Profiles August 13, 2018

Pioneer Valley CrossFit—Paving the Way for Positive Change


With a background in political science, Liz Greene has always had an interest and a passion for transforming communities for the better. But, she found that the slow progress in politics was frustrating, and decided to look for ways to make more of an immediate and impactful change.
After getting heavily involved in martial arts, Liz found CrossFit when her sensei recommended that she try it out in 2007. She was skeptical at first, but her husband tried out a class in Santa Cruz and then they did one together in Massachusetts.

With CrossFit, I found that the functional movement and exercise were secondary to the strength that was being built around the community. That strongly aligned with my life’s mission and I could see the possibility to make a positive change.

Pioneer Valley CrossFit (PVCF) opened its doors in 2007 and Liz and her husband became co-owners in 2008.
As the name suggests, they were truly pioneers of that time. Boxes were just starting to open in places like New York and Santa Cruz, but for Western Massachusetts, they were the first, making them one of the longest running independently owned CrossFit facilities in New England today.
PVCF has always recognized the importance of diversity. They are passionate about creating a community that is inclusive for all and supportive in both good and challenging times. Not only do they host social events like prom and spy-themed balls, but they also hold charity events to support causes close to their member’s hearts. They rallied local businesses to work together for a fundraiser for the Boston Marathon, supported member’s families in Puerto Rico when the hurricanes hit last year, and helped support a member when her house burnt down.

I think it’s so important to affect the hearts and minds of people, as individuals and communities, make them see that there’s a greater world, a greater community and that they are important.

To maintain their family-like atmosphere, coaches gather members at the whiteboard at the beginning of each class and ask them all a personal, and often funny question to kick things off, like, “Would you rather be chased by a shark or a bear?” These questions help shake off insecurities and get people to connect and know one another during the workout.
As PVCF grew, they had to adapt to new technologies. From their humble beginnings as a gym of just nine people in an attic to a large facility with hundreds of members, Pioneer Valley was always seeking more effective ways to communicate and connect with members, and to support their athlete’s workout tracking. Before SugarWOD, PVCF used notebooks and tried to jazz things up with stickers, but participation was low. They gave other CrossFit apps a try but became frustrated with the clunky interfaces and had a hard time driving adoption.

SugarWOD was different. It focused on the workouts, encouraged community engagement, and was flexible and responsive enough to work with the gym’s unique needs.
With such an active and supportive community within PVCF, SugarWOD quickly grew organically. After class, athletes would gather to compare scores on SugarWOD and encourage one another. Outside of the gym, they used PVCF’s Facebook group to spread the word about SugarWOD and give each other tips.
SugarWOD has helped coaches and programmers at PVCF have better visibility. Before, it was nearly impossible to see overall trends. Now the aggregated data clearly shows the box’s progress and exposes opportunities for member’s improvement. Workouts are far more in-tune and responsive to the actual member experience.
Liz works to ensure that PVCF members get a personalized experience. SugarWOD has been a big part of that. Communication is at the core of that personalization. Just like a touch on the shoulder, Liz sees an email or a virtual fistbump as another way of saying, “I see you. I see what you did and what your goals are. I care. And here’s how we’re going to move forward together.” Each WOD is posted on the Pioneer Valley Facebook page, on the website, through SugarWOD, and pushed automatically through an RSS Feed to MailChimp which sends out a PVCF branded email.
“I wanted to makes things easier for myself, and I found that I could connect SugarWOD to MailChimp and tweak it to look exactly how I wanted it to.”
In a modern world where we can all become isolated so easily, Liz sees software as a tool for community building. After athletes and coaches do their workouts and leave the gym, they can still connect with SugarWOD.

Having those digital channels open makes things more alive and vibrant. One person could call it traffic. I prefer to call it channels of communication and connection. It’s critical to my mission, but also the mission statement of the gym which is centered around community.”