THE JOURNEY: CrossFit Akela
We caught up with CrossFit Box owner, Rob Fisher. Read his story as he guides us through the journey of challenges and rewards he endured while establishing the tight-knit community that is, CrossFit Akela.
During my time training in the Royal Marines I suffered from a hip injury, which ended in me having surgery to resolve the issue. The surgery was a success but the hip still hung over me as an excuse, stopping me from reaching my full physical potential. I plodded my way through troop runs and passed the fitness test through grit and pure determination rather than actual physical capability. My mentality changed when a good friend and I discovered CrossFit through videos online and thought how impressive it was.
We grabbed our trainers and head straight to the gym.
With typical ‘Bootneck’ vigor, we threw ourselves in at the deep end by trying to learn muscle ups, toes-to-bar, butterfly pull-ups and handstand walks. We began throwing barbells around, forcing ourselves through, what felt like, thousands of strict pull-ups, as neither of us could kip properly. The best thing about it was how much fun it was. It was never a competition, it was fitness in its purest form: two friends working hard for sheer enjoyment. This is where I fell in love with CrossFit and saw the beauty of both the results gained, and the fun along the way.
As my time in the Marines came to a close, I tried to come up with a plan of what to do next. I knew I was never going to be a brain surgeon or a scientist, but I still wanted to make a positive impact on other people’s lives. The answer was obvious to me. The best way I could make a positive impact on others was to recreate what I felt when I discovered CrossFit.
That’s when the hard work began.
The first hurdle was convincing my family that it was a good idea, a viable business plan and most importantly, that this wasn’t going to be a ‘normal gym’. Once I gained the support of those closest to me, it was time to start learning. I threw myself on course after course, started volunteering at a local CrossFit box, and spent hours training in my garage trying to eradicate all of the bad habits I’d picked up.
The second hurdle was finding a suitable space. I had several jobs to help fund this difficult period. I was a laborer, barman and worked in a ‘Globo Gym’, which just fuelled the fire in chasing the dream that was CrossFit Akela.
I started seeing a couple of clients for 1-2-1 sessions in my garage, mostly running them through the fundamental movements used in functional fitness. Coinciding with that, I put out an advert for a boot camp on our local common. I loaded my car with some kettlebells and turned up on the first Saturday morning, hoping that someone would be there, six people turned up to the very first session. The sessions in the sunshine were great fun, even when we would weave our way between the cows and avoid cowpats during a burpee. The sessions in the rain and fog brought their own challenges. Not knowing if clients would get lost in the mist on the 400m loop around the reservoir, or run blindly into a herd of highland cattle.
The boot camp continued on Saturday mornings and as we started to gain numbers, people were keen for more sessions. Before I knew it I was holding four sessions a week; 6AM on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, as well as our original Saturday morning session. I swapped my car for a van, loaded all the kit up and became fully mobile.
Whilst all these sessions were going on, and CrossFit Akela was seemingly gaining momentum, the hunt for a building was becoming even more pressing. Every time I found a potential home for the ‘Wolf Pack’ there would be a problem with either landlords or usage issues. We struggled on and as the months went by I was starting to lose hope.
As winter was drawing closer, daylight hours decreased, and a permanent location was still nowhere in sight, it meant that early morning sessions would become an issue. In a desperate attempt, I even approached local sports clubs asking if I could put a shipping container in their car park to run the box from there, but I had no such luck.
Just as the weather turned and the mornings became too dark we moved into a local village hall. Amongst WI meetings and bridge clubs there was a group of people learning to snatch with PVC pipes. We worked on deadlifts, did tough workouts on my single Airbike and many, many burpees, but the best thing about these sessions was how much fun they were. I must give credit to the amazing people, the ‘Wolf Pack’, who fully bought into what I was offering, never questioned anything and threw themselves wholeheartedly into every workout.
After more than a year of searching for a property, with every opportunity proving to be a dead end, I'd all but given up hope. I started my application to become a Police Officer and was seriously thinking about how I was going to wind down the boot camp and put an end to the dream that was CrossFit Akela.
However, one Saturday morning one of the members told be about a Ninja Warrior gym in a local village that was moving to a bigger location. I drove down there that morning but no one was there. I eagerly started calling and emailing them until I finally got a response, but they’d not even told their landlord they were planning on moving. I convinced him into telling the landlord that I was ready to take the lease on straight away. A few months went by with me pestering him but eventually a meeting was set up with the landlord, and after over a year and a half searching I signed the lease on a quirky little basement unit in an old mill a few miles out of Stroud town center.
Our moving in date was set as the start of December. The aim was to open at the start of January 2019.
I had a lot of work to do. The first thing was to get the kit in order. This was going to prove to be a more complex task than initially thought, due to the odd shape of our space. The main room has pillars running up the walls, huge double doors and plenty of windows, which meant that there’s barely more than a meter and a half of flat wall space in the room. I knew straight away that I would have to work closely with the kit provider to come up with the most efficient use of space.
I sent out emails to a few companies to start the ball rolling. One never got back to me, one sent out a very generic quote offering not much in support for the difficulties we faced. One company's response shone out from the others, Bulldog Gear.
Bulldog Gear were already on my radar, the squat rack in my garage, that had essentially been the beginning of CrossFit Akela was from Bulldog. It’s a fantastic piece of equipment, extremely sturdy and well made. Designed for a purpose with no unnecessary frills, it was completely functional and perfectly embodied what I was after.
Their response to my enquiry immediately caught my attention as they didn’t back down from the task, but were offering solutions for our troublesome space.
They made my decision easy.
We went to work planning the centerpiece, the rig. This was my main concern, other then the storage space. After countless phone calls, and an email chain of over 100 emails, together we came up with a way to get around our architectural issues whilst maximizing capacity on the rig itself. Our bespoke rig would have specifically measured pull-up braces to accommodate for the space lost from the pillars, making sure the rig was lined up perfectly on the wall.
We also boarded up some windows to make room for handstand and HSPU practice.
Our thoughts moved to storage. We didn’t have enough room to have a permanent storage place for heavy gear like bumper plates. We came to the conclusion most of the kit had to be on wheels. Allowing for the training space to be made up in many different configurations.
What made our space even more problematic was my desire to have a large collection of metabolic conditioning equipment. I wanted at least six Rowing Machines, six Airbikes (including old faithful from the garage and boot camp days) and three Ski Ergs. This was driven by the desire to create the best possible workout experience for every single member of the gym. I wanted everyone to get the same from every workout, trying to avoid having to substitute the kit to get the workout done. If on the board it says you’re using a bike, you’re using a bike!
Once my order was placed, my attention turned to getting the room ready for the delivery. Favours were called in from friends to help patch out the damaged floor from the previous year thanks to a burst water main. Members of the ‘Wolf Pack’ arrived with their sleeves rolled up and paint brushes ready for long hours of painting and whatever odd jobs needed doing, the list seemed never ending.
Once the room was ready, the Bulldog Gear delivery arrived along with two friendly staff members who constructed the rig perfectly, without any issues.
Within a month the room went from a dusty empty shell to a fully functional gym. To my family, friends and members of the ‘Wolf Pack’ that we’d picked up over the last year and a half, I am immensely grateful for helping this dream become a reality.
CrossFit Akela was ready to open its doors.
Our first class was at 0600 on January the 2nd 2019 and it was fully booked!
Since then we have continued forward as community driven CrossFit Affiliate with our member’s best interests at heart. I personally test every workout to ensure it’s class ready, and provide our members with the best experience possible when they step through our doors. Our focus is getting the ‘Wolf Pack’ ready for any eventuality. This idea isn’t just about getting fitter, healthier or looking better naked. It is about preparing our members to take on the harsh challenges life throws at them, and flourish!
- Rob, CrossFit Akela.
Check out CrossFit Akela's facility outfitting page for more photographs, video content and a full kit list: