Athlete of the Month: Jon Willis
Our featured Athlete of the Month for July 2019 is Jonathan Willis. Jon is a peer mentor and CF-L1 coach in charge of operations and is the head of staff training.
Hey Jon, could you tell us a little about yourself and how you found your way into CrossFit?
Well, I’m 36 years old, like Italian food and love long walks on the beach! HA! Wrong interview. Seriously, I’m a small town guy that through some bad choices, landed himself in prison with a long sentence. But prior to that, I was seriously involved in anything “sport”. Basketball, baseball, football, hockey, snowboarding, some surfing, dirt bike riding, etc… you get the idea! Growing up on an island off the coast of SoCal provided many of these opportunities. The city of Avalon on Catalina Island was where Mom, my sister, brother and I landed when I was 10 years old. We were received by a wonderful couple who took us in as we escaped a traumatic abusive situation with my stepfather. But that’s another story…
For a small town, all the sports programs produced talented athletes. I attribute my competitive nature to that competitive environment.
What 3 words would you use to describe Jon Willis?
Competitive – Loving – Bold
What are your favorite hobbies? What do you like to do when you are not working out or working?
I love music. I’ve been in a few bands. I sing, play guitar and drums. Mostly new-school punk rock – Pennywise era! But I must say that playing acoustic guitar is my favorite. I also dabble in painting. I’m kind of crafty- paper and glue stick kind of stuff.
I’m a book nerd too, mostly 1st century history/ biblical history. I’m also fascinated by language and the way that words and phrases communicate our thought content (successfully or unsuccessfully!). I’ll stop there before I go full blown geek on ya! :)
What was your first CrossFit workout? When did you officially get hooked on the sport?
I don’t remember what my first CrossFit workout was, but I got involved when Brandin Kreuzer (a.k.a "Kreuzer") asked me to be a part of a 5 man team to compete in a CrossFit-style competition against other facilities. This was right on the heels of Kreuzer facilitating a CrossFit-style Open based on 16.1-5 in 2017. Brandin Kreuzer, Trevor Jones and I were already workout partners for the last three years up to that point. Our workouts were structured towards strength and power but lacking in gymnastics and metabolic conditioning. Because of the large turnout for the Open-style challenge and the 5 man team competition getting canceled, it created the perfect storm for a CrossFit class idea. Kreuzer asked me to be part that idea and the rest is history.
What are your current 1RM in the following lifts:
Snatch: 200# 3RM
Clean and Jerk: 285#
Back Squat: 535#
Many people are worried they are not “fit enough” to start CrossFit, what would you say to them to get them started?
CrossFit is for EVERYBODY! Then I would explain our/the CrossFit charter of mechanics, consistency and intensity. Then demonstrate the concept of scaling. I like to ask critics what movement/lift they wish they could do (or struggle with) and then show how we can get them there while still involving them in the larger classes. But my answer largely depends on what they reveal is the reason why they believe they are not “fit enough”.
How many hours do you generally spend training and how do you balance that with your other responsibilities?
About 6 hours a week. I am a trainer 6 days a week, for 2 hours a day. I don’t get to train as much as I’d like to, but the investment in the lives of our clients is a better trade off.
What are your biggest strengths in CrossFit? Biggest weakness(es)?
My strength is my love for encouraging others and willingness to be coached. My weaknesses are that I tend to get down on myself in an unhealthy way if I don’t perform as I think I should. My gymnastics could also use help!
If Dave Castro allowed you to program one event for the 2019 CrossFit Games, what would it be?
Squat Cleans (250# / 175#)
Wall balls (30# / 20#)
Box Jump Overs (36” / 30”)
I call it “Buns on Fire”!
What is it like to be part of forming the first EVER CrossFit affiliate within a Correctional Facility?
Maybe when I have more time later in life to reflect, I’ll have a more contemplative answer. For now, I’ll just say that I’m sure it’s one of the greatest things I’ve had the honor of being a part of.
How do you feel about your performance in the Open this year? How did it feel to be able to officially record scores for the FIRST time this year??
Pretty good since I did not get to train for 3 weeks prior to it. It was great and I can’t wait for the Fall Open.
How has Redemption Road CrossFit changed who you are, both inside and outside the gym?
It has dramatically heightened my awareness of the needs of others. Not just in the Box, but everywhere. Now that so many men are involved in our classes, I’m around them everywhere I go in here. I don’t ever have the option of checking out on the world. I don’t have it in me to not be present in the lives of our athletes. Being a part of RF2 CrossFit has beat the selfish right out of me.
If someone were to ask you, “What is Redemption Road CrossFit?”, what would you say?
It is a medium to prize the value of every human being through responsible community and shared sacrifice.
How would you describe the competition and solidarity among the athletes in Limon?
We push ourselves to greater heights by pushing others.
We know you spend a lot of your time programming for staff members at Limon Correctional Facility. Tell us a little bit about how you got that started and where you hope to see it go.
Trainers Trevor Jones, Damian Arguello, Erik Jensen and myself started programming personal workouts for staff around the same time. Trevor was the first, and him and I found out quickly that we both had a knack for marketing the value of fitness by promoting CrossFit methodology. We found that there is a lot of misunderstanding about what CrossFit training is as well as what an effective workout looks like in general.
Trev’s and my efforts went exponential in a few short months to the effect that just between him and I, we were programming for roughly 25-30 staff. We generate new, hand-written custom programs weekly. Since then we’ve handed out programs to over 60 staff. The work load has been spread across all ten CF-L1s to help us all maintain without going crazy. It’s a lot of work though.
Presently, Kreuzer and myself, with the help of Captain Wargo, are renovating and constructing a gym for the staff themselves. Kreuzer and myself have only installed a 5-person pull-up bar but we look forward to building on that in the months to come. We are excited about the staff gym because of the obvious deficiencies of individual programming. And also at a distance, the staff miss out on the “magic” of CrossFit as Coach Glassman calls it… COMMUNITY!
So hopefully, with the generous hearts of donors, coupled with us willing offender CF-L1s, we can team up to bring the magic of CrossFit to the officers who work here.
Recently, the Warden granted approval for staff members to participate in workouts with the men of Redemption Road CrossFit. Can you tell us the impact this is having on all parties involved?
We recently had a fundraiser for raising awareness of the fact that, on average, 22 veterans commit suicide daily. As an affiliate, we programmed and participated in the 22’s WOD on June 22nd. In addition to the 50+ men from our regular unit 6 session, we invited any staff veterans to attend and participate. Four staff joined in for the WOD, as well as four others to show support. This was the greatest advance and evidence of culture shift that we’ve seen to date. As soon as our inmate athletes finished the WOD, they were quick to double back and join in with the staff who had not finished the WOD yet.
For those who know prison culture, you know that this behavior in past generations, even among a lot of this prison’s population, is taboo. But this taboo of inmate versus cop is slowly shifting to inmate AND cop. We hope to continue to push the envelope to break down destructive, adverse sentiments that human beings have for one another. Responsibly working together is the only way toward real solutions in criminal justice reform and society at large.
What advice do you give to other men at Limon who want to get started in CrossFit?
Work to place yourself in a position to be eligible to participate in our gym.
In the midst of serving a life sentence, where do you find your motivation to continue to improve physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually?
My greatest motivation is to honor God through valuing people through personal investment for their good.