On a Thursday in June, Cisco Rodriguez leads a group through a series of boxing jabs at the Upstate Nevada CrossFit gym. The group includes an elderly white-haired man in blue jeans and suspenders who looks like he wandered in off a ranch and a fit middle-aged woman in a tank top and workout tights who could have been plucked from a local yoga studio. This is Rock Steady, a boxing fitness program for those with Parkinson’s.
Rodriguez and his program make their home at Upstate Nevada courtesy of the gym’s founder Greig Jameson and the board of directors. Rodriguez met Jameson in early 2019 when he took over the gym space where Rodriguez had been holding his classes. Jameson not only welcomed the boxing instructor to stay on, he vowed to host Rock Steady at his gym indefinitely. Because what Rodriguez offers perfectly meshes with the goals of Upstate Nevada.
Their mission is to remove barriers to fitness for underserved members of the community, providing a supportive environment to improve physical and mental health and connect with community in positive ways.
Finding Deeper Purpose in Fitness
Greig Jameson was not always a fit, healthy athlete. After playing baseball in college, he “let himself go,” he recalls. He weighed over 300 pounds, was eating junk food and chewing tobacco when he walked into a Las Vegas CrossFit gym and asked for help regaining his fitness. That visit changed his life, and now he’s focused on changing the lives of others.
Upstate Nevada is the result of his newfound purpose.
Launched in February of 2019, Upstate Nevada is a non-profit, all-inclusive CrossFit gym. The facility is guided by three tenets which are reflected in their program offerings:
- Physical activity (group fitness classes)
- Mental health awareness (educational talks and a supportive community)
- Healthy lifestyle (nutrition and lifestyle education)
Jameson is quick to point out they are not medical professionals, but Upstate offers an environment where members can be open about their mental health challenges. He has brought in speakers to talk about depression and coping tactics. And he has seen the benefit that physical activity can have on mental health — on both his clients and himself.
“When I have been at my lowest, exercise has been my salvation,” Jameson explains. “CrossFit workouts are about working through hard stuff. It’s good training for life. We are all working through hard stuff.”
Upstate Nevada is a place where anyone can connect positively with a supportive, non-judgmental community. While getting fit and losing weight are typical benefits of a CrossFit membership, those outcomes are secondary to the more profound value Upstate Nevada brings to members’ lives — improving mental health and providing a sense of community.
Redefining Who Belongs at a CrossFit Gym
The son of a special education teacher and a firefighter and the brother of a police officer, Jameson had a unique goal in mind when he dreamed up the Upstate Nevada gym — providing support and refuge to those who face daily challenges and negativity. The gym’s goal is to make daily (or regular) exercise accessible for groups who traditionally do not have access due to accessibility barriers, cost barriers or simply not feeling comfortable or welcome in other fitness settings. Exercising at Upstate has the power to change how the people feel about themselves and their community. To date, membership has included:
The gym’s Everyday Heroes Program provides reduced-price memberships to those who serve their community and are often in negative and emotionally draining environments, including police officers, firefighters and other first responders, active duty and retired military, teachers and nurses.
For these people, a day on the job can be filled with stress and negativity. When the work day ends, it can be hard to leave that behind and be the husband or mother or friend that others need and expect. Upstate Nevada offers a space to unload the day’s negativity and connect with others in an affirming way.
People with impairment
Adults and children with physical or cognitive challenges and their families receive complimentary membership. For those facing these challenges — from muscular dystrophy and Parkinson’s to Down Syndrome and paralysis — Upstate offer an environment of unconditional support for achieving their fitness and health goals.
One wheelchair-bound teen member shared with his mother, “Training at Upstate is the first time I feel normal.”
People in recovery
People recovering from various forms of addiction and trauma are welcome at the gym. Jameson is currently working with the Veterans Administration, providing free membership to veterans in recovery. Veterans can attend classes for free, as long as they remain sober, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Jameson hopes to expand the program even more.
Sustaining a Non-Profit Gym
With one third of members receiving free gym membership and one third paying half price as Everyday Heroes, the gym has relied on the remaining members to help subsidize their fellow gym goers. Those who want to work out at Upstate Nevada, but cannot afford a membership option, can apply for a free membership. No one is turned away. It’s a model that’s working. For now.
Despite all this generosity, Upstate is debt free. The board financed the equipment and start-up costs. They currently have two paid head coaches — one full time and one part time — and floating coaches who fill in as needed.
This past June they hosted their first fundraiser, a golf tournament at Wolf Run, where they raised $16,000. Jameson explains, “People want to help, they see how powerful this experience can be.”
The Future State of Upstate Nevada
A social media video series is next on Jameson’s agenda. UNBreakable will feature members talking about how the program has impacted their lives. Grab your Kleenex, these stories will be powerful.
Jameson plans to grow the gym, expand membership and offer members more classes and more free programs. The need is clearly there. Just five months after launching, they have 170 members, with new members joining each week. Jameson would like to double his square footage in the near future, expand programs with the VA and offer more classes for those with disabilities. Ultimately, he hopes to become a Special Olympics training facility. And then, just maybe, replicate the model in other towns, spreading positivity, inclusivity and connection with community across the country.