March 12, 2014
Two's Company: North East Couples Take on the Open
By April Johnson

“I’m her biggest supporter, but I still want to beat her times. I would say we are encouragingly competitive.” ~Jeff Crounse on his wife, Sue

Photo by Stan Horaczek
Photo by Kali Baker

Top photo by Shaun Cleary

It’s common lingo to hear people refer to their fellow CrossFit box members as family. These days, though, it’s more than lingo.

CrossFit has become a way of life for entire families. For some couples, walking into the box for the first time marks the beginning of a shared journey. For others, those first steps are a rendezvous with destiny.

Joseph and Francesca

Joseph Arias and Francesca Emanuele are a prime example of the latter.

Arias is the head coach at CrossFit Port Washington in New York. He started CrossFit five years ago in the basement of Harbor Fitness. He later made his way into an affiliate. Then in October of 2012, Emanuele walked through the doors for her first workout.

“He was walking out for a competition and I was about to do my first met-con,” Emanuele recalled. “When I got to my car afterwards, I checked my Facebook and I had a new friend request.”

Both now coach at CrossFit Port Washington and train at CrossFit Dynamix in Astoria, N.Y.

“We are much more encouraging (than competitive),” Emanuele said of their relationship. “It is not always easy to give 100 percent, smile, and be all amped up when you’re missing lifts left and right and the other hasn’t failed once. But that’s where we come in—(we’re) not only a couple, but literally the best of friends. We pick the other one back up.”

Entering a competition like the Open has intensified their training, and with that comes additional demands on their relationship, Emanuele said.  

“You must make sacrifices in order to achieve success, and in our case this year that means staying focused, hanging out with friends less, missing dinner with the family, etc. When you have a goal in mind, which we both do for the season, then we believe it is all worth it,” she said.

Arias and Emanuele are on Team Dynamix, which took first place at the 2013 North East Regional and fifth at the 2013 Reebok CrossFit Games.

Sue and Jeff

While some CrossFit couples have relationships that began at the gym, many others started CrossFit as couples.

Such is true for Sue and Jeff Crounse. The two met in the third grade and are now married with two children. They both started CrossFit with little idea as to what it was.

“I knew nothing about CrossFit,” Sue said. “I had never lifted a barbell. I had never even been in a gym like that. My friend kept asking me, for over year, to meet her there. I finally did on Jan. 4, 2013.”

After a few months, Jeff realized his wife had found something life changing.

“I was afraid Sue would be able to deadlift me soon,” he said, “and I didn’t want to get too far behind.”

Jeff joined CrossFit two months later, and for a while they attended separate affiliates. He said CrossFit has changed both their lives.

They joined CHG CrossFit in Penfield, N.Y., where Sue now coaches. She also recently attended the CrossFit Kids Seminar.

“I benefit from having a wife that coaches, for sure,” Jeff said. “I’m her biggest supporter, but I still want to beat her times. I would say we are encouragingly competitive.”

This is the second year the Crounses are competing in the Open. Last year, Open Workout 13.1 was Jeff’s first CrossFit workout ever. This year, he said he used his experience in the 2013 Open to prepare for 2014. Sue said the Open takes on a life of its own.

“Our box really makes the Open a fun event, so we go in with everything we’ve got,” she said. “I get a bit more serious, a bit more careful with what I eat.”

They are excited for this year’s workouts, to see the progress they’ve made and to compete with their fellow box members. Jeff said he loves the benchmarking CrossFit allows for; being able to see where they were, how far they’ve come and what lies ahead.

Following Sue into CrossFit sealed the deal. It has grown into a family affair and will continue with their kids.

Ant and Kat

Sometimes watching your significant other get into CrossFit doesn’t immediately engender a positive response.

Anthony (Ant) DiSpirito said when his wife, Kathleen (Kat) O’Sullivan DiSpirito, started going to Albany CrossFit five years ago, he couldn’t help but refer to it as a cult.

“Kat was changing her diet to help improve her performance and I just didn’t understand what was going on there,” Ant said. “I didn't understand how this gym could change other facets of everyday life.”

But Kat persevered and bought him a gift card for an on-ramp session. That’s when Ant finally took the plunge.

“The coaches were great, the community was amazing and the workouts were the hardest thing I had ever done,” he said. “I stopped playing hockey and lacrosse when I started pharmacy school, and CrossFit helped satisfy the void in my competitive drive that was left behind.”

This year presents a new challenge for Kat, who has competed in the Open several times. At five months pregnant, she has to scale or opt out of many movements so she is taking the role of supporting the community this time around.

“This year’s Open is really about the community and supporting each other to me,” Kat said. “I love seeing the athletes at the box so pumped up to hit the workouts and hear the buzz all week.”

Kat said she plans to do CrossFit throughout her pregnancy, and to get herself back in shape post baby. Ant’s thoughts on her doing CrossFit echo her own.

“I don't have any major concerns because we have been CrossFit members long enough to know what's safe for her,” he said. “We've both educated ourselves on the topic of CrossFit and pregnancy and know that exercise actually improves many parts of pregnancy and the child's development.”

For Ant, this year is a chance to see his improvements from the past year.  

“I feel as though I have gotten stronger and faster, but this will be the true test,” he said.