CrossFit Kokomo Helps Local Veterans Through Annual Fundraiser
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing Photographer / John Bolinger
A month and a half after graduating from high school, Kevin Jewell shipped off to boot camp to become a Marine. His first duty station was in Okinawa, Japan. Next, he was stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. While there, he deployed to Afghanistan for 9 months supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.
In 2011, a buddy introduced him to CrossFit, which essentially involves functional movements performed at relatively high intensity.
“I was like, ‘Wow, that was hard but kind of fun,’” says Jewell, who was promptly hooked. When he returned home from the military in 2015, he began working as a coach at CrossFit Kokomo.
“I had no intention of ever owning a business,” Jewell says. However, two years later, when the gym’s owner offered him the chance to buy the place, he decided to give it a try.
“From a military perspective, I don’t love change,” he says. “Our bodies, however, crave change.”
This is where CrossFit shines, as it focuses on three modalities – weightlifting (kettlebells, adjustable dumbbells, and barbells), gymnastics (pull-ups, push-ups and handstands) and mono-structural conditioning (running, biking, skiing and rowing).
“With CrossFit, we don’t want to be good at just one thing,” Jewell says. “We want to become a well-balanced athlete.” This is why the program model is based off of creating a constantly varied program. On some days workouts include short sprints, and on other days they involve a lot of barbells. On some days it’s cardiovascular endurance and machines. On other days it’s a combination of it all. As the owner, Jewell is responsible for writing the daily workouts.
A staple of CrossFit is taking what’s performed inside the gym and using it in the outside world in some way. For instance, today you might carry a 50-pound sandbag at the gym. Tomorrow you may be lugging a 50-pound bag of dog food at the pet store.
“We want our programming to have some sort of carryover into the real world,” Jewell says. That may be in the form of raw strength, or it could include having the endurance to go to the zoo with your grandchild.
“My father-in-law is 62, and what CrossFit has done for him is allow him to be functionally fit enough to play tag with his grandson,” Jewell says.
Members don’t have to be a certain age or fit into a certain mold. All demographics can join CrossFit, from high school students with aspirations to play sports, to busy soccer moms squeezing in an hour-long workout, to grandparents trying to stay in shape for life.
“Our goal is for you to be better today than you were yesterday, and continue that pattern over and over again,” Jewell says.
The 6,000-square-foot gym also offers a kids program, tailored to 9- to 14-year-olds, that not only teaches correct lifting form, but also demonstrates to children that exercise is empowering, healthy and fun.
Four years ago, Jewell was thinking about what he could do in Howard County to help veterans who are struggling. He did a random search and found Jackson Street Commons, which offers permanent, supportive housing for homeless veterans in Howard County. Some may reside only briefly as they work to get back on their feet, while others stay longer if they are struggling with a mental health disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder. Howard County has one of the highest per capita veteran populations in the state, and there is always a waitlist for one of the 27 units.
Every Veterans Day weekend, the members of CrossFit Kokomo participate in a fundraising effort for which they do 24 workouts in 24 hours. Called “HERO” workouts, they are named after a military service member who died in combat. The event starts at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday morning and goes until 11:59 p.m. on Saturday night. At the top of each hour, a new group of people comes in to work out.
Local businesses each sponsor an hour of the day. Community members are also invited to donate.
“Howard County is an incredibly patriotic county,” Jewell says. “I posted my Venmo and it was blowing up. People were donating all amounts – $5, $10, $100, $1,000, $5,000.”
Each year Jewell asks the director of Jackson Street Commons, Angie Ciski, for wish lists from each veteran living in Jackson Street Commons. They provide three items they would love to have. Those wish lists are posted on a corkboard in the gym. When members come in to work out, they take a tab and purchase the items listed.
“One guy asked for an alarm clock,” Jewell says. “Another wanted $10 worth of quarters to do laundry. It opens your eyes to see what some people don’t have.”
At noon on November 12, CrossFit Kokomo buses the Veterans to the gym.
“We introduce ourselves, and ask them to share their name and which arm of the military they served in,” Jewell says. “It’s my favorite day of the year.”
CrossFit Kokomo is located at 1086 South Dixon Road in Kokomo. For more information, call or text Kevin Jewell at 765-860-0591 or visit them online at crossfit-kokomo.com.