Finding community at CrossFit

Kate Walkup, Sports Editor

Editor’s Note: This piece was created as a multi-media project by Kate Walkup, with three podcast episodes accompanying the written story.


When most people hear the word “CrossFit,” they imagine a warehouse-turned-gym smelling strongly of sweat and filled with super fit people throwing heavy weights around—and probably getting hurt in the process. However, this isn’t the experience most people have when they walk into a CrossFit box for the first time. 

Linfield University students Ruby Earhart, Kenzie Feinglas, and Isaac Milner all vividly recall their first time at a CrossFit session. All three started the sport at very different points in their lives, but each felt immediately accepted by the gyms they tried out.  

Greg Glassman opened the first CrossFit gym in Santa Cruz, Calif., back in 2000. Since then, over 14,000 CrossFit boxes have popped up all over the world and more than five million athletes have a CrossFit membership.   

Most ordinary gyms have rows and rows of exercise machines, mirrors that stretch from floor to ceiling, cheesy motivational quotes on the walls, and at least one gym bro taking selfies in front of the weight racks.  

Take away the mirrors, the quotes and the gym bro, add a few flags representing various ranks of the military, stacks of plates and some ropes hanging from the ceiling, and you have a CrossFit gym. The focus of a CrossFit gym is strictly the workout—not how you look doing it.  

“In my head, it’s like this intense version of a workout. Like people who do CrossFit are these jacked human beings who are like superhuman,” Feinglas said.  

In a traditional CrossFit class, participants usually begin with a warmup, followed by a strength piece and a WOD—which stands for workout of the day. Most classes last only an hour and the workout changes from day to day. A coach runs the class by teaching participants the movements, encouraging them through the tough WODs and helping them achieve more than they did the previous day.  

Earhart’s first experience with the sport was in Dallas, Ore., about a year after CrossFit had come to her hometown. Her mom was one of the first members at Harvest CrossFit and encouraged Earhart to join her at a class and just give it a try.

At the time, Earhart was 11 and about to go into middle school. She was busy playing volleyball, basketball, and softball. Even though she was such an active kid, Earhart made time in her schedule to accompany her mom to a class. She immediately fell in love and was hooked on CrossFit. 

After a few years, Earhart joined her mom and her mom’s friend Misty at the Gobbler Gauntlet—a CrossFit competition in Salem, Ore.—for her first competition. Earhart had high expectations for herself, but she reached absolutely none of them. 

“I remember the feeling of competing when I started,” Earhart said. “I was so nervous and I had all these high expectations, and I didn’t meet any of them. I just kind of sucked the whole time, but it was still really fun.”

Even though Earhart’s birthday is September 14, she’s one of the youngest sophomores at Linfield. That’s because she decided to finish high school in just three years. The pandemic hit when Earhart was a sophomore in high school, so she only experienced one true year of high school—her freshman year. 

“As soon as I started CrossFit, I wanted to be homeschooled and quit all my sports, and my mom kind of encouraged me to let my sports run their course,” Earhart said. “She didn’t want me to regret missing out on [all of my] years of sports, which I’m so thankful for. But then once we shut down, I was so happy. I was like, ‘Finally CrossFit gets its turn. I can focus on that and not have to squeeze it into my schedule. It can just be my schedule.’”

During the pandemic, Earhart decided to get her level one CrossFit coaching certificate. This meant sitting in front of the computer for hours watching videos about CrossFit and learning all about technique and coaching. Since Earhart wasn’t planning on playing sports in college, she knew that, as an active and motivated individual, she would need something to fill her time, so she decided to reach out to Gunner CrossFit in McMinnville, Ore. 

After talking with Gunner’s owners, Melissa and Faustino Alonzo, and figuring out her schedule, the 17-year-old was ready to coach her first class. Even though Earhart had been taking CrossFit classes for about six years, coaching a group of athletes twice her age was a little different. Some of the other class members were Linfield students who Earhart recognized from seeing around campus. 

“Coaching people that were all adults. Everyone was so much older than me at Gunner,” Earhart said. “Coaching not just Linfield students that are two and three and four years older than me but also like 30- and 40-year-olds that are way older than me was a hard adjustment to make.”

One of these Linfield students was track and field athlete Feinglas. 

Kenzie Feinglas is a sprinter for Linfield track and field. (Kate Walkup)

Feinglas knew that she needed a structured workout with coaches and classmates in order to get any work done over the summer. Working out on her own in the Linfield weight room and performing workouts that she programmed herself wouldn’t be productive for Feinglas. So she, along with fellow track athletes Chandler Morris, Matthew Metcalf, and Megan Pallas, decided to find an off-campus workout option to fill their time and keep them moving. 

Sure, she’d heard the term CrossFit thrown around, but what she once imagined the sport to be like was quite different from how she views it now. 

“When Megan was like, ‘Let’s do CrossFit,’ I’m like, ‘Really? Like, I don’t know, dude, like, it’s kind of scary,’” Feinglas said. “It’s intimidating because I feel like the word CrossFit sounds a lot worse than it actually is.” 

The senior sprinter started running track in middle school and continued throughout high school and into college. Feinglas knew that she needed something to keep her in shape after the conclusion of her sophomore track season, so she decided to research CrossFit gyms in the area. 

She and a few of her track teammates decided to try out Gunner in the hopes that it would keep them active throughout the summer while they were still on campus but not having structured team workouts. 

After her first class, Feinglas fell in love with the intensity and difficulty. 

“I want to say there were some burpees over bar, definitely a bike, and I hate the bike. I always choose to run,” Feinglas said. “The reason we decided to do CrossFit was because there were set times and the coaches were extremely personable. Everyone there is so friendly. It’s a community like a family more than just like a gym to go work out in.”

CrossFit was one of the hardest things she had ever done, and she couldn’t wait to go back the next day and try it again. Starting CrossFit wasn’t as much of a shock to the body for Feinglas as it would be for someone just picking up the sport after sitting on the couch for years, but it was still a challenge. 

In addition to running track for over a decade, Feinglas also played basketball all the way through her senior year of high school. After her team won the state championship her senior year, Feinglas didn’t touch a basketball—and still hasn’t to this day. 

But basketball was Feinglas’s first introduction to lifting. Her team lifted a little throughout high school, but once Feinglas came to college, she let that part of her training take a backseat. 

Unsure what would happen to her athletic career after the pandemic hit, Feinglas didn’t know if running track would be something she would continue throughout college. However, doing CrossFit six days a week the summer before her junior year and continuing all the way up until her junior track season, Feinglas realized that CrossFit had helped her get into the best shape of her life. 

By balancing her workouts and spending a few days in the CrossFit gym each week, Feinglas saw her times drop in the 100-meter dash by over half a second, over a second in the 200-meter dash, and nearly five seconds in the 400 meters. 

However, when her senior year came around, Feinglas, who had been working out at Gunner religiously six days a week, was suddenly prevented from doing the CrossFit workouts she had come to love—even if the WOD included the dreaded bike.

No, she didn’t get an injury. No, the CrossFit gym didn’t close. Instead, she was told by Linfield’s new strength and conditioning coach, Ella Riddle Maliska, that CrossFit was one of the worst things a track athlete could do for cross-training. 

“When we said that we did CrossFit, her face dropped,” Feinglas said. “I personally don’t think that CrossFit ruined anything. I feel like I’m in extremely good shape because of CrossFit.”

While Feinglas—as a member of the track team—isn’t allowed to do CrossFit for the time being, she is keeping busy with her training sessions with the track team and coach Riddle Maliska. But Feinglas knows it won’t be long before she’s back in the box doing burpee-over-box-jumps and toes-to-bar. 

“Once I’m done with college sports, I just want to do CrossFit,” Feinglas said. “I don’t want to ever have to make my own workouts, number one, and two, [I want to] follow my own plan. So I think that once I’m done with college sports, my way of working out will be CrossFit.”

Similar to Earhart and Feinglas, Milner is also a current student at Linfield who also happens to do CrossFit. However, his introduction to the sport was a little different. 

CrossFit is structured around WODs–a shorthand for workout of the day. (Kate Walkup)

Milner had known about the sport for a while through his dad, who owns a gym in Washington state that offers CrossFit classes, among other athletic activities. But when he was an 11-year-old kid, Milner had no desire to swing kettlebells overhead and test his back squat one-rep max. 

Growing up, Milner was that kid who tried all the sports, but he eventually landed on tennis and stuck with it through his first two years of college. However, after his coach left Linfield after his sophomore season, Milner felt like it was time to hang up the racket. 

It wasn’t until spring of 2022 that Milner tried out his first CrossFit class—also at Gunner. By the time he tried his first workout, a handful of Linfield students had started attending Gunner regularly, including his girlfriend. She dragged him along one day just so he could check out CrossFit and see what his fellow students were raving about. 

“I just hate new environments when you’re the odd one out,” Milner said. “I felt embarrassed for myself because I grew up in a CrossFit environment and never touched a weight. And so I was like, ‘Dang, I’m really gonna get outlifted by my girlfriend and I’m going to do it wrong and all the coaches are gonna make fun of me,’ and none of that happened. So I came back.”

Being a college student in a group of strangers can be challenging, especially when those strangers are one or two decades older than you, have years of CrossFit experience, and can easily outlift you. But Milner’s fears about CrossFit were unfounded; he felt at home in the Gunner gym almost instantly and now attends six classes each week. 

Just this fall, Milner got roped into being on a team with a couple of Gunner CrossFitters for the Gobbler Gauntlet—the same competition Earhart did. Milner never thought he’d be working out with two guys in their thirties, but he now calls them some of his good friends. 

Earhart, Feinglas and Milner have all found a home at Gunner CrossFit—a home that they didn’t know they needed. Whether it be a coaching job, a place to train during the off season or a new sport to pursue, the three college students chose to leave their Linfield bubbles, explore other opportunities and expand their social circles during their time as college kids.  

“The community is awesome—it’s so fun,” Feinglas said.