How I became the owner of CrossFit Jersey City

Back in 2012 I was 43 years old and 26 years into a pretty successful career in banking (yes I really did start at age 17, on June 16 1986, in a small branch in the town in England where I grew up!), lived in a beautiful house in the suburbs of NJ with my wife, my 7 year old daughter, a golden retriever and 2 cats.  The American dream!

I commuted into the city, leaving home at 5.30am, sitting at a desk for 12 hours and then getting home around 7pm, exhausted.  Those were the days where I wasn’t travelling all over the US and Canada (and occasionally to Europe and Asia) which was usually for a week or so every month.  Life was good.  Or was it?

I played soccer once a week with a group of guys, some of whom I’d met since I moved to the US in 1997.  I played golf most weekends when the weather was good and we had a family membership at Lifetime Fitness.  We had a family membership – notice I didn’t say I went to Lifetime Fitness regularly, other than to use the pool in the summer as my daughter loved to swim (and still does).  I had never been a regular gym goer.  Hated it.  I had no idea what I was doing when I was there so I usually ran a mile on the treadmill (slowly), maybe did some bicep curls and stared at the rows and rows of machines wondering what on earth they were for and even more confused about how to use them.  I tried a Personal Trainer a couple of times but we’d end up standing around talking more than working out.  While I felt like I was making an effort, the number on the scale was slowly creeping up.  While I never considered myself ‘fat’ or ‘overweight’ and I still felt pretty fit running around the soccer field, I knew in the back of my mind that something had to change.

I’d been unhappy at work for a couple of years.  The financial crisis of 2008 and a couple of subsequent scandals in the markets in which I worked had made my role very much driven by regulation and supervision and it just wasn’t fun anymore.  But the money was great so we had new cars every 3 years, great vacations and generally didn’t have to worry about what we spent.  

That feeling of dissatisfaction crept into my marriage, my wife and I separated and I moved to Jersey City, into a fantastic apartment on the river, with incredible views of Manhattan and an easy commute on the ferry to my office in Tribeca.

At that point, I was probably 245lbs.  I still didn’t feel ‘fat’ but looking back at photos now, I definitely had a dadbod before it became a hashtag!

One day, driving down Christopher Columbus Drive, I saw a sign saying something like “CrossFit Jersey City, opening soon”.  I remember thinking to myself I’ve heard of CrossFit but don’t know exactly what it is so I looked it up.  It looked pretty interesting so I signed up for the beginners class, called Fundamentals, which was 2 workouts a week for 8 weeks with a bunch of other people.  Many people will tell you they tried one CrossFit class and were immediately hooked.  That wasn’t me.  I’d never picked up a barbell before and if you’d asked me to tell you the difference between a hang power clean and a squat snatch, I’d have looked at you with a very blank stare (it took me several months to figure it out).  I also preferred the classes with fewer people in – I think I was very conscious of not being very good and the fewer people that could see me look awkward, the better.

However, I started to see some results.  I had a little bit more energy on the soccer field and I wasn’t as tired at the end of a round of golf.  The gym ran a nutrition challenge and for the first time in my life, at age 44, I learned what fat, protein and carbs really meant and the importance of each, in the right portions.  The gradual increase in weight reversed and I started to wear jeans that had long since been discarded at the back of the closet as my waist started to get smaller again.

My friend and I had a bet – whoever could get below 200lbs first would pay for the other’s golf trip later that year.  I won!  Free golf!!

Fast forward to early 2015 and I was at my desk staring at my email inbox.  I always hated having my inbox cover more than a single page which may have been about 50 emails and there it was, telling me I had 60+, going into a 2nd page.  The problem was, all of them needed some sort of response and I had no desire to answer any of them.

At that moment, I realised the money was no longer a strong enough motivator for me.  I called my boss and told him I was quitting.  Two weeks later I walked off the trading floor for the last time and I have not been back since.  That was March 2015.  A 29 year career in banking, following in the footsteps of my uncle, over.  Just like that.  

So what next?  I was only 46; too young to retire.  I did take a year off.  I traveled to Europe, spending some great time with my family in England for my Mum’s 70th birthday and with friends in Germany and Sweden.  When I got back and started to think about the future, I decided my next ‘career’ was going to be something I was passionate about.  What was I passionate about at that time – CrossFit!  

I started to work with one of the three founders of CrossFit Jersey City on a plan to open a gym in Madison, NJ.  Sadly, we just could not find a space.  One ideal location we had identified with great discussions with the landlord came to a screeching halt when the WSJ weekend edition (do people even read that?!) published an article about the noise complaints that many CrossFit gyms in NYC faced from neighbours.  And the landlord’s wife persuaded him to abandon our plans.   However, one of the other founders, knowing I was interested in becoming an owner, approached me to buy his stake in CFJC so after various discussions between the four of us we came to an agreement for me to buy 100% of the gym and I assumed ownership on April 1, 2016.

And that’s the story that led my to gym ownership.  The 4 years since have been an amazing journey and I’ll write more about that in future posts.  

For the rest of this week, you’ll hear the stories of the other coaches at JCFit.

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