Courtesy of Michele Bick
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Last summer, CrossFit Spartan Shield—a military affiliate located at Camp Buehring in Kuwait—lost both of its coaches and was on the brink of having to close their doors.
The non-profit affiliate first opened their doors in 2014 and has acted as a temporary home away from home for thousands of military and civilian CrossFit enthusiasts during their nine to 12-month deployment at Camp Buehring.
Because of the transient nature of Camp Buehring, the gym has relied largely on volunteer coaches who have come and gone through the years, but last summer they found themselves in the uncharacteristic position of having zero coaches to service the 8,500 people living at the military camp .
What Happened Next
Michele Bick, a 34-year-old CrossFit athlete and mechanical engineer from Iowa who was on a nine-month civilian deployment in Kuwait, caught wind of the situation and acted quickly.
Bick had just gotten her CrossFit Level 1 certificate three months prior to arriving in the Middle East in May 2021 and saw how important CrossFit Spartan Shield was, both to herself, and to the soldiers living at the camp.
She knew she was capable of coaching group classes, but couldn’t do it on her own, so she recruited a handful of other members, all soldiers, who expressed interest in volunteering as coaches.
The first step, however, was deciding whether or not it was even realistic for these inexperienced coaches to keep the gym alive.
Bick called a meeting and the first thing she said was, “This meeting might be very short, or very long, depending on the answer to the question, ‘Do we want to keep Spartan Shield alive?’”
“How were we going to stay alive as an all volunteer coaching group? What was our coaches’ schedule going to be so we didn’t get burned out? How were we going to continue to recruit new coaches to keep moving forward?,” she explained of the challenges that would lay ahead should they choose to remain open.
“I told my team, ‘This meeting might be very short, or very long, depending on your answer to the question. Do we want to keep Spartan Shield alive?’”
The group, who all had full-time jobs to fulfill, recognized the challenges, but their decision was unanimous and without hesitation: Yes. They were prepared to do what it would take to keep CrossFit Spartan Shield alive.
After that, the other new coaches—BJ Jenney, Erik Skahl, Erika Sandoval, Carin Hanson, Chris Bakeman—all got their Level One certificates online, they divided up the class schedule amongst themselves and kept the gym running as normal.
Things were going well, but as COVID restrictions got lifted, classes started to attract 30-plus people, which required a second coach in each class. Further, because of the transient nature of their affiliate, Bick knew it wasn’t just enough to have six coaches on board, as most of them would be leaving Kuwait within the year. So she and her team continued to actively recruit more and more coaches.
Their efforts paid off quickly. By the time Bick left Kuwait in January 2022, the CrossFit Spartan Shield coaching team had grown to 11 people, and they had also added Olympic weightlifting classes on the weekend. And today, the CrossFit Spartan Shield team has 12 to 15 coaches at any given time and recently ran their first in-house competition.
More Than a Gym
Although Bick was clearly the protagonist in the movement to save CrossFit Spartan Shield and build a more sustainable coaching team, she is humble to take any of the credit. Instead, Bick credits the soldiers for stepping up to save a gym, a gym that was incredibly difficult for her to leave.
“I loved everything I did for my actual (mechanical engineering) full-time job, but as much as I loved my job, the one and only thing I’m struggling with, that is making me really sad, is leaving this gym. This is what I’m going to miss most,” Bick told her team during her last coaches meeting, a meeting that left her in tears as she passed off the torch to the next generation of coaches.
She added: “It was super hard, but at the same time, without reservation I knew that they were going to be just fine…I had no doubt in my mind they would continue what we established there, as well as take it to the next level.”
Bick knew this because she knows the value of that gym to the people living at the camp.
“When you’re in such an austere environment, you need that kind of safe place, especially for what they’re going through,” she said.
“When you’re so far from home, you need that space to not only have that outlet, but also most importantly that community aspect. You need that other family aspect to be able to actually function in that environment, and function well.”