Although the Reebok CrossFit Games field is littered with incredible athletes — most still in their youth — pure athleticism and a strong understanding of CrossFit can break the mold. No one understands this more than Neal Maddox, 37, who sees himself not as a person defined by his age, but as an ongoing athlete.
When Maddox discovered CrossFit in 2009, he had been in personal training for years. However, he was always looking for something greater for himself and his clients. CrossFit was exactly the theorem he had dreamed about.
“I used to do a lot of training very similar to [CrossFit],” Maddox explained, alluding to a time before he found Greg Glassman’s fitness regimen. “We’d go and do squats and turn around and do plyo-jumps, things of that sort. So, it was an easy transition.”
Initially, Maddox thought he was coming onto a type of fitness that he could market himself. Although that didn’t happen, he wasn’t deterred from the high-intensity interval training that would soon explode in popularity.
Maddox already had an established training clientele, but soon he took his passion for CrossFit to the next level. In 2010, he affiliated and started CrossFit X-treme Athletics in San Jose, California. “What made me become an Affiliate was I really truly enjoyed it and really loved it,” he said. “I wanted to be a little more involved in CrossFit. I wanted it to be a little bit more part of my day-to-day routines.”
But, the depth Maddox wanted to go into the CrossFit world went beyond anything daily and routine. In fact, his desire from the beginning was to make it to CrossFit’s climax: the Games. “I did the globo-gym stuff, I did the bodybuilding stuff, but what I realized in the end was I wanted to be a part of the Games,” he said. “But not only that, I wanted a member base that could be a part of the Games and train if they wanted to do that. I had high hopes for the opportunity that CrossFit presented.”
Even in the early stages of his career, Maddox saw the potential. He explained that with such a large number of people involved in fitness, it made sense to make a sport of it. That, he said, would allow for growth in professional athlete opportunities.
Does that mean then that Maddox’s gym caters to competitive athletes and competitive athletes alone? No. Year in and year out, a large portion of Maddox’s Box is of people simply looking to improve their health. “That’s what I gear my gym toward,” he said. “I don’t want a gym that’s full of athletes. I want a gym that’s full of everyday people just like my mom, my sister and all that. That’s what I strive to have a gym of. I don’t strive to have a gym of a bunch of athletes.”
Don’t misunderstand Maddox, however: There are competitive athletes at CrossFit X-treme Athletics, but it’s just that the gym hasn’t been developed strictly for them. It’s simply that his programming, coaching and other trainers draw in people of all styles from a community that he wants to bring change to. “And how do I do that? I do that one step at a time: developing a brand that’s going out to change people’s lives and improve fitness,” he said. “That’s what I want to be known for.”
Being a Games athlete has shown Maddox the difference between training for the Games and training for life. One way this shows is that Games athletes often take things to extremes. “We go so hard and so much, that that’s not good for your everyday people,” he said. “All they need to do is they need to move, they need a sound physical preparedness program, good mobility, get them eating right and that’s good.”
Developing a stable gym has also allowed Maddox to achieve one of his greatest accomplishments as a trainer, Affiliate and Coach: being able to offer underprivileged kids the chance to workout at his Box for free. The program stems from Maddox’s own experience growing up and being part of Boys and Girls Club, an opportunity that kept him off the streets and out of trouble.
“The purpose of the program was to funnel kids in to be able to come in and workout, build their self-esteem, feel inspired to want to do more in life,” said Maddox. “I believe CrossFit adopts a lot of different things. When you push through a workout, there isn’t really a big difference between pushing through a workout or pushing through a deadline if you’re in business, or pushing through a project in school.”
Maddox said he comes from a background where when the going gets tough, the tough get going, and that’s not what he wanted to see for kids in his area. “When you really value yourself physically, that really helps you mentally,” he said. “It helps to carry you forward in life, I believe, in a lot of ways.”
The program has a few stipulations: The kids are able to come down and workout for free, but Maddox requires them to submit grades to ensure they maintain a 3.0 GPA. “You’re in school, you’re doing your homework — if your homework is not done, you’re not working out,” he said.
The kids also have to show up at least three days a week or Maddox won’t keep them in the program. It’s a lesson he is trying to teach that applies to life overall: responsibility. “If I make a commitment to show up three days a week and I break that commitment, [or] if you break a commitment at anything else in life, sometimes you get fired or you lose things,” he said. “And I’m just trying to teach them that.”
Currently, Maddox has only a handful of kids in the program, but he’s striving to help it grow. “I’ve told kids to tell other kids, but because they’ve heard of CrossFit they’re scared to do it and don’t want to make the commitment,” he said. “You’ll be surprised how many people don’t want to make that commitment. A lot of those other kids don’t want to sacrifice the time playing video games and all that other stuff to get fitter. But it will grow. Just like anything, you have to focus your time and attention on [it], and when I’m spread thin it’s hard to focus on one area.”
If Maddox is anything it’s definitely spread thin. Not only is Maddox a Games athlete, but he’s also a full-time Coach, father, business owner and family man — all of which take time and attention. But, he’s striving to do everything he can to make a difference and an impact in his community.
When people attend Maddox’s gym, he’s entirely focused on giving members the very best experience possible. “I’m not trying to go out there and corner the market,” he said. “I’m just trying to go out there … get people who want to come in and get fit.”
His Coaches also understand the commitment and dedication that are essential to operating CrossFit X-treme Athletics. Beginning as members, the Box’s Coaches go through a development process, over time reaching the level of trainer. “They showed me the commitment when they started training with me a long time ago,” he said. “So what I do in return, I end up bringing them on and getting them to be a trainer for me. The simple fact [is] that the best trainers I have ever trained were clients of mine.”
What Maddox is looking for from his Coaches are people focused on helping others. “When you’re a trainer or a Coach, there’s a whole bunch of different aspects,” he said. “People are coming in, telling you their problems, the whole nine yards. You have to be a personal motivator. People are looking for you to guide them and you have to be educated in knowing how to properly do things, how to direct people in the right way.”
It’s more than just knowing how, though. Coaches need to have the personality, Maddox said. “What I mean about personality is you have to be personable to the fact that you can relate to people and be able to communicate to people on all different levels,” he said. “The big thing is you have to share the passion and want to really help people and be that difference maker in their life.”
Being a Games-level athlete has helped to inspire both his team and members alike. “I just go out and do it,” he said. “Me personally, I just love what I do. I love being able to work out and stay fit, but compete at a professional level, not beat up my body like I did for so many years in football. To be able to compete in the Games is kind of cool, because I’ll see how our members will come together and cheer on me or any other athletes that make it to the Games. It’s creating a community that you can be a part of.”
Maddox also likened it to a pep rally where people show their support for a school or team. However, he said what most don’t understand is that being a Games athlete isn’t easy. “People don’t realize the commitment, how hard you have to work and what you have to do to get to where you need to be,” he said. “I think it’s a reality check when I show people what it’s going to take and what they’re going to need to do. After a while, people realize there’s a lot more to this than just what they saw on TV.”
Although Maddox is a Games athlete and Affiliate, he hasn’t lost his passion when it comes to simply being in his Box. Every so often, Maddox jumps in with a regular class if he needs to get a workout done.
That single aspect reflects what Maddox is continually striving for: the ability to convey to the community a drive and passion not just for CrossFit, but for life. He’s an athlete, a businessman and a Coach, usually simultaneously. But, he understands that the common thread tying his various facets together is the fact that he’s maintained his passion and drive for so long. What he desires is that people will see him for those strong and unrelenting characteristics, hopefully then inspired to pursue health, find strength and seek greatness in their day-to-day lives.
That, it seems, is who Neal Maddox is.