Heather Bell was feeling proud of how she and her team had handled reopening their gym with new protocols after a lengthy COVID-19-related closure.
Then suddenly, the Squamish Barbell co-owner was faced with deciding whether or not to keep up the gym's CrossFit affiliation following racist comments from CEO Greg Glassman earlier this month.
The controversy stemmed from Glassman's reply to a June 6 tweet from the research firm Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, which said "Racism is a Public Health Issue."
Glassman posted, "It's Floyd-19," a reference both to COVID-19 and George Floyd, who died in May after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee on his neck for more than eight minutes.
Glassman apologized and later stepped down, with Dave Castro named as his replacement.
Squamish Barbell disavowed the former CEO's comments in a lengthy Instagram post last week. With Glassman no longer at the helm, Bell is watching how the company handles the crisis as opposed to making a hasty decision about carrying on as an affiliate.
"I know a lot of gym affiliates are looking for very specific criteria to be met in order for them to make their decision, but we just don't feel like right now, there's enough information to make that decision," she said. "With any structural changes, and this is a very quick one for CrossFit headquarters, it doesn't seem fair to put a set of criteria out that needs to be met. We're open to seeing what they come up with.
"We don't have things that we want to see, specifically, other than a positive directional shift in the leadership."
Up in Whistler, Opus Athletics is taking a similar tack to Bell.
"Everything now is a chance to start fresh and making things better," owner and head coach Jordan Glasser said. "CrossFit has a huge opportunity to improve on so many aspects of how the business is run and how the brand is perceived. I hope and I want to be part of there being a positive change.
"Right now, being part of the process is important to me. I believe in loyalty. They've done a lot for the world in general, so I want to make sure that I give them a chance."
A different Squamish gym, Rebel Fitness, appeared to cut ties already. The gym posted a video to Facebook on June 8 showing the word "CrossFit" being scraped off its window along with the caption: "It's time for change... This gym will always believe in inclusivity, acceptance and kindness. We pride ourselves on these values … We are here to support everyone on their health and wellness journey. Together we can be better."
Emails, calls and texts to the gym seeking further comment were not returned.
At Squamish Barbell, Bell is open to seeing what happens under Castro's leadership, but if the gym makes a change, she doesn't expect athletes to notice a significant difference. She explained that the gym's programming draws from different disciplines and because it's an affiliate, it is not told how to run business, adding that non-affiliated gyms run similar strength and conditioning programming.
"CrossFit is one element of our business structure and, no doubt, it's a really important element that we've valued in our almost 11 years open," she said. "We really defined ourselves and our niche, and one component of that is CrossFit, but we don't rely on that as part of our identity."
Bell explained that CrossFit combines disciplines such as Olympic weightlifting, gymnastics and powerlifting in a unique and appealing way, but stressed that they were all pre-existing activities.
"Those were not invented by CrossFit," she said. "There would [just] be some terminology and language that would have to change around that."
Still, after conversations with the gym's long-serving coaches, there are elements that the gym would lose if it were to make a change.
"We recognize that though you may not agree with 100% of everything that CrossFit is, it's a part of our development and those wonderful developments in our lives are completely independent from any sort of words that have been spoken in the last week," she said. "It's been nice to reaffirm what the positive aspects of that culture has done for us, and to be able to separate ourselves from some of that negative dialogue and realize that that is not part of the CrossFit culture we know."
Bell said one of Squamish Barbell's areas of focus from the get-go was to create an environment that's open to all.
"One of the things that we have been known for at Squamish Barbell is for being incredibly open and welcoming. We are definitely a facility of unconditional love," she said. "We feel so good about the culture and community that we operate there."
That culture, she said, has helped the gym smoothly return from its pandemic-caused closure as it has initiated precautions such as capped class sizes and spaces out training times.
As well, Bell has been glad to see that athletes are returning with reasonable and attainable goals.
"People are coming in with realistic expectations of themselves right now," she said. "We wondered whether people would come in feeling extra motivated to make up for lost time, but in fact, I feel like people are quite light-hearted and very realistic and happy just to be moving and doing something."
-With files from Lori Ewing/The Canadian Press