Powell CrossFit will host a CrossFit Scholarship Program weekend on March 12 and 13, aimed at producing certified Navajo fitness trainers who can help promote healthy lifestyles and fight chronic disease on the Navajo Nation.
The scholarship weekend was set up by the CrossFit Home Office to help the nonprofit Native Strength and Rezilience Project (NSRP), which was launched last year by Page-based CrossFit trainer Alleia King, who serves as NSRP’s president, and Powell CrossFit owner Paul Baughman .
Boughman said the mission of NSRP was “to build strength and resilience on the Navajo reservation in the shadow of COVID.”
“We saw that there were really high death and disease rates out there. We were already aware that mortality from diabetic and pre-diabetic conditions were astronomical out there in comparison to the rest of the nation,” he said.
Baughman said the idea for the nonprofit came about when he and King realized that their CrossFit training programs, while able to help people in Page, were not reaching people who lived in remote areas on the reservation. Small-scale fundraisers would have limited benefits, so they contacted the main CrossFit office and asked for help.
“CrossFit said they can offer us a scholarship program because, in the wake of COVID, there’s been a lot of attention brought to the underprivileged societies in America. People are like, why don’t we have more inner-city representation in CrossFit? It’s because CrossFit is expensive,” Baughman said.
In response to these concerns, CrossFit boosted its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion by developing a scholarship program that “partners with local youth organizations … and sets up a weekend-long CrossFit Level-1 (L1) seminar,” according to the CrossFit website.
“At the end of the weekend, participants are matched up with mentors to continue with their local affiliate and have a chance to continue to train and be involved with CrossFit. Various end goals include becoming a trainer or potentially working towards their own fitness business.”
“We used that as a starting point to build our plan for what we want to do,” Baughman said. “CrossFit is going to come here on March 12 and 13 and offer the first Native American Scholarship Program, or Indigenous CrossFit Scholarship Program.”
CrossFit was eager to help NSRP get off the ground. Last November, the CrossFit website published a story highlighting King as “the first Navajo/Diné woman to earn a CrossFit Level 1 Certificate” and announcing its intention to offer its support to the nonprofit.
Before she started CrossFit training four years ago, King was a long-distance runner and Zumba coach. Then, in 2018, she participated in an obstacle race organized by Powell CrossFit.
“A few weeks later, I did a free weekend CrossFit class. That was the first time. I came in that day, and it was a one-hour class,” King said. “The things we did that day, it was fun. I was sweating. I was hurting, but I was enjoying it. I fell in love with it that day.”
She initially signed up for a month of classes but then kept going, never looking back.
“It really changed me to where I became stronger in the upper body. I couldn’t even do a pullup when I came in,” King said. “It made me feel good about myself. So, I kept coming and coming, learning more.”
Even though she was no longer training specifically for running, her CrossFit program also led her to post her fastest half-marathon times in 2020 and again in 2021.
King’s dedication to improving, as well as her friendly personality, caught the attention of Baughman, who had started CrossFit training in 2012 and is now one of 700 or 800 Level 3 CrossFit coaches in the world. After King had been training for about nine months, Baughman asked her if she would be interested in learning to coach by going through the Level 1 training process.
She said she was, and after nearly two years of study and several attempts to pass the test, King earned her certification on Valentine’s Day 2021.
“I was so happy because it took almost two years to pass that test,” she said. “Every day was just study time, study, study. I took two to three hours out of my day to study and sometimes on the road when we traveled, I studied on the road also. Even Level 1 is a tough test.”
King started coaching at Powell CrossFit in February 2021 and soon began developing the idea for the Native Strength and Rezilience Project. Now, with March 12-13 set for the Scholarship Program weekend, King and Bughman are working fast to gather potential candidates for the program from small communities throughout the Navajo Reservation.
They’re hoping to find 15 to 20 participants, but with the nationwide pass rate for the Level 1 test at around 60%, they expect far fewer to actually become certified the first time around.
“Any candidate will be notified at least a month before the scholarship weekend, and during that month there will be some pretty rigorous study,” Baughman said, adding that if they fail the test on the first try, they can keep studying and retest.
“Hopefully, it will give them more drive to become more interested in CrossFit. They should already have that interest present, but hopefully the L1 training will fire more of that interest,” he said.
The goal is to send those who succeed in earning Level 1 certificates back into their communities on the Navajo Nation to hold free community workouts in local chapter buildings or government buildings.
“Our nonprofit will be looking to collect funds to pay our L1’s so they actually have an income because the harvest are very poor out there,” Baughman said. The trainers will be supplied with donated exercise equipment, as well as training programs from CrossFit so they know what to teach each day.
NSRP is also working with organizations like the Navajo Special Diabetes Program to help raise awareness about health and fitness, and plans to start attending fairs, powwows and other large gatherings once they’re permitted again on the Navajo Nation.
“We can be represented there and also bring our L1’s from the local communities as part of those fairs so they can meet people and provide them with information on when they can come to those free classes,” Baughman said.
Efforts to collect funds in support of NSRP will include organizing the third Horseshoe Bend Obstacle Course Race on April 23 as a fundraiser for the nonprofit. As of last week, there were already more than 150 people signed up for the event from over 26 states. Baughman also plans on holding a fitness competition in Page in September, although a date has not yet been decided.
“In the CrossFit World, it may be really big. I’m experimenting with a new format that I think is going to be really popular, and I have the backing,” Baughman said. “It’s going to draw a lot of really fit people to the community, so that will also help fund our nonprofit.”
In the midst of all this planning, King and Baughman have something else to prepare for: Late last month, they revealed that they’re having a baby boy, due May 21. The parents-to-be agreed that their CrossFit training will help them with the birth, parenthood and life in general.
“I’m about to have a baby at age 38. With my first baby 16 years ago, I was doing absolutely nothing. I was not working out, I was not running. It was a tough labor, and I was in the hospital for a while,” King said. “It’s been a long time, but now I know that my body can handle labor.”
Boughman said CrossFit – by training athletes to be more functional in the gym – increases functionality throughout life.
“You’re more able to move your body, whether it be jumping across a little gap in the ground while you’re out hiking or picking up some heavy piece of lumber overhead and hand to somebody that’s above you. You know you’ll have a better ability to do that in a safe away,” he said.
“I’m getting ready to have my first child at 44 years old. I feel that I’m in better physical condition than the majority of 20-year-olds. I want the ability to still go out in 12 years and throw a football across to my son with good strength and not look like an old man. So that’s a new founding drive for me to keep going with CrossFit.”