Chriss mentioned. He said running the gym was brutal at first, as he and Andrea were constantly coaching during the initial years.
However, with over 40 staff members now on the Trident roster, Chriss said coaching hours are coveted. When Coaches do get those hours, they put 110 percent into the class. And for two people who travel a lot, it’s a relief to have a team they can rely on when they’re gone. Ciri explained that the intent was for natural leaders to develop into leadership roles, and it was never something the two owners had to force into production.
In fact, Andrea said she is most proud of the people who work for her and Chriss. “How the hell did we get surrounded by all these awesome people?” she asked. “Did we just totally get lucky?”
Because the duo made it clear the business isn’t about them. “Trident isn’t Chriss and Andrea. Trident is the staff that work here, the clients that work here,” said Chriss. “They all have this connection to a place.”
However, the culture and business would not exist without the owners. It’s like if The Avengers didn’t have Captain America, or if Thor was missing from the team, could they still defeat every evil emissary they face?
Perhaps. Sixteen super-powered people is still a lot of firepower.
But without all 17 characters, The Avengers wouldn’t be the same superhero team that defeats . And without Chriss and Andrea, Trident CrossFit would be a very different Box in terms of staff and culture. Morton said it best: “An organization is a reflection of its leadership.”
When asked to describe the duo, Ciri’s words only further validated this point: They have heart and they have soul. Trident CrossFit is propelled by a powerhouse of people, but it began with Chriss and Andrea, its heart and soul.
So no, these two don’t have comic book superpowers. Neither of them can fly nor shoot laser beams from their eyes — at least as far as I know. They are very human and they are very real. It’s their staff and community that are their superpowers, making the business incredible while reflecting what the leaders themselves represent.
When Andrea spoke about the community coming together for Ciri’s son’s fundraiser, Chriss began to tear up. Andrea then attempted to downplay the emotions. “Any person swears they have the best community; objectively that can’t be true,” she said. “But, the objective truth doesn’t matter. That’s sort of the beauty of CrossFit: Everybody believes that their Affiliate has the best community.”
Sure, she spoke the truth. However, it seemed Andrea and Chriss were playing Clark Kent again. They were humbly denying the larger reality of Trident’s greatness and how they are in fact superheroes, just maybe not of the comic book kind.