CrossFit caught in crossfire

University’s fear of risk-taking forced a thriving club to shut down

CrossFit Tricolour co-founders Storm Patterson (left) and Callum Owen.
CrossFit Tricolour co-founders Storm Patterson (left) and Callum Owen.

The conflict that took place between CrossFit Tricolour and Queen’s administration this past year has left me feeling like the University cares more about protecting the status quo than pursuing student-driven innovation and change.

After one very successful semester of operations, the University and Queen’s Athletics and Recreation unfortunately decided to put an end to CrossFit Tricolour as a student club. The final word that CrossFit would be shut down came in the form of a letter from Caroline Davis, vice-principal of finance and administration, on March 3.

CrossFit Tricolour was founded as a student-led fitness club in the winter of 2012-13, under the umbrella of Athletics and Recreation, as all athletic clubs are. My involvement was limited at this point, but founders Storm Patterson, Callum Owen and Alex Wilson had begun running CrossFit workouts in the ARC.

By September, I was an assistant coach with CrossFit Tricolour, and the club was picking up steam. Word spread quickly, and before we knew it, we were 200-plus members strong.

The trouble began with Athletics and Recreation in December, when we attempted to acquire insurance for our workout equipment — which had either been purchased through member fees or supplied by the three founders — against being damaged or stolen.

These discussions quickly took a turn in another direction regarding finances, ownership and operations. I feel as though Athletics and Recreation was not prepared for the success and growth of CrossFit Tricolour. We had over 200 full time members and $40,000 in revenue generated solely from membership fees.

The athletic department provided us with a list of 11 points of compliance that we had to meet if we wanted to continue operations. We quickly met all points except one, regarding ownership of our affiliation with CrossFit, Inc., the official company that CrossFit Tricolour was organized under.

Athletics and Recreation’s policy required that they own the affiliation, while CrossFit, Inc. required that a certified individual own it. In our case, the official owner was club co-founder Callum Owen.

On the surface, this and safety concerns are the reasons CrossFit Tricolour was shut down by the university administration. The problems, however, are much deeper rooted, and have left me concerned with the University’s future as a leading innovative institution.

Queen’s students have historically been responsible for many aspects of university life; there were 270 student-run clubs ratified under the AMS in the 2013-14 school year. However, we’re at risk of losing this heritage of strong student leadership if the school’s main focus remains on mitigating legal and reputational risk, under the guise of protecting student safety. It is clear by the demand of students and the attention we have gathered that we were fulfilling a vital need within the school.

While some clubs clearly promote alcohol consumption, albeit not directly, or other potentially unsafe activities, such as snowboarding and rock climbing, CrossFit Tricolour promoted a healthy lifestyle.

We offered students an alternative to high-priced personal trainers at the ARC, spending hours on the treadmill, or no fitness at all.

To call CrossFit Tricolour unsafe is another unfair, uneducated argument. I believe Athletics and Recreation approved CrossFit Tricolour as a club without a full understanding of what it was. When the club began to increase in size and popularity, they paid closer attention, and deemed what we were doing as dangerous.

I believe that no one in the university’s administration or in Athletics and Recreation was willing to make a decision. Initially, they were afraid to sanction CrossFit Tricolour, because if there was a serious injury, it would come back to them. For a time, they were afraid to shut the club down because it was clearly demanded and enjoyed by students.

It’s not the safety or well-being of its students that the University cares about anymore. Instead, the University cares about protecting its reputation and retaining tight control over everything under its umbrella.

All the pieces were in place for CrossFit Tricolour to operate successfully within Queen’s. Facilities, volunteers, members and funding were all available, but to protect itself against the unknown, the university administration deemed it best to no longer allow a CrossFit club on campus.

Fortunately for us, the administration’s failure has resulted in a positive outcome. In our short time as an official club, we’ve built a strong community that will now continue on without the school’s support.

CrossFit Tricolour is moving to a location at Queen and Clergy Streets, where we’ll be opening our program to Queen’s students and the Kingston community. We plan to be fully operational by June 1.

Hopefully, there is still time for change. There has to be, or the University will soon recognize, as its reputation begins to slip, that risk taking and innovation are the lifeblood of any leading institution.

Sam Edwardes is an assistant coach at CrossFit Tricolour.

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