A Distaste for CrossFit Turns into Box Ownership

The first time Michael Walerius tried CrossFit he said it devastated him. He wanted nothing to do with it after the workout was over. But after learning more about it by talking to a local CrossFit Coach, four months later he decided to give it another shot. Since then, he’s been hooked.

Despite Walerius’ initial bad impression of CrossFit, Walerius soon dreamed of opening a Box of his own. So, in 2010, he and Elizabeth Wehrle, who he had been a Coach with at another Box, took a leap of faith. Together, they opened CrossFit26 in St. Louis, Missouri.

“[Compared to the Box we were at,] we just had different ideas on how CrossFit should be ran, and just kind of the fun element,” said Walerius. “We just kind of didn’t see eye to eye where we were both at.”

Because the partners had been Coaches for several years before opening their own Box, it wasn’t long before some of their former clients headed over to CrossFit26 to join them once again.

“That’s just how the trend of CrossFit goes,” said Walerius. “People get really attached to a certain Coach and not necessarily the owner, but just that Coach and their style. When they leave, it’s kind of a big hit towards that member, so they’re willing to kind of go with you. Totally unintentional … but it’s just kind of how CrossFit has come to be with there being so many [Boxes].”

Now an Affiliate, Walerius has to think about business in a different way. Being a Coach and an owner has become a balancing act. “I still try to hold myself true to being an actual Coach and getting my hours in on the floor and to kind of keep people still connected to me as a Coach, and not necessarily cut that part off and be a sole owner,” he said.

For four years CrossFit26 has been going strong, and Walerius said the Box has formed a tightknit community of dedicated members. It is through this extended family CrossFit26 looks to grow. “I think the biggest thing with CrossFit is people are scared to do it alone,” said Walerius.

To get new members, the Box asks its current CrossFitters to refer friends to CrossFit26’s intro program, which allows for a free trial month at the gym. Walerius said usually when someone refers a friend to try out CrossFit, that person is more apt to continue on. “You have to stick with this,” he said. “We’ve seen a lot of people who sign up for intro and not finish, or people who sign up for intro and just kind of flake out, and I think it’s just that mental toughness … if we can get that connection from a person in the gym from within, who knows somebody, who has that already, then we’re on the right track.”

When it comes to new Coaches, CrossFit26 also looks from within the Box while searching for important characteristics in people. “Charisma and how to communicate is key, and then an actual person who can move well,” said Walerius. “They will learn as they go and if they’re eager to learn, they’ll hone all those skills.”

The Coaches participate in a yearlong apprenticeship program, and the course seems to be working for CrossFit26 and its Coaches. “I don’t think we could be where we are without our Coaches, and to keep a consistent measurement on how to coach, what to coach, how to take somebody at any level and give them pointers and help them out,” said Walerius. “I think it’s huge and I think that kind of separates us.”

Heather is the editor for Box Pro Magazine. Contact her at heather@peakemedia.com.