Posted on September 06, 2017 by Steve's Club National Program
It’s 7:30 a.m. —or “Zero Seven Thirty” as they say around here— and the safety and security briefing room of the Fort Indiantown Gap National Guard Training Base holds its morning security briefing. The briefing covers what groups or units are using which of the training center’s various facilities or ranges, what heat category they expect—being mid July they expect highs in the mid 80’s with 90% humidity. They distribute a sign in sheet, radios, SOP (standard operating procedure) binders, facility keys and radio call signs.
As roll is called a subtle rainbow of camouflage designate the different branches of active duty military represented by the meeting’s 20 attendees who officiously acknowledge their presence. Well 19 of 20. One of the people in the meeting, her call sign is 2-7, is in a uniform all her own: sandals, athletic shorts and a Steve’s Club t-shirt, Leora Hafri. While the other 19 members of the military, and the units they represent, are there to train to protect and defend our country’s present, Leora wants to train 28 underserved and at-risk kids to help improve and enrich the country’s future.
Leora, Steve’s Club National Program’s Senior Program Director, has organized and run the Steve’s Club Summer Leadership Camp for the last three years. From the pre-camp planning and organizing to the nonstop show-runner lifestyle during the camp itself, Leora’s unflagging effort is the engine that makes the event run, and for one week out of the year, Steve’s Club National Program is a place.
For the vast majority of the year, Steve’s Club National program isn’t fixed in any one place. It exists in the communications ether of conference calls and this website; it exists in the shared philosophies and mission of the affiliate Local Clubs. But if you wanted to, say, go visit Steve’s Club National Program, there’s only one week a year that’s possible and that’s the week of camp.
Like Brigadoon, the fictional village in the Highlands of Scotland, which only exists for 1 day every 100 hundred years emerging out of the mists of an idyllic landscape, Steve’s Club National Program emerges from the sweat and toil of Leora and the other organizers and appears for one week in the barracks, mess hall, and leadership/obstacle courses of a National Guard Training Base in Pennsylvania. For Leora, this coming together makes camp worth the effort.
“Camp is so special because, not only does it allow us to meet in person,” she said. “But it’s an opportunity for kids from all over the country to come together, and meet people who they never would have met before but who they have shared experiences with.”
She also acknowledges that there is an almost supernatural aspect to camp. “It’s so hard to describe camp without using the word magical, but transformative is what it is. It’s transformative for every one who comes, even if for just a few hours.”
Just like in any magic trick, the effect only works when the conjurer puts in an inordinate amount of work beforehand. In the case of camp, Leora spent almost every hour of the 6 weeks leading up to this year’s first day getting everything ready. She had to don the hats of many different roles; travel agent for coordinating the departures and arrivals of the attendees, staff and coaches, event coordinator for ensuring all of the catering and activities were scheduled, talent recruiter to make sure all the coaches were engaged and had background checks, and safety warden going to the Base to get range safety instruction and certifications necessary to gain access, she even had to learn the phonetic alphabet (Whiskey Tango Foxtrot).
Despite this laborious schedule, Leora is quick to credit the efforts of the greater Steve’s Club community, which helped make this year such an overwhelming success. For the first time in 2017 the National Program asked Local Clubs to shoulder some of the cost of camp by sponsoring the athletes they send. Rather than reducing the total number of participants, this year attendance set a record.
“We had 28 kids, 22 boys and 6 girls, more than any of the previous 4 years,” she said. “These kids are the leaders of their local programs. The Local Clubs were selecting the kids that deserved to go and putting fundraising dollars behind it. So the kids this year were amazing.”
If you follow the Instagram or Facebook feeds of the National Program during camp, it’s easy to pick up on the show-stopping elements. The group-shot in front of the ginormous climbing tower and cargo net on the obstacle course, the rows of kids front racking barbells with quintessentially military barracks in the background, not to mention the hikes in the woods, and games by the lake and on the basketball courts. You can nearly hear the bugle calls of reveille and the rotors of helicopters flying overhead, or see the phalanxes of soldiers marching in time and counting cadence. But for Leora, the real magic of camp happens in a much less ‘gramable setting: the nightly sharing circle. The evening event where athletes give their highs and lows for the day and discuss their own stories.
“In the sharing circle the staff and Local Club leaders create this environment of a community that really cares about the athletes. Even the first night of sharing circle, the kids are able to open up and be vulnerable. They share things that maybe they’ve never told their closest friends or family, but in this safe space, they share it with people who just a few hours before were perfect strangers.”
It’s always difficult for Leora to discuss camp without emotion overwhelming her, but it’s impossible for her to discuss 2017 without her voice cracking and tears welling; 2017 was the first year that 4 kids from her Local Club in Philadelphia attended camp. This gave her the ability to see not only the magic of transforming kids, but how it transforms the Local Club leaders as well.
“The amount of time you get to spend with the kids in the gym week to week is so fleeting. If you have 20 kids in your class, it’s really hard to learn who the kids really are. But at camp you get to see them outside the gym and form this connection that you never would have otherwise. I’ve gone to every Steve’s Club workout at the gym since camp ended, just to be with these kids. They truly are my inspiration.”
Posted on July 31, 2017 by Steve's Club National Program
Last night, we completed our final sharing circle. As with previous nights, athletes connected around similar experiences. Some laughed at life and most everyone cried when someone's history struck a little too close to home. But today was different. Today was about closing the connections, wrapping up the good times, and vowing to stay close despite the distance.
In a somewhat fitting way, the last day of camp included plenty of distractions. The barracks needed to be cleaned and emptied. Every pillowcase that went in was double counted on its way out. The mess hall received similar treatment when our lead athletes ensured it was cleaner than we found it. From there, we hit the lake for one last round of fun and one final roll call. In unison, the crew sounded the two numbers of already departed athletes, signaling an end to the team as we knew it. We all knew this day was coming, but wished it somehow would not.
Coach Lee, our leader above all leaders, followed camp tradition in wrapping each wrist with a reminder of camp. Once the strings were cut, we were only connected by the memories created at camp (and thankfully the wonders of social media, e-mail, and texts). With friends and family waiting at home, each athlete was headed into an impossible question: How was camp?
How will you convey the importance of friendships that were only several days old? Who would understand the strength and bravery it took to stare down your fears and become something more? What do you mean by leadership anyway, and how could you have possibly improved it in six days?
Well, camp is camp. Most won't understand. Just wait a year for that knowing look from one of your teammates when they welcome you back to camp. They're the only ones who really get it anyway.
Until then, stay strong, trust your strength, move past negativity, and create your life on your terms. This world desperately needs your brand of leadership, so don't hold back.
On behalf of each and every coach, we believe in you and thank you for giving so much of yourselves during the shared experience we call camp.
Posted on July 21, 2017 by Steve's Club National Program
What are you grateful for today?
Today was the last full day of camp and we kicked off the day with the option of working on Olympic lifting skills with Coaches Chad or yoga in the park with Carla. Carla is a joy to be around, and I was lucky enough to feel that energy while she led us. She asked us to think of three things we are grateful for and gave us journals as we finished our session.
We then had breakfast and continued learning more about gratitude and how to write thank you notes from Coach Duncan. Each of the athletes wrote to those who made camp possible including coaches and volunteers. They made sure that they included the following elements in their thank you notes- that it was genuine, specific, included how it made them feel and had a final sign off. They first wrote a note then recorded and sent a video to their person.
Next up was the final challenge of the Obstacle Course. Coach Ace of the Travis Manion foundation briefed all 6 of the obstacles on the course. He also added an additional challenge: if they did not beat their time on Thursday, the rest of the team would have to do 15 burpees. This created added stress on an already grueling hot summer day. The athletes rose to the challenge and with mental and physical strength each athlete beat their time. Even better, their camaraderie was displayed as each athlete cheered on the next, constantly making sure they made it through every obstacle. Likewise, those who needed space were able to communicate their needs and their teammates respected that. Afterwards, Autumn and Francisco received special recognition and a coin for displaying the highest levels of integrity and commitment, character traits that defined the legacy of Travis Manion.
The afternoon was filled with one last Olympic lifting coaching session with Coach Chad. He gave them tips on the important cues of the lifts: tension, transition, and extension. He explained that by simplifying cues and learning how to find your zone, you will be able to achieve even if you don't believe you can lift the weight.
The afternoon was scheduled to transition into pool time but with thunderstorms the pool trip was cancelled and this caused morale to slide. As we were setting up for yoga, tensions were high and the energy in the room was off. Coach Lee sent them on a self-guided run around the block. The athletes decided to do a 28-man Indian run. The athletes described that it was difficult, they were arguing with one another and not working together. They found their groove by the end of the run and when they entered "Steve's Club Yoga Studio" they entered with reverence, and filled the room with peace.
After yoga with Coach Carla, we packed up and went to the lake. This last dinner felt more like a family outing at the park. Athletes were playing volleyball, soccer, and even Olympic lifting with Chad. Some opted for the swing set, a nature walk, or catching fish and turtles in the lake. Chef Elise cooked up a delicious spread of burgers and hot dogs and athletes toasted marshmallows and made s'mores for dessert.
The last sharing circle was outside in the cool air with faces illuminated by the soft glow of a lamp. Our athletes talked about overcoming challenges that led them to camp and plans for the future. Afterwards, an athlete led a prayer circle and a large group continued to share their stories until lights out in the barracks.
What am I grateful for?
I'm grateful for each of the athletes and coaches and for the collective team that we have become over the past week. Thank you for having the courage to tell your stories, the perseverance to conquer challenges together, facing your individual fears and being vulnerable with each other. I know I'm leaving camp a better person because of you and I truly hope you feel the same way.
With love and gratitude,
Lifefit Ketchikan, Alaska
Posted on July 17, 2017 by Steve's Club National Program
It's day Day 4 of Steve's Club Leadership Camp. We woke up early at 6:30am for a 7:15am run with Coach Melody. I'm not much of a runner but some of the kids can fly! Terrell and Tray set the pace early and made for a fast first mile. They took off with Coach Melody on the last hill and were the first ones to finish. Tommy, Coach Matt, and I did a cool down lap around the barracks while the rest of the squad ran 100m sprints. It was a good start to the morning!
After an amazing breakfast from Coach Elise, we transitioned into our session with former Olympic weightlifter for Team USA, Chad Vaughn. Some serious knowledge was shared as Chad explained the foundations of being a good weightlifter.
Chad also shared some awesome messages encouraging the kids that they are all leaders and that other people are constantly looking up to them. Openness and effort are key traits he identified as important to being an effective leader.
Then it was outside for some movement prep drills which included a spicy air squat tabata where the "rest" was at the bottom of the squat.
It was then back inside where Chad nailed down some specific weightlifting concepts and best practices for "what it takes to be 'good' at weightlifting." Ultimately he described that effort and dedication are needed to reach one's full potential.
We all went back outside where Chad led us through several basic but surprisingly challenging hold positions with the barbell. This all served to re-emphasize his point about the importance of attention to detail if you want to perform your best.
After a quick lunch we all packed up and headed over to a local state park for some fun afternoon activities. While the campers played an intense game of kickball, us coaches planned out "Mission Impossible" a 4 station obstacle course that required attention to detail and teamwork while incorporating various gymnastic and CrossFit style movements. It was so awesome to watch as each team came together, dealt with the various challenges, and obstacles and overcame.
As if these kids hadn't had enough, we packed up into the vans again and headed up into the hills for a hike. This wasn't an average hike as the kids divided into two teams and had to carry two kettle bells and a heavy sandbag, working together without ever putting the objects down. Team leaders were identified and did an incredible job leading and guiding their team, making sure everyone was sticking together. There wasn't much of a break at the top either. We ran them through a relay WOD including goblet squats with the kettle bells and sandbag runs. Over all, it was at least an hour and half hike and the kids crushed it.
We wrapped up the evening with dinner and our sharing time, which has quickly become my favorite part of the night. Typically two coaches lead off the time by sharing their stories and then the kids can volunteer to share as well.
It's hard to best describe this time as individuals open up to one another and share their heart, their hurt, and their pain. The power of each and every story is evident and it almost goes without saying that these kids are my inspiration. Despite the pain and hardship that many of these kids are experiencing, I've seen an incredible amount of hope that comes from this community. From kids cheering each other on during workouts or comforting one another as they express painful feelings, I've come to realize in a new light how much hope we can provide one another. This is why I love Steve's Club and the platform CrossFit provides. It doesn't matter who you are or where you come from, we are stronger together, and together we can have hope. That's what these kids have taught me.
Posted on July 17, 2017 by Steve's Club National Program
Day 3 started early like every day at camp with clear skies, and groggy teens and coaches. After the previous day of rain the sun was here to stay. Despite the long days of multiple workouts, writing assignments, and intense and often emotional moments as the kids share their life stories with each other, the mess hall and breakfast time was filled with cheerful greetings.
After just three days, the atmosphere of hesitation and awkwardness that was present, had vanished. These teens from all over the country were just recently thrown together, but now they were a team. They were friends. They were family. On this day, they put it all to the test on the military obstacle course and leadership reaction course.
In preparation the coaches read out the day's schedule and discussed safety, hydration, bug spray, and sunscreen. Then, everyone loaded up in the vans and trucked across the military base. The obstacle course is meant to test their physical limits and with several complicated, very tall wooden structures, it does that and more. The athletes were all different sizes, different physical abilities, and ages ranging from 12 to 20. Their ability to conquer the obstacles ranged as well. Some of them couldn't climb a rope and some were scared of heights, some were bigger and had a hard time climbing and jumping from object to object. The littlest one, Aiden, sometimes couldn't even reach the next log or handhold but he just kept smiling. They all cheered each other on and no one gave up.
The Leadership Reaction Course was a different type of obstacle. This was a task testing their ability to communicate, lead, form plans, and follow instruction. Sometimes, the tasks are meant to test your ability to accept failure. In many ways it was more difficult than the physically grueling obstacle course. These are kids that have frequently come from turbulent homes where healthy communication is unheard of, and very rarely have they been in a true leadership role. Some of them shine, showing such confidence it is stunning, but some of them struggle. The frustrations of not being able to clearly express their ideas or understand and act out the ideas of their peers and hours under the brutal sun took their toll, but these teens aren't like many other teens. They are tough. They are resilient. They are grateful to be there. And when tempers flared, and emotions boil, they worked through it. They opened up to the coaches about their frustrations and moved on with a smile. As the day ended everyone headed back to the mess hall to relax, unwind, and hash out the day with each other.
Sharing circle that night was different. A couple of the coaches shared their personal stories and then we divided the kids into groups of 4 and asked them to express whatever they were feeling or thinking about in art, any kind of art, a drawing, a short story, a poem, or maybe even music. They jumped on it. One kid, Alvin, got out his drum sticks that he takes everywhere. Luiz, from Colorado, wrote a beautiful poem comparing his feelings to the ocean. Terrell, from Philly, created a paper fortune teller that had some of his life decisions written on the different flaps. Francisco, from Camden, drew a picture of his cousin that was killed. Teens that hadn't opened up before wrote and wrote and drew stories of some of the things they had seen. These are the greatest moments of camp!
Providing these exceptional teens a safe environment to express themselves about the past, present, and future, is one of the best experiences I've ever had. Their stories break your heart! Again and again, I am shocked by some of the horrifying things they've gone through when in front of me I see this sweet, funny, hard working kid. I say this every year, but if I could just bottle up a piece of camp for everyone to see and feel, the world would be a better place. I hope this blog gives you a glimmer. Day 3 is in the books! Every other day I know will be just as amazing!
Steve's Club Nashville
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