CrossFit Martha's Vineyard almost didn't happen. Keidy Toomey, who grew up here on the island, was originally thinking about trying to open a box in Costa Rica, where her family is from originally. At the time, she was living in Providence, Rhode Island, and coaching some at CrossFit Providence. But, she tells me as we sit in the dark, quiet recreation room of the Vineyard Boy's and Girl's Club where she rents the 300 square foot back room, "I woke up in the middle of the night and said, 'You know what? There's no box in the Vineyard. It's only a matter of time before somebody beats me to it. I'm local, so it will be a lot easier for me to go back and do it.'"
In July of 2011, with her two dogs in tow, she moved to Edgartown, a community on the southeast corner of the island.
The Vineyard, a 40-minute ferry ride south of Cape Cod, is a favorite vacation spot of many on the East Coast, and sees its population swell from about 15,000 in the offseason to more than 125,000 in the summer. It's estimated that more than half of the homes on the island aren't occupied year-round.
Despite that, Keidy has found the kind of quick success that can be both surprising and overwhelming all at once.
The afternoon I am there, Keidy coaches seven athletes through "Karen" during the 11:00 class. Given the space constraints, she breaks them into two groups, with those waiting for space on the wall practicing their handstands and hollow rocks.
So, you decided you wanted to open CrossFit Martha's Vineyard in the middle of the night. Then what? How did you make it happen?
I literally woke up that day, gave my two weeks' notice, and said, “The worst that can happen is it doesn’t work and I come back.” I left on good terms. So, I came out here. I had no idea what to expect. Literally, I thought maybe a core group of twenty, just somebody to work out with.
My brother would work out with me, and he brought a couple of friends who brought some friends, and then it turned out every day at eight o’clock we’d meet up, about ten of us, and just do some metcons.
It’s an island and I’m a local. So, everybody knows each other. Word spread, so it quickly became thirty people, thirty-five, forty.
Then, just before this summer, the MV Times, the paper, wrote an article on us. So, that was right when the tourists were getting here. So, that’s when it really started to hit hard with the tourists. So, now we’ve got about fifty offseason people, which is nice, and then just a bunch of drop-ins.
How’d you make the move inside? How did you end up here at the Boy’s and Girl’s Club?
I knew that the weight room was back there. It was pretty awful, but I thought that I could fix it.
We kind of just planned on having a couple classes a week, not a big deal. Then, it started to get full. So, we re-did the back and that’s kind of how it started and now we’ve got a battle because we’ve gotten to capacity.
So, we’re trying to find a new spot, trying to expand a little bit, but it’s tough. It’s proven very tough here.
Did you anticipate that when you were thinking about opening here?
There was a suspicion, but I didn’t think we’d need anything that big. I didn’t think it was going to grow so fast. I just thought, “No big deal.”
Is it helpful you’re a local, that you know people who might be able to point you in the right direction?
It definitely is helpful, and it’s very helpful that our clients want a new place too, because they know people. They’ve been here their whole life. So, they know the older folks maybe that would have access to that [information]. So, yeah, it definitely helps knowing them and them wanting and willing to help. So, we’re on the lookout. We’ve got a bunch of eyes out there.
I imagine, being on an island, there just simply isn’t much industrial space available to even look at, that there’s just never been need for much warehouse space or CrossFit-friendly commercial real estate. What are your options?
The airport in New Haven would be ideal. It’s right in the middle. It’s where the high school is. But all the hangers, they’re all spoken for, and there’s a line for most of them. So, it’s just a battle. We had our foot in the door at one place, and then some guy came and offered twice the money just to use it as storage. So, for a landlord, that seems a lot easier to deal with than a bunch of people running around with sandbags and cars and traffic.
You can add classes, at least?
Yes, I can add as many as I want, as long my brain can handle it.
My other coach, he’s a schoolteacher. So, he’s got a full-time job. He just kind of helps out to give me a break. So, doing it by yourself, it’s tough keeping up with everything, and I clean the gym at night. I do everything from four o’clock in the morning until ten p.m. So, yeah, it would be nice to get some help, and it would be nice to have the space to grow. I just don’t want to grow too quickly I lose my mind.
You want to just jump into everything and have a great giant box, but I hear a lot of stories about the garage box that grew into big box. So, I’ve just got to be patient.
[But] I think having the space limitations is kind of a blessing in disguise, because I can really coach better. I’m a big one coach to ten people, tops, type of person. I think coaching eighteen people is stupid. I don’t care how good a coach you are, it’s not going to be efficient.
How big a role do drop-ins play in your overall business? I imagine for you, more than a lot of affiliates, drop-ins could be a significant source of revenue, even if it’s only for three or four months a year.
I didn’t realize how much it would bring in.
I saw on your site you have a weekly membership?
Yes, fifty bucks for the week. People don’t just come [to the island] for the day. It’s a lot of weekly members, and I just kind of added that weekly membership knowing that people will be here for like three days, and that three drop-ins were more expensive.
It’s cool, but it sucks too. You get to know them, and you really like them a lot, and they leave. So, every week, there’s a new heartbreak. You get a new wave of people every week. It’s really different than most gyms. So, I like it. I like people.
Are the folks dropping in diehard CrossFitters? Folks who can’t bear the thought of taking a few rest days, even on vacation?
I’ve gotten a lot of newbies, actually. They just started CrossFit and they want to keep it going. A lot of coaches that are coming in from other boxes, and then surprisingly a lot of drop-ins for free trial because it’s a small box. It’s safe. It’s not intimidating. So, I think that a lot of people bring their spouse, they’ll bring their cousin or their sister or their friend in with them because it’s a smaller box and it’s less intimidating, which is kind of cool. So, their first experience gets to be here, which is kind of cool.
The summer is funky. A lot of the people are not here. The regulars are not here and they’ll return in the fall. There are so many people who have company who come every week, whether they have different cousins, different brother, different sister. Or people work doubles every day in the summer. It’s a busy time for locals here in the summer, people just bust ass to make ends meet for the winter because there’s not a lot of work in the winter. There’s a big difference in the crowd, a much younger crowd in the summer, older crowd in the fall.
Starting a gym anywhere involves accepting some sacrifices are going to be made--lifestyle-wise, in your own training, whatever. It seems to me, though, you’ve sort of taken on a few more, being here on an island where the population surge in the summer is so extreme, where real estate is so hard to find. You must have realized this. You’re from here. You must have known what you were getting yourself into.
Definitely, I just really love what I do, and I knew this place needed something. I’ve lived here in the offseason where there’s nothing to do, and I just kind of felt like, "These people need something to do.” Nobody’s offering it. If I had it, I would have been so much happier. They’re loving it, and definitely they’ve got the bug. They’re sore and you get hate texts all day, but definitely the group makes it worth it. They really love it, and if they didn’t, I wouldn’t love what I do. So, it makes it easier for me. It definitely is worth it.
So, there’s some sacrifices, but I don’t know where it’s going to go. I don’t see myself as being here forever. I’ll be here as long as I need to be, but if it were up to me, I would have somebody I really trust [running the box].
I ran into a couple that actually wants to move here. They’re both CrossFit certified and they’re expecting a baby, and they’re awesome. If I could have them come here, it would work out. Something like that would be ideal for me because--just for my own training. I don’t want to be here forever because I really want to be at a bigger box getting coached.
Ultimately, I’m not in it for the money. Nobody is who owns a gym. I had one girl who couldn't do a wall ball, the ball would smash her in the face, and now she’s going to her first competition. She started three months ago. She’s lost thirty pounds. I was the only one who coached her, which is kind of nice because I know every piece of her progress. It makes it all worth it.
Patrick Cummings is the Editor in Cheif of Again Faster. He promises--other than this interview--he really didn't do any work while on vacation.