Veteran-owned gym honors fallen heroes

October 31, 2016 | GET MORE : Entrepreneurship

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Every Veterans Day, this CrossFit gym shuts down its regular activities to host a “hero workout”.

CrossFitters call it a “hero workout.”

It’s what U.S. Army Veterans and husband-and-wife entrepreneurs Kris and Lindsey Marcelli have led on Veterans Day every year since their small gym, CrossFit Eminence, opened in 2011.

The facility, which serves about 200 regular customers in Thornton, Colo., shuts down its regularly scheduled activities during Veterans Day to accommodate the hero workout, which is designed to remember individuals who have died in service or combat.

“Sometimes family or people who know [the hero] will help come up with the workout,” said Kris, a small business customer of U.S. Bank. “It could be numbers, weights or reps that will align with the day they died or their birthday. Or maybe the workout will include movements that they know the guy or girl liked doing.”

Usually more than 50 CrossFit Eminence members show up for the Veterans Day event. It starts with someone reading aloud the workout and what it means and then reading the fallen person’s bio. The group has a moment of silence and then starts what tends to be a much-harder-than-usual workout, leaning on that person’s memory as motivation.

“It gives you time to reflect,” Kris said.

For Kris and Lindsey, who are both 32 and who served together in Iraq from 2007 to 2009 in a unit that built buildings and repaired bombed-out roads and bridges, Veterans Day brings back personal memories of their military experience.

“We both lost people when we served. There’s not a day that goes by that we don’t re-live our deployment,” Kris said.

Hitting an important milestone

This Veterans Day will be a significant one for the Marcellis because their small business has hit an important milestone: they are about to own their own building.

U.S. Bank is helping the Marcellis achieve what’s possible this fall by financing the acquisition of 5,600-square-foot former retail space they’ve been renting. The landlord wanted to sell, and Kris and Lindsey decided to take a leap.

The couple had self-financed the launch of their business using credit cards and personal savings, but decided to take on a mortgage to have more control of their future.

The property has potential to be a wise long-term investment for the Marcellis, said Bruno Meli, assistant vice president and client manager with U.S. Bank’s business banking group in its Denver Cherry Creek office. The couple can make changes and improve the space to meet their needs without risk of a landlord kicking them out. And one day when they want to retire, they’ll have a great real estate asset.

“I look at character a lot and I was really impressed with these two young people,” Meli said. “They were out of the service and just went out and started a business and now are acquiring a half of million dollars in real estate. It’s really impressive.”

Building community

The strength of the CrossFit industry has been tested the past year as the national CrossFit boom began to slow and some centers closed, Kris said. The survivors are those like CrossFit Eminence that have tried to innovate and that connect with their communities, he added. Their gym, for example, has started youth classes and added a nutritionist and physical trainer on staff.

To better connect with the community, the Marcellis created a separate company in 2012 called Girls Gone Rx that organizes team fitness competitions designed to help women work through their strengths and weaknesses. In 2016, with the help of about 40 other gyms across the country and in Canada, Girls Gone Rx raised over $74,000 for a Chicago-based charity called Bright Pink that focuses on prevention and early detection of breast and ovarian cancer.

Continued influence of military service

Kris said the couple’s shared military service provides a solid foundation to build their small business dream together. It influences everything, from their work ethic and can-do attitude to how the gym is arranged.

“Our gym is famous in the area for being neat and clean and organized. It’s not a big deal to us. It’s just how we’ve always run it.”

Written by Sam Black, Minneapolis-based member of U.S. Bank's corporate communications team.