Why One CrossFit Coach Distinctly Remembers This Pair of Sneakers
Stories abound of CrossFitters’ first times: their first WOD, their first muscle-up, and for some OG CrossFitters, the first time they laced up a pair of Nano’s. With the iconic, fan-favorite Nano 2 making its way back onto the market, we reached out to several individuals in the CrossFit community to uncover the story behind their first pair.
Reebok CrossFit ONE isn’t where O’Donnell’s story starts, though.
He had completed the Level 1 Certificate Course, an introductory course to CrossFit’s methodology and foundational movements, and was coaching classes at CrossFit Prowess in Seekonk, Mass., before setting foot into Reebok CrossFit ONE.
With Seekonk only an hour away from Reebok CrossFit ONE, which at the time was attached to Reebok’s former headquarter building in Canton, Mass., O’Donnell decided to spend a day off of work driving up to the facility for a drop-in workout. He still vividly remembers his initial reaction upon seeing the iconic facility.
“My jaw was on the floor,” he says. “I took a class taught by Seminar Staff members Denise Thomas and Austin Malleolo, two of the coaches there. Denise just buried me. She gave me a challenging goal time for my fitness level. I was off by a minute. I hadn’t trained that hard in a while.”
After the workout, O’Donnell decided to stop by the Reebok corporate store and stock up on some merchandise before leaving. That’s when he noticed the Nano 2’s.
“I knew I was going to be deployed to Afghanistan soon,” says O’Donnell. “So when I saw the brown-and-sand camo pair, they were close to the colors of my uniform, so I figured I might as well get them.”
At the time, O’Donnell didn’t know that his Nano 2’s would get him through physical training (PT) in New Jersey, Virginia, North Carolina and Kuwait, a tour in Afghanistan, and a CrossFit Open that would span across several continents. At that moment, he just thought they looked like a cool pair of kicks.
I knew I was going to be deployed to Afghanistan soon.
The base O’Donnell arrived at was primarily North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces, filled with people from different nations, ethnicities and branches of the military. While there, he found solace in being able to slip out of his combat boots and into his Nano 2’s so he could train at the local Kandahar CrossFit.
“That was my leisure time,” says O’Donnell. “A lot of people just kind of sat down and would complain, but what's the point? Being able to do something I love was a little bit of home and comfort in a foreign country.”
Being able to do something I love was a little bit of home and comfort in a foreign country.
O’Donnell began coaching classes and forging relationships with others on the base through the CrossFit Kandahar box. He remembers one Lithuanian special forces soldier who attended his class every night and, quite literally, left him a token of appreciation.
“It’s a military thing where you give somebody a coin as a form of appreciation or just commendation. He came up to me and he gave me his unit’s coin,” O’Donnell tells us. “I thought that was one of the coolest things – I still have it in my drawer.”
That’s just one of the many stories from O’Donnell’s deployment in Afghanistan. Another highlight: He remembers Dutch soldiers learning English solely so they could talk smack in the gym. The memory of this breaks O’Donnell into a smile. He notes he could spend days regaling you with tales.
Then, just as any dedicated member of the CrossFit community would, O’Donnell brings up the Open.
“Even though I was deployed, I still wanted to register for the 2014 Open,” he says. “It would give me something else to think about. I figured no matter where I was, I could probably find a gym and get the workout in.”
With his Nano 2’s laced tight, O’Donnell competed that year’s CrossFit Games Open workouts across various bases and countries: the first week at the Kandahar CrossFit in Afghanistan, the second week at CrossFit Arifjan in Kuwait, and the remaining three at different CrossFit boxes in Australia, including CrossFit Bondi.
“Gyms might look different, coaches might have different styles, but at the core of it, it's a little piece of home wherever you are,” he says.
Gyms might look different, coaches might have different styles, but at the core of it, it's a little piece of home wherever you are.
Coming Full Circle
Soon after, it was time to deploy back to the States and O’Donnell returned home. He distinctly remembers that despite how dusty his Nano 2’s had gotten from the wear and tear of travel and workouts in odd, dirty areas, he packed them up, unable to part with them.
“There became something weirdly sentimental about the shoes,” says O’Donnell. “I looked at them and thought about these unique experiences I’d had in them. They weren’t a pair of shoes I’d just worn to a normal gym for normal classes.”
Upon touching down, he signed up to take the CrossFit Level 2 Certificate Course, which is designed for any trainer looking to get more serious about delivering quality coaching. Ironically, the gym he’d be taking the course at was again Reebok CrossFit ONE.
“I got to the seminar and the same butterflies I’d felt last time I was at Reebok CrossFit ONE started coming back. I was wide-eyed walking in, thinking, ‘This is going to be one hell of an experience,’” says O’Donnell. “And it was. The Level 2 was completely different from anything I’d experienced before. It was the first time I actually got feedback on how I was coaching.”
The Level 2 was completely different from anything I’d experienced before. It was the first time I actually got feedback on how I was coaching.
At the conclusion of the seminar, Malleolo – one of the coaches who had led O’Donnell’s workout at that first drop-in – used his parting words to encourage everyone in attendance to get in touch with their local gym for professional development.
O’Donnell knew he could be become a better coach under the tutelage of the Reebok CrossFit ONE coaching staff, and with a little more time on his hands as he settled back into life at home, he decided to approach Malleolo directly and see if he could take up that professional development under him.
“I had this impulse to ask him and I just acted on it,” says O’Donnell. “At the time, I was unsure where my life was headed next and I just knew that the few experiences I’d had in that gym so far had left me with this great feeling.”
I was unsure where my life was headed next and I just knew that the few experiences I’d had in that gym so far had left me with this great feeling.
O’Donnell began taking two days off from coaching at CrossFit Prowess to make the hour-long commute to Reebok CrossFit ONE. He was determined that, in time, with enough training and assistance from the top-notch coaches there, he could refine his own coaching. He never anticipated that one day he might be offered a job there. So, after over a year of this training and development, when Malleolo “randomly on what seemed like a day like every other” asked O’Donnell if he was interested in working full time at Reebok CrossFit ONE, O’Donnell admits he was shocked.
“It was not what I was expecting. I went from meeting Denise and Austin years before for a drop-in to having them mentor me through a quasi-internship,” he says. “They've literally, without knowing, been with me each step along the way.”
As have his Nano 2’s, which he was still wearing when he sat down to sign that full-time job offer from Malleolo.
“I had no idea I would fall in love with these shoes. I’ve competed in the CrossFit Open in multiple countries wearing them, been in and out of the ocean and gone cliff jumping in these. And even more importantly, these shoes have taken me to coaching at my favorite place.”
“When I first purchased them, I had no idea that a few years later I would be back here pursuing my dream job,” he says. “It’s crazy to think that this is where it all started.”
They've literally, without knowing, been with me each step along the way.