Step into CrossFit Florian in the Boston suburb of Norwood on a weekday morning and you’ll find the typical CrossFit cadre: everyday athletes from all walks and seasons of life with one or two big guns throwing down for the best hour of their day. What you don’t typically see are 200 middle and high school-age girls huddling in, getting stronger together, physically and mentally.
Four-years-ago, level 2 trainer Tia Sapienza was coaching girls softball when she realized that the foundational movements of CrossFit would be the perfect way to strengthen her athletes and get them training in a way that would keep them healthy and injury-free for their season. In less than a year, the program surpassed 100 members and today hovers at 200, and has caught the attention of athletes like Katrin Davidsdottir, Sara Sigmundsdottir and Brooke Wells who have all helped run virtual workouts and hangouts.
In 2019, welcoming 9-12-year-old girls to the program, Sapienza began enabling the older teens to mentor and help coach the younger classes.
“Our coaching interns are veterans from our teen class who help with our pre-teen class,” said Sapienza. “I love when they stay in the program and are mentors and role models for the younger girls. It’s incredible to watch the younger girls look up to the older girls.”
When COVID hit and many gyms closed down, including CrossFit Florian, Sapienza was undeterred, committed to giving the girls the opportunity to work out and grow through fitness together. From March through June, she met with the girls five days a week on Zoom and started to bring more than traditional CrossFit into the program.
“We had three days of CrossFit, one day of yoga, and one day of breakfast club. During breakfast club, we worked through different mindfulness strategies that they could use to ease their anxieties over what was happening in the world, used it for a way for them to journal their thoughts, and just provided them with other strategies to be mindful which were certainly beneficial during quarantine time, but also through life.”
Once stay at home orders eased up in the Boston area, Tia was finally able to bring her girls outside for six days a week of fitness.
Class sizes were capped and they adjusted the flow to comply with new restrictions but they were able to get creative.
“We use hula hoops to mark their spots on the field to ensure appropriate social distancing, they bring a towel or a yoga mat, they all have Rx Smart Gear Jump ropes (thanks to our friends at Rx Smart Gear), and while it’s not perfect doing CrossFit on a soccer or baseball field, its all we have and it’s great.”
“They all miss the barbell, the KB, the wall ball, and dumbbells, but their attitude is always positive and we’ve been able to get extremely creative. We are honestly just happy to be together! Our COVID theme has just been PIVOT AND GO!”
The real lessons aren’t about fitness.
For Coach Sapienza, coaching these girls is more than just teaching them how to squat and deadlift. It’s giving them a safe place to have fun and express their fitness. She sees girls of all backgrounds from NCAA athletes to girls to ones who have found fitness through this program. But it’s more than fitness. It’s the confidence and mental changes that she loves to see.
“They are so strong mentally and physically. They truly know how to do hard things and the longer they participate in the program and the more they buy into the process the more evident this is,” Sapienza said.
Every year, several of her high school graduates hand her their college essays and while they may not always be about CrossFit, they always reflect on the girls’ newfound ability to persevere and change their self-doubt into confidence.
“The best moments for me as a coach are when the lessons they learn in the gym come through in something they are doing in their own lives.”