Student in the School, Coach in the Gym

It’s 7 a.m. on a Friday in the Lombardi Recreation Center. The soundtrack of clanging barbells and deep, struggling gasps for air is heard in the background. The sound is much easier on the ears than the alarm clock that went off for everyone here an hour earlier. Students circle around two instructors and a whiteboard of today’s CrossFit Cub Corp workout. They all have a look in their eyes that is a contradicting mix of courage and fear. The two instructors’ voices are heard over all other noise. The group begins a series of lunges, sprints, and bear crawls. The warm-up begins. Their breath becomes heavier and more audible. They all finish and face to the front toward the two who will be in charge of the next life-changing 50 minutes of their day.

Cub Corp coach, Alex Baker, demonstrates a modification for the push-up that will help students gain arm strength to work up to a standard push-up. Coaches must not only be able to do the movements, but teach them as well.

Alex Baker, 22, and Savannah Russell, 19, are long-time veterans of the Cub Corp grind. Baker is a certified CrossFit instructor and Russell is a “trainer-in-training.” But to them, teaching CrossFit is more than just a job. It’s a lifestyle and a stepping stone toward their personal goals.

“I have a passion toward the whole strength-conditioning side of fitness. I can be motivational. I can help motivate people. I want to give back and pass on everything I’ve learned from CrossFit,” Baker said. “I was inspired by my coaches, and I want to inspire others the same way.”

UNR’s Fitness and Facility Coordinator, John Barriochoa, often determines who has the potential and drive to become a CrossFit coach at the university.

“It’s a process. Students shadow higher-up coaches. By shadowing, they are going to get a ton of experience before they go and take the ‘Level 1’ seminar. We definitely want to teach them our experiences that they can take on with them later,” Barriochoa said. “Our coaches-in-training have to be motivated. They have to put in the time.”

The coaches that do show the skill and heart for the job all put in the extra effort, and it definitely shows through the journey and results of their own students.

The rower is a huge staple in a CrossFit workout. It is a full-body workout while also using resistance and cardio to create an intense routine.

“I love coaching. I like where I am right now at the Cub Corp level,” Baker said. “With this, I can see it from beginning to end. Just seeing their smiling faces when it’s all over…it makes my day. Seeing them continually grow throughout their semester is what it’s about.”

That kind of passion for the sport is passed through the students. Sometimes, it affects students so positively that they have the desire to become a coach as well. Russell was one of those students.

“I was inspired by all of the coaches. They’re so passionate about what they do. I got so much out of it,” Russell said. “Before this, I had never picked up a weight. But I got right into it, and I kept going, even on the days that I did not want to be there at all. They completely turned my day around.”

Very few students get the opportunity to shadow and learn from legitimate coaches. With this in mind, neither took this step forward lightly. Both came to CrossFit in search of something different from their prior lives. They were high school athletes: Alex a football player and wrestler, Savannah a varsity cheerleader. As the new world of a university shaped their lives, they became a part of something newer and bigger than anything they’ve ever known.

“Everyone’s afraid of the ‘Freshman 15.’ So I was going to the gym. I was doing the treadmill. I was doing the crunches. It just

The Cub Corp class works on ab muscles during a team routine of passing a weighted ball down the line and back again. The purpose of the routines is to incorporate at least two of three various subjects included in the CrossFit structure.

wasn’t working for me,” Russell said. “Eventually Johnny bugged me enough into joining. I finally joined the Cub Corp class and participated in two rounds of it.”

Anyone can tell that CrossFit has made a hugely positive impact on Russell. When she speaks about it, her eyes light up. She may be small and slender, but she continually works to better herself physically and mentally when it comes to CrossFit.


“Cheerleading wasn’t a well-rounded physical activity. I wanted to be something better. I wanted to prove myself and get into something bigger than just running,” Russell said. “Now this is challenging, no matter what level you are on. You can modify it to different levels of fitness. It’s constantly about pushing yourself. And yeah, it’s hard. But you’re getting better with every session. I love that.”

Their obsession with their lifestyle surely doesn’t get in the way of their schoolwork, however. Both Baker and Russell are studying Community Health Science. Russell even has a minor in Nutrition. These classes are quite demanding within themselves, but they never conflict with their CrossFit schedule. In fact, CrossFit has a much more positive impact on their schooling than anything else.

“It helps take stress off school,” Baker said. “You come in, coach class, and coaching just takes my mind off of school. Everybody needs that. You’ve got to have fun while you’re in school. Coaching does that for me.”

Barriochoa surely doesn’t overwhelm his employees one bit. He’s completely aware that CrossFit is demanding. But he knows that when it’s all said and done, everybody is here for the same reason: to improve their quality of life in all aspects.

“If they say this is work, they’re in the wrong business,” Barriochoa said. “This isn’t work. Yeah, you have to work hard, but it’s a good time. It’s all worth it.”