The back office at CrossFit Expression’s gym has a way of making people feel comfortable, like the rest of the gym. It feels like home. Outside of the office, Amber Cleary is leading the 7:30 beginnings class to a gym full of slightly nervous, mostly excited newcomers. Lemar Kearse and I have to speak loudly to one another because of the clang of weights, the laughter and the high and supportive voice of Cleary. Lemar, one of the founders of CrossFit Expressions has somehow found time in his busy schedule to sit down with me for this interview.
The topic? How did CrossFit Expressions become CrossFit Expressions?
How it all began
It all began, he tells me, with a pick-up truck, a janky old squat rack, and a handful of old hand weights that Kearse had been storing in his house.
“I’m sorry,” he corrects, “My grandma’s house.” Kearse, a high school and college athlete, began training clients at LA Fitness after college. He loved that it was a way to stay connected to fitness, but he hated the way the brand-name-gym treated its clients. In order to stay authentic to his clients and his vision of excellence for fitness, he started his own “mobile gym”. He got a pick-up truck and began lugging equipment around from home to home and running personal training sessions. He would even bring people together at Seaside Park in Bridgeport or sneak through an opening in the fence, and hold sessions on Central High School’s field. Then it started to get cold.
Instead of abandoning his dreams to the ruthlessness of winters in the Northeast, he reached out to a friend, John Wong. Lemar and John met at Sikorsky’s where they are both engineers. “John,” Lemar claims, “is one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met, and he likes to take risks.” Lemar approached him, and asked if they wanted to go into business together. They began small, at a tiny gym, with very few clients. “When we first opened,” Kearse tells me, “I thought I would bring my clients from Kearse Mobil Fitness, but I was wrong. For a few months, we had very, very few clients.” But the duo kept at it. Over the last three years, they have been able to greatly expand their clientele, move into a bigger gym, and take on 5 new coaches.
Diversifying the Sport of CrossFit
While their growth has been impressive, the standout segment of this interview is the motivation behind what keeps Kearse motivated to not only maintain but continue to improve the gym. Remember: Both he and John are working at Sikorsky by day and transition to CrossFit coaches by night. This translates to 14 hour days, five days a week. When I ask him what keeps him hustling, he pauses. “I care about people,” he tells me. He and I continue to talk about how he has lost family members prematurely to illnesses that could have been eliminated by a healthy lifestyle. He tells me that part of his passion is to create a space that is welcoming to all folks, from all backgrounds. We speak frankly about the lack of diversity in the sport of CrossFit. He tells me how there have been a number of times where he has walked into a gym and been the only person of color. He laughs, “Ok,” he says, “I see how it is. I’m the only one huh?” He is realistic about how a potential barrier to improving diversity rates in many gyms is the often insane monthly membership cost. We discuss the median income of Stratford and Bridgeport families, and why it is so important to keep costs low. “We worked as hard as we could to get the prices as low as they could possibly go.” (Other gyms in the area charge 155, 160, and even a whopping 185 a month, while CrossFit Expressions offers rates as low as 106 a month!)”
Kearse and Wong work hard to make a welcoming, inclusive space at their gym. At any given night, you will find people of all skin tones, all sizes, all fitness levels, all sexual orientations, all religions, and creeds. Now, more than ever, the world needs more places that reflect the culture these two men have created at their gym. A culture of inclusion, where people work hard, take care of one another, and push each other to be their best selves.