"I didn't choose them, the kids chose me. I remember the first day I showed up ... They looked glum, their heads were down and they had this shitty look on their face(s). After I was done with the CrossFit talk ... you could just see them kind of perk up ..."
CrossFit Vancouver is the oldest affiliate in Canada. The box has a program designed to help move Vancouver’s at-risk youth toward a better life.
“In order to live a successful life, you have to have fun, take care of each other and make a difference,” the affiliate’s owner, Craig Patterson, says.
It is with this philosophy that Patterson and his coaches run CrossFit Vancouver’s, Youth Warrior’s MadLab program.
In December 2009, Lieutenant Andrew Richard “Nutts” Nuttall died serving in Afghanistan. Nutts coached at CrossFit Vancouver before joining the Canadian Army in 2007. Nutts wanted to have fun, make a difference, help the community and always put people before himself, Patterson says. When the opportunity emerged to establish a program that helped at-risk youth, it was a natural fit to further memorialize the legacy of Nutts.
Charlie Palmer, coach at CrossFit Vancouver, met Nick Boulding, a teacher working in the Vancouver School Board’s “Take a Hike” program in 2009. Take a Hike is designed to help out-of-school youth find a path toward completing their high school education and build confidence.
Boulding focuses the program on life, responsibility, accountability and having fun. Traveling into the British Columbia wilderness provides an escape where the kids can forget about their troubles at home.
Boulding has to rely on volunteer effort to add breadth to the curriculum. Boulding asked Palmer to volunteer his time to teach CrossFit to the program's youth. Since his first time meeting the kids, Palmer has been hooked. His time with Take a Hike grew from once a week in 2010, to a fully structured program at CrossFit Vancouver.
“I didn’t choose them. The kids chose me. I remember the first day I showed up,” Palmer recalls. “I introduced what CrossFit is. They looked glum, their heads were down and they had this shitty look on their face(s). After I was done with the CrossFit talk, I started talking about myself and you could just see them kind of perk up, and now they were interested. So, that was when I brought them outside for their first CrossFit workout.”
“You know how it is at a high school, space is limited. We were forced to work out in hallways, staircases, the cafeteria — basically any space that was available, we took it over … It was gnarly. So, we had to be creative with … obstacles or lack of equipment we had,” Palmer says.
When the 2010 school year ended, “I had these kids looking up to me like lost puppies. So, I decided to host a barbecue and a mini competition where we would give out scholarships to the kids who wanted to come into the box and train over the summer break,” Palmer adds.
Palmer opened up Friday sessions for the kids during the school year and consistent summer sessions, as well.
No stranger to what the youth are experiencing, Palmer had a very different lifestyle before CrossFit. He was a smoker, a drinker and had an array of other bad habits. Growing up a skateboarder, he says he looked up to the skate team “Bones Brigade,” a motley crew of kids from unfortunate family backgrounds that used skating as an escape. The crew was led by Stacy Peralta.
“I want to be like what Stacy was to those kids: a motivator, someone who was a beacon of light towards success,” Palmer says. “We created this sort of club where I would give them tools and they would use them. CrossFit for these kids is just like how skating was an escape for me, I know how life changing it can be. So, I want to juice this thing, like a wave, a ripple effect, make a difference …”
Walking away each day knowing he has made a difference and knowing the kids are going to feel confident they can take on the world is what keeps Palmer coming back for more.
“It’s effective. I’m seeing these kids laughing and having fun. They’re happy. They’re getting strong physically and mentally,” he says. “Nothing can replace the feeling that it gives me, I can’t even put words to it.”
Now, in the third year of Youth Warriors, the next step is to ramp sessions up to two days a week. Palmer has hopes of turning the Youth Warriors into a non-profit charity that helps the at-risk youth around Greater Vancouver.
“I want to keep this thing growing so kids can change their lives,” he says.