We sat down this week with Dr. Allison Belger who owns and runs TJ’s Gym in Marin, California with her husband, TJ Belger. This weekend they host the fourth annual TJ’s Gym NorCal Master’s Competition, the largest Masters-only series in the US (with an East Coast version that kicked off last year as they expand the series).
Allison was kind enough to take a few minutes out of her hectic schedule to give us their thoughts on why they started the series, and how Masters athletes are different (take note, coaches!).
Tell us about the series – why did you decide to start it and focus on Masters athletes, and how have you seen it expand?
Back in the summer of 2009 when I was 40 and had about 18 months of CrossFit under my belt, I competed at the CrossFit Games as part of the TJ’s Gym affiliate team. There was another almost-40 athlete on our team, and our team’s average age was clearly quite a bit higher than that of most of the other teams. We came in 11th place out of close to 100 that year.
That experience lit a bit of a fire under me and some of our other athletes, getting us thinking about how great it would be to create an even playing field and forum for masters CrossFit athletes to compete, much as other sports have. I had a little chat with my husband, TJ, about it, and just over a year later, he took the idea and ran with it.
Our first event in 2011 was called the NorCal 40s, and it was for athletes ages 40-49. We held the event at one of our gyms and had a great turnout. The event was so inspiring and well-received that we knew we were on to something. It was great to compete with other “older” athletes and to find camaraderie in the common ground we shared (managing jobs, kids, aging bodies, etc.).
At the time, the CrossFit Games did not have a Masters Division, so our event was especially coveted! We ran with the 40-49 bracket again in 2012 with more athletes and a grander venue (the beautiful Craneway Pavilion in Richmond, CA), but we soon realized we should expand the event to older athletes the next time around. In 2013, we did just that, selling out with more than 200 competitors ages 40-60+.
In 2011, Reebok stepped up as a huge supporter, which has allowed us to provide some fabulous prizes to division winners ever since. With the trend of significant sponsorships in fitness competitions, we are increasingly able to manage the costs of running an event of this magnitude – it has been a labor of love, but financial support has become essential and something for which we are very grateful.
Last summer, we expanded with our Nor’Easter Masters event, in partnership with Reebok at Reebok CrossFit One in Canton, MA. It was a huge hit with the East coast Masters contingent, and we look forward to heading back again this summer.
For a while last summer we had our sights set on southern California and Chicago as series additions for 2013, we deliberately scaled back in order to be sure to offer consistent quality and the kind of experience for which we’ve become known. Most importantly, we recognized that we needed to put our role as parents ahead of our role as event planners, so growth will come more slowly than it otherwise might. We haven’t for a second regretted that decision!
Your events always sell out (a great sign!). What has the feedback been from Masters athletes, spectators and sponsors?
The feedback about our events has been overwhelmingly positive from athletes, spectators, and sponsors. The athletes appreciate our great attention to the programming – our goal is to offer challenging workouts that showcase the extensive abilities and fitness levels of high-level Masters athletes, while also allowing others to perform on a big stage. The scoring of the events always allows participants to continue, even when they cannot complete a certain movement.
We are known for running a tight ship, so our events are on time and usually go off with few, if any, hiccups. We are fortunate to have a number of people in our TJ’s Gym community who have been involved in the planning and implementation of the CrossFit NorCal Regionals and the CrossFit Games, so their experience and know-how is immensely helpful. We have an incredible team of volunteers and judges, without whom the events don’t happen. We are super thankful for everyone who has chipped in to make our events the successes that they are.