By Coach Manny Alayon
My CrossFit journey is a long and interesting one. This post is going to be a bit long winded and believe it or not, it is a shortened version. We’ll start with a quick intro as to how I found CrossFit and how that lead to me being an affiliate owner. It may get a little deep and personal, but I am hoping my story can inspire someone and give them the belief that anything is possible. I know it sounds super cheesy, but here it goes…
I started doing CrossFit back in the 2nd semester of my junior year of college (2008) with one of my best friends, Caleb, who is the owner of Purebred Athletics. I found out about CrossFit while working a summer job sanding and refinishing wood floors back in 2007. The owner of the company I was working for had his own garage gym and he wouldn’t shut up about CrossFit. I remember driving to his home at 6am every morning to start the work day and he’d be finishing up a Crossfit.com WOD. He would tell me about the workouts nearly everyday. They sounded so simple and easy that a 20 year old, meat-headed Manny didn’t bother to take his words very seriously. After all, I was a strong in-shape collegiate wrestler so how bad can some pullups and moving light weights really be? Fast forward some months later I decided to give this CrossFit thing a try. I don’t remember my very first workout, I just remember the feeling. It felt like the 1st match you wrestle when you finally make weight (and win). It was awful, but something about it felt naturally addicting. I was just hungry for more of that feeling. And no, it was not the feeling of discomfort that I was addicted to. It wasn’t the “high” you get from a workout either. I realized that the addiction was the raw feeling of accomplishment and success. This addiction was something that had always been there, but CrossFit helped me realize it and harness it. But I did not harness it in my athletics. I ended up applying it somewhere else.
After a few years of doing CrossFit, I graduated college and immediately got my Level 1 certification. I was stoked as CrossFit had really become a large part of my life. Wrestling was over and real life was in, so how else was I going to chase the feeling of accomplishment? Anyway, I got my 1st teaching job in the South Bronx not too long after graduating. At the time I was part-time coaching at CrossFit Westchester, coaching wrestling at Edgemont and finishing my Master’s degree. After my 1st year of teaching in the South Bronx I was ready to call it quits. That sparked the idea of becoming an affiliate owner. To me it was the best of both worlds. I can still teach, because I ‘ve always believed it was my mission in life, but I can teach something I love and to a population that can really benefit. My deal to myself was this: if you cannot get teaching job in Westchester, then you have to open up an affiliate. After getting a few interviews and making it to the demo lesson (final interview) of a few highly ranked Westchester schools, I fell short of landing a job. This actually served as a very early lesson in networking as I had no real qualifications to even be considered for an interview. I just learned how to leverage the people I knew to get what I wanted. Anyway, I remember the day I told myself it is time to open up the affiliate. I was in my car after I had just BOMBED my demo lesson at one school and received a voicemail from another school not inviting me to the final interview. I was really upset and felt hopeless. But after 30 minutes of feeling sorry for myself I began my search for a small space to rent and open up a CrossFit affiliate.
About 6 months later I signed the lease to my 1st space! I was excited, nervous but never scared. I never considered failing to be an option because I am overly optimistic (so I’ve been told). I had no business experience and no real capital either. I was 24 years old, still working as a full-time teacher and finishing my Master’s degree when I first opened up the gym. It was not an easy task and I made a ton of mistakes along the way. I managed to get kicked out of several spaces and get into even more debt. There were some nasty times where I almost felt like quitting. But quitting was never an option because I simply was not raised that way. Life growing up had not been a walk in the park. I am not saying it was so so hard, but I definitely had to fight, scrap and earn most things growing up.
To give you some background, I grew up in a very middle class family in Rockland county. My parents grew up in the projects of the South Bronx and saved up enough money to move us out of the shitty situation they were raised in. My parents worked hard to give us the things we needed, but we for sure did not have any luxuries. While all of my friends and people I was surrounded by got cars on their birthdays, college paid for and went on vacations every year I was stuck working and saving. From the time I was 14 years old I was working and paying for most of my expenses. It taught me how to be really good at managing my finances at an early age. To pay for college, I took out loans for my tuition and managed to save up enough money each summer to cover room & board and other “college expenses”. I didn’t really mind working and earning my own way as it gave me that sense of accomplishment that I cannot get enough of.
Back to opening up my affiliate… I actually opened up the gym on a credit card. Good thing I got my 1st one at 17, established good credit and had a pretty large spending limit. I continued to carry this debt through the ups and downs of owning the gym. I did a lot of risky investments along the way that would have scared away most people. I think any financial advisor would have told me I was out of my damn mind. But I wasn’t going to listen to anyone anyway as I have always done things my way. Doing things my way has brought me a lot of success, but also has gotten me into some trouble. It forced me to change some things about myself if I wanted to become successful. I can be very impatient and I am extremely competitive, which can be a good thing and a bad thing. But over time I have learned to become more patient and more self-reflective. I take a lot of time stepping away from reactive thoughts and really put effort into making the best decisions I can.
My upbringing has prepared me for any of life’s challenges. From growing up and being involved in wrestling, it has taught me that the only option I had if I wanted to become successful was to outwork everybody. I learned how to work and how to fail, which gave me the resiliency I needed to accomplish my goals. When I opened up NorthEast CrossFit 6 years ago I set some big goals. I wanted to own the best and most successful affiliate in Westchester. I wanted NorhEast CrossFit to be a world recognized CrossFit affiliate. I wanted to create opportunities for my staff so they can live out their dreams. I want to help people live longer and find happiness. I want to do all of this while making a good living for myself and making the people who put me in this position proud (thanks mom and dad!). With a lot of pride I am happy to say that I have achieved all of those things. NECF has the largest and most loyal member base in the area, we have created opportunities for our staff to have careers, not just hobbies, and we have helped 100s if not 1000s of people live healthier and happier lives. I am no longer in a crap ton of debt and the affiliate is still THRIVING.
Just because we don’t all grow up having everything handed to us, doesn’t mean we are doomed or hopeless. I was taught at a young age by my wrestling coach that the only thing I have control over is the work I put forth. Simply, what you put in is what you get out. The driving force behind the success of NorthEast CrossFit is that addiction of accomplishment. Refusing to be outworked is something that every human has control over. I have a lot of pride in what I do because I refuse to be outworked. I refuse to take handouts or the easy road. The only road I know is the one that is going to fuel that addiction of accomplishment. In 6 years that addiction has done nothing but grow larger and I look forward to many more years of fueling everyone at NorthEast CrossFit to success. Thank you to CrossFit HQ for having a business system (or lack of) that rewards those who outwork others. The cream will always rise. I am forever grateful, humble and lucky for the people that are a part of my world. Thank you all for 6 years of literally living the American Dream!