Disclaimer: This has nothing to do with water skiing. And it is strictly my story….and no one else’s. But its my attempt at an honest account of what has happened.
To be clear though…..I AM writing this for the same reason I talk about the hard things in my own sport of skiing. Because I feel our ultimate service, as humans, should be to leave this place better than we found it. Whether that’s a sport like skiing, a gym, a family or a home. If we don’t aim to do the things that we know are right…and we don’t hold those around us to that standard or speak up when we know something is wrong…..then I believe we aren’t living up to our potential. And we are sliding backwards as a people. I am not perfect. But if I don’t go through the 2 red buoys at the beginning of the slalom course, I will tell the judge and ask for my score to be scratched. Simple. I want kids to see that….I hope to lead by example, and I hope someday those kids grow up to be better humans than I ever imagined. It all comes down to leading by example. So when I see something go down, something so tragic and detrimental to a broad community of people, I have to speak my mind. Its how I’m built. And with that….I’ll get to the real story…
A lot of people are asking me why Jenny isn’t a coach at NorCal anymore. For those that haven’t asked yet, and for many out there who didn’t know, Jenny LaBaw was fired from NorCal Strength and Conditioning on St. Patty’s day. Even though I’m certain she has a ton of Irish in her….I know for a fact she now hates St. Patricks day.
Here’s how it happened:
I first heard the word CrossFit in 2004. 11 years ago.
A friend of mine at Chico State took me down to a place called CrossFit NorCal….one of the first 5 CrossFit gyms ever. Robb Wolf and Nicki Violetti had just started the gym a few months prior. Although my career as a water skier kept me from committing to CrossFit full-time, it made an impact on my life. It wasn’t all show….the smiles weren’t plastic. There weren’t cables and mirrors everywhere. It was different than anything I’d ever experienced before. I was learning how to use my body…actually being taught HOW to move, instead of being told simply to DO something while someone whisper-counts the reps in my ear. In 2005 I won my first major pro title on the water, ironically only a year after my first day at CrossFit NorCal.
Couple years later I met Jenny LaBaw. She had just gone through emergency Appendix surgery 2 days before,…and on our first “date” she out climbed me on a Mountain Bike, for 3,000 vertical feet. I think it was that moment, at the top of the hill, as I was falling off my bike, that I fell in love. It was also at that moment, for some reason, that I thought “damn, this girl is kinda built for CrossFit”. I knew immediately she could be a huge asset to CrossFit NorCal…She had a BA in Physical Education, and 4 years as a strength and conditioning coach under her belt.
Life gets crazy. We moved a lot, but in 2010 we landed in Chico & Jenny became a trainer at NorCal. In the almost 5 years since that time, there have been some tremendous successes. Soon after she began coaching at NorCal, Jenny was persuaded (by Robb Wolf) to compete in the first CrossFit Games open. She trained for 6 months and qualified for the CrossFit games in 2011. As an unknown, she ended up placing 6th in the World. She had found a home at NorCal…and NorCal indeed had a new team member that brought new life back to the gym.
At the time Jenny started at NorCal, it was no longer CrossFit NorCal. A couple years prior, in 2009, Robb and Nicki de-affiliated from CrossFit, hence the new name, NorCal Strength & Conditioning. That is a whole different story, but if you want to dig into it, here are some links:
I’d like to note, that from 2011 until March 17, 2015, Jenny had been carrying the NorCal Strength and Conditioning flag proudly, everywhere she went. CrossFit Games, Athlete Camps, etc… Defending the NorCal brand and reputation, in the CrossFit world. I’d also like to note as an aside, it was my opinion that, due to the ugly and personal nature of the break-up between NorCal and CrossFit, Jenny was somewhat persecuted over her association with NorCal SC….even though she came to NorCal more than a year after the breakup with CrossFit. There were multiple occasions during the 2 CrossFit Games she attended, where I was almost certain that Jenny had been blacklisted by CrossFit HQ, due to her association with NorCal SC and Robb Wolf. I even approached Dave Castro personally about the matter and called him out at the NorCal Regionals in 2012. He calmly assured me that was not the case…and in fact, looking back, he often seemed to go out of his way to support Jenny when he could. Yeah Jenny wore the NorCal name proudly….we believed in the brand, and the people…and their accounts of what had happened with CrossFit. The perceived mistreatment of Jenny, took a psychological and physical toll on her during her competitive seasons. But within just the last month, after certain things have come to light….I have begun to realize that maybe things weren’t what they seemed after all…and maybe we never really knew the whole truth from the beginning…..
Over the course of the past 3 years, Jenny developed a close relationship with CJ Martin, the owner and founder of CrossFit Invictus. For the past 2 years, she has been traveling and presenting at Invictus Athlete camps all over the US and S. America, along side many other top athletes/names in the CrossFit community. These were mostly CrossFit athletes she was coaching, mostly CrossFit Gyms she was coaching in, and none of it had any affiliation with NorCal Strength & Conditioning. But she was continuing to speak highly of NorCal, Robb, Paleo, etc…where ever she went. And maybe most importantly, she wasn’t just coaching….she was also learning from some of the best Athletes and Coaches around….things that she could bring back to NorCal SC and the NorCal community.
In early March, Jenny was approached about speaking on the topic of CrossFit, and her experience and personal successes within the sport of CrossFit. The venue was a local gym in town, but not just any gym. John and Sarah Fragoso, of Everyday Paleo, were hosting the first ever JASSA Retreat at their gym. They had been long time members and coaches at CrossFit NorCal. To this day, Sarah pays respect to Robb and NorCal on her gym’s website, as the place she got her start. At one time, John and Sarah were best friends with the current owners of NorCal SC, Shawn and Chrissy Gower. Jenny felt this was a great opportunity to carry the NorCal name to another event, and share her passion and experiences for health and fitness with a different audience, just as she had been doing for the past 2 years. She agreed to present.
On March 11th, the JASSA Retreat announcement went out on Facebook.
On March 17th, with no warning and very little questioning, Jenny LaBaw was fired from her position at NorCal SC. Before she was fired, she offered to simply back out of the event (which doesn’t happen until mid-September, 2015), but that wasn’t good enough. After almost 5 years of dedicating herself to a gym and a community, she was terminated. Less than 30 min later, again with no warning, her work email was deleted….nearly 5 years of work related documents, files, correspondences and client histories….all gone. Not sure why, or what they were scared of, but it doesn’t matter much anymore…
I have since spoken with the owner of NorCal SC. In his words, over the course of NorCal’s 11 year history, Jenny was the best trainer/coach they ever had. In his words, over the course of Jenny’s almost 5 years of service, she never had a single client complaint against her. She never had a single warning that her employment was in jeopardy. Never a single strike against her.
The past month has been a tough one…maybe the toughest. But through it all, Jenny hasn’t said a single negative word about NorCal SC. In fact, many clients and members have personally reached out to Jenny, and she has assured them that NorCal is still a great place and community, and asked that they not leave because of what has happened to her.
Now Jenny’s not perfect….I will be the first to tell you that. She is smart, skilled, passionate, energetic, contagious, knowledgable & caring. But she can also be stubborn, hard headed, and opinionated at times…times when she believes strongly in something. Why am I telling you this? Its simple: I believe the best teams on Earth, whether they are Football teams or Coaching staffs at a gym, are the teams that have color. The teams that aren’t homogenous. The teams with players that don’t have the same skill sets….or talk the same way. The teams where people can raise their hands and ask questions….or raise their voices and disagree with answers, without fear of repercussion. The best teams on Earth may not be the easiest to manage….but that’s why there are great leaders. Leaders that can highlight, leverage and bring out the best in each team member, while moving everyone forward together…working toward a common goal.
The Goal for NorCal….the reason Robb and Nicki started the gym in 2004? I’m guessing it was for the People. They found a method (CrossFit) that worked better than anything else, and they knew they could build a community around it. They knew they could help people….with the right methodology and team of coaches or “players”.
The way I see it, NorCal just turned their back on the best player they ever had, and I’m afraid its the People and the community that NorCal aims to serve, that will suffer the most. I know Jenny will be just fine. But what about the people that are left behind? The “players” that might have been afraid to raise their voices? The “leaders” who were afraid to lead by example….and the community that’s left in the wake.
*In my meeting with the owner a few weeks back, I simply asked that they inform their members and clients of the reason Jenny had left NorCal, because up to that point they had not done so. I just wanted them to own their decision. They informed me they couldn’t do that for legal reasons. I subsequently informed him that I would be writing this blog post. Not out of anger…but hurt, and concern for the future. The owners and trainers had become friends. Jenny is grateful for the years of opportunity and community she had at NorCal.