Just months after Hurricane Sandy destroyed their box, CrossFit King of Island Park qualified for the CrossFit Games.
Only a few months before CrossFit King of Island Park qualified for the CrossFit Games, the affiliate was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy.
“We used to be CrossFit King of the Beach in Long Beach, N.Y., but that location got totally wiped out by Hurricane Sandy. So much so that we couldn’t even move back into that location after the storm,” co-owner and team athlete Molly Abgarian says.
The storm devastated much of Long Beach, causing severe flooding, power outages and wind damage. Located just a few hundred feet from the ocean, CrossFit King of the Beach was inundated with several feet of water, oil and sewage.
Seven months later, the Long Beach gym is still unusable.
“We’re not sure where the oil came in from, but the sewage system for the street basically backed up and even penetrated under the floor,” says King of Island Park co-owner Sean Pastuch. “The fire department told us the floor was unstable and we couldn’t go back in. The landlord didn’t even start repairs until five months after the storm, and by that point, it just wasn’t worth trying to move back.”
Luckily, Pastuch, Abgarian and her husband, Mike, were in the process of opening a new Island Park space in the weeks before Sandy hit, three miles away from their Long Beach location. What was intended to be overflow for a growing box quickly shifted to be the only useable space.
“We think of ourselves as lucky enough to have that space beforehand so we could use it soon after the storm. We had about eight to 12 inches of water in our Island Park location, but we were able to brush it out and clean it up relatively quickly,” Abgarian says.
As they regrouped to train for the Open, support from the CrossFit community began pouring in. The gym started receiving checks from CrossFit affiliates across the country — including people they’d never met. Companies offered to donate supplies and restore their waterlogged equipment.
“Ralph (Gazzillo) from Odin Strength came down and did a workout with us, and then he fixed all of our barbells that were starting to corrode because of the salt water. And now, they work like they’ve never been damaged,” Abgarian says. “Support like that doesn’t go unnoticed.”
Even with a new facility and refurbished equipment, the road to Carson, Calif., wasn’t easy.
“Mike and I are both really small and strength is our biggest weakness. So we always knew it was going to be tough to make it to the podium,” Molly Abgarian says. “Fortunately, we had some great athletes to help make up for that.”
The team got an especially big boost from Kaitlyn Fitzgerald, a former collegiate pole-vaulter who qualified for the 2012 Regional after only a few months of CrossFit.
Helped along by impressive performances, King of Island Park finished the Open in eighth place and entered the North East Regional off the radar of many spectators. But people soon took notice as the team rocketed to a second-place finish in Jackie.
“The turning point was Sunday morning. Mike and Keri (Ann Koegel) did Event 6 and finished in third place. After that workout, we knew we actually had a shot,” Molly Abgarian says.
King of Island Park entered Event 7 in third place and needed a top-five finish to guarantee their spot on the podium. They finished in third, nearly a minute ahead of the fourth-place team.
“We tried to stay focused, and calm and not stress during the last event. We knew what teams we had to come in ahead of to finish top three, and we all just tried to hold steady and keep a consistent pace,” Molly Abgarian says. “It was definitely a hard-earned surprise to qualify for the Games.”
With their tickets to California secured, Team King of Island Park has handed their programming over to Logan Schecter of CrossFit 516, giving them more energy to concentrate on performing their best rather than scrutinizing every workout. Games prep also means stepping out of their comfort zone.
“We just started swimming and two weeks ago, me and Rob [Santoro] couldn’t really swim that well,” Mike Abgarian says. “Now, we’re able to swim laps without trouble, so we’re really excited about that. But we’re still on the smaller side as a team, so something like a big bobsled push could be challenging for us come Games time.”
While Team King of Island Park works their weaknesses and preps for their first competition as Games athletes, Molly Abgarian is keeping in mind how far they’ve come.
“You do this sport for three or four years and you ask yourself, ‘Will we ever get there?’ Because that’s the ultimate goal of this sport — just to be there,” she says.