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Local Focus: Firefighters Mix Passion for Service, Fitness at Kirkland CrossFit

Kirkland CrossFit is helping area athletes (and non-athletes) of all levels to achieve high levels of functional fitness while supporting each other and the community at the same time.

DO WHAT you love and success will come, so they say. For John Burrows, Jeremiah Ingersoll and Mike Morris, that couldn’t be more true.

The three Northshore Fire Department firefighters are passionate about helping people and doing the best job they possibly can. Since their job often requires significant physical demands, doing their best also means being in top physical shape.

For years, they worked out together at the firehouse, doing conventional workouts and eventually adding interval training. Along the way, a fellow firefighter urged them to check out a new approach called CrossFit, which uses combinations of natural movements to create intense daily workouts that promote a high level of functional fitness across a range of measures, from strength and speed to endurance and flexibility.

“I didn’t know what CrossFit was, but finally we decided to give it a try,” said Burrows. “One night after shift, a bunch of us went to a CrossFit gym in Seattle and they ran us through a workout. It completely showed me how out of shape I was. I thought I was fit but it exposed my weakness and how vulnerable I was. It made me want to change.”

They adopted the CrossFit approach, and did it at work for a year. During that year, they became so convinced of CrossFit’s ability to prepare them for physical demands of their job – and life – that they began to brainstorm how to share CrossFit with the firefighting community.

The group eventually landed on an exciting idea that blended their passions for fitness and service by promoting CrossFit to other first responders. They formed a 501c3 charitable organization, the Kirkland Crossfit Firefighter/Police CrossFit Challenge, which hosts an annual competition to benefit a chosen charity or cause.

The challenge is open to firefighters, police officers, members of the military and their spouses from throughout the state of Washington. This past fall, 75 CrossFit athletes competed in their fourth annual event, raising money for the family of a police officer disabled in the line of duty.

In preparation for each year’s event, though, Burrows, Ingersoll and Morris spent time promoting CrossFit and training participants. Eventually, it became clear that they needed to create a space to train.

They were drawn to the community in Kirkland and was born.

Kirkland CrossFit opened in October 2008 to people of all ages, sizes, occupations and fitness levels. Like CrossFit gyms across the country, workouts change daily (they’re known as W.O.D – or workout of the day) and are done under the direction of a certified coach in a class format.

According to the website, CrossFit is referred to as the “sport of fitness.” Leveraging the intensity that results from natural camaraderie, competition and fun of sport, CrossFit uses core strength and conditioning to optimize fitness.

“It’s functional fitness,” Burrows explained. “Essentially we have three domains we function under – gymnastics, which is anything that involves just you and your body, weights and mono-structural activity. Any workout may involve one, two or three of the domains and we do all three each week. It changes all the time so your body never establishes what is routine or normal. It’s like life. You might have an idea what the day will bring but you never know.” They recommend participants come in to the gym to work out with a class three to five times a week.

Today, Kirkland Crossfit is located in Kirkland's Highlands neighborhood and has 175 members from high school age through their 60s. Members are students, doctors, first responders, homemakers, athletes and pencil pushers. They have cardiology patients and persons with knee and hip replacements. “We are able to scale or modify every workout for every level of athleticism,” said Burrows. “We have athletes who are former pros and those who have never played on a team. We can scale every workout so they can do the same workout at the same time.”

“You can imagine the confidence people have when they come in here and can’t do pull-ups, for example, and then eventually, they can,” said Burrows. “Imagine a 37-year-old mom with three kids coming in and have fun doing Olympic lifts. It’s great.”

WHILE THE GYM doesn’t offer childcare, it does offer a playroom adjacent to the workout area where parents and kids can keep an eye on each other while the parents work out.

“One of the most important benefits of CrossFit is the sense of community it creates,” said Burrows. “People could do CrossFit on their own and get good results, but they can do better working alongside someone else. It’s that trial by fire –that bond through combat. We all care about people, health and fitness. I can’t imagine a better platform for a community.” Members support each other through personal challenges and currently have a meal train organized to provide food for a member who just had a baby.

They also participate regularly in charitable fitness events such as the , which supports the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and Barbells for Boobs, which raises money for women who can’t afford mammograms. Several men around the gym are growing beards this month in support of Movember – a worldwide movement to raise funds and awareness of prostate cancer.

“This has really given us the best of both worlds,” said Burrows. “We are passionate about fitness and passionate about helping people. When someone calls 911, we go to them and do whatever we can do to help. Here, we get to interact with people and help them get healthier. We have one member who’s lost 100 pounds this year and we have cardiology patients who have improved. In fact, we have one cardiologist who took their patient off of medications because there has been such an improvement. I’ve never heard of that before. It’s really rewarding to be a part of it.”

The CrossFit movement has drawn some fire.

“There are people who don’t buy into Crosfit largely because it’s different than what they’re used to," Burrows said. "It’s a new sport. It’s been around 12 years. It’s kind of upsetting the fitness world and changing the face of what fitness looks like. That’s okay. If they don’t like us, that’s okay. We realize it’s not for everyone. Our opinion is not that it’s the be all and end all. We just want people to be into health and fitness.”

Some opponents say workouts are too intense. “Some people here like camaraderie and workouts, but they don’t like the intensity so they change it. They do fewer rounds, they do lower weights, they use modifications to make the workout suit them.”

Coaches leading the classes supervise participants to ensure moves are done correctly and safely.

“One of the things that CrossFit does is offers the benefit of a personal trainer at a fraction of the cost. My wife got involved because she was spending $200-400 per month on a trainer. We tried CrossFit for about a third of the cost and she got better results,” said Burrows, who added that they encourage couples to share the CrossFit experience by offering a 40 percent discount for spouses. “Now, my wife and I both weigh what we weighed when we graduated from high school. Our marriage is stronger. We have an outlet now… a community.”

New members are oriented through an “on ramp” series of classes that teach basic CrossFit moves and philosophies, and give trainers a chance to get to know members, their needs, limitations and goals. Once someone completes the on ramp program, they are welcome to join daily classes.

“I think the sport of Crossfit will make so much of a difference in someone’s life that I say make it a convenience decision,” said Burrows. “I encourage people to join the gym that’s closest to them. If there’s a CrossFit gym closer to your house than ours, join that one. I believe in this sport so much."

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