Volunteer coaches make CrossFit available to all at Quantico

Volunteer coaches make CrossFit available to all at Quantico

CrossFit Quantico coaches Elizabeth Green and Capt. Adam Tabalno demonstrate proper push press technique for Rebekah Alemagno during the Jan. 8, 2014, workout. The two volunteer coaches offer the exercise program daily, for free. Photo by Mike DiCicco.

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. (Jan. 8, 2014) - Despite bitter cold, as the temperature inched past 20 degrees Fahrenheit on Jan. 8, 2014, the second afternoon of the region's visit from a 'polar vortex,' 11 Marines, civilian employees and military spouses were jogging, lifting weights and doing pull-ups in the frosty air at the corner of Halyburton Street on Hospital Point, while two more watched them, giving tips and encouragement.

"Keep your back straight," Capt Adam Tabalno advised weight-lifters. "Good job. Nice." As a reminder, he shouted to no one in particular, "Rest on the run!" 

These days, sessions of CrossFit Quantico, held every workday at 11:30 a.m., draw an average of 12 to 15 people, although that number can rise to 20 or 30 in the summer, Tabalno said. Sessions run between an hour and an hour and a half, although participants finish the workout in their own time.

"The real challenge sometimes is the weather, because we're completely outside," he said. "That pushes some people away."

"We've shoveled snow in the past. That's fun," said Elizabeth Green, the program's other coach.

Tabalno and Green are both licensed CrossFit coaches, and they volunteer their time to plan each day's workout and then coach whoever shows up. They usually take turns coaching. It's a program that is both free and unfunded. Whatever expenses are incurred come out of the coaches' pockets, including the annual fee for a CrossFit website, where each day's workout of the day, or WOD — pronounced "wad" — is posted.

"It's a great opportunity for them to receive CrossFit training for free," said Tabalno, an intelligence officer at Marine Corps Intelligence Activity, noting that the workouts would cost around $150 per month at a gym in town.

By visiting the website, participants could have followed the workout at home and avoided the day's numbing cold, but they didn't.

"You could do all this at home, but there's something to be said about doing it with others," said Shanna Bonaudi, who is staying on the base while her husband attends the Expeditionary Warfare School, adding that participants push each other harder than they might push themselves alone and also enjoy a certain "shared misery."

"It's nice to know other people are suffering with you," agreed Rebekah Alemagno, whose husband is attending The Basic School at Quantico.

CrossFit Quantico has existed since 2006, and the original funding for equipment came from end-of-year program funds that Marine Corps Systems Command had available. That money, however, has since dried up.

"I'm not sure how we're going to repair any equipment that breaks or get new equipment,"Green said.

An operations analyst in MCSC's Cost and Analysis Branch, she started going to workouts in 2008. In those days, CrossFit Quantico was attended almost exclusively by MCSC employees, and the coaches were all military, which meant they tended to have high turnover. Three years ago, when there was no one to coach the program, Green decided to get certified and bring some continuity to the program.

Tabalno, who has a background in a variety of sports, including football, track and field, and mixed martial arts, was already a certified CrossFit coach when he arrived at Quantico about a year and a half ago.

For the uninitiated, CrossFit is a fitness company and exercise program founded in 2000 that uses short, intense workouts, which Green described as "constantly varied, high-intensity, functional movement."

"It brought all those sports I previously had done and kind of meshed it all together," said Tabalno, noting that the program incorporates many different types of exercise, such as running, swimming, jumping, climbing and lifting weights.

"There's an endless supply of different workouts you can make, which not only makes it challenging, but you also don't get bored."

He plans to open a CrossFit gym in Manassas in the spring, and coaching on the base gives him practice for his future business. It's also a chance to change lives, he said, noting that a majority of the people who participate are beginners, and the trainers get to watch them progress in both fitness and confidence.

Part of the CrossFit concept is "scaling" exercises according to individual abilities, for example, adjusting the amount of weight being lifted, using bands to help with pull-ups or completing workouts at one's own pace. This allows die-hard athletes and beginners to get a workout from the same routine.

"I'm proof that you don't have to be a Marine or a great athlete," Green said, adding that she's 15 or 20 years older than most of those who come for workouts, and she also recently injured her ankle.

CrossFit Quantico is open to anyone who lives or works on the base, and Tabalno estimated that around 200 people participate each year. However, he said more could take part in the program if there were more workout times and some funding.

As it is, though, he said, "It's a great opportunity for us to change the lives of some of these people who wouldn't otherwise have the option to do CrossFit."