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Crow Hill CrossFit Gym Unites Hasidic Fitness Buffs and Headcheese Makers

By Sonja Sharp | August 27, 2013 9:27am
  "I didn't know what to expect at first, but that’s my favorite class," Coach McCarthy said of the all-female, all-Hasidic conditioning class that is part of what makes the nearly nine-month-old gym so unique.
Crow Hill Crossfit Attracts Eclectic Crown Heights Crowd
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CROWN HEIGHTS — Though devotees of the popular workout regimen CrossFit come in all shapes and sizes, few look quite like Bella Lezell, a 34-year-old mother of six turned stealth Hasidic hard body. 

"The first time I went there, I was hooked," Lezell said of Crow Hill CrossFit, which opened on Park Place near Nostrand Avenue this January and has come to serve an unexpectedly eclectic crowd. "It transformed my body completely. I'm able to fit into clothes I couldn’t fit into before my six kids."

The Reebok-sponsored brand touts itself as a no-frills alternative to the posh health clubs and yoga studios of the Lululemon elite, though the high-energy gyms are more commonly associated with ripped hipsters than supercharged moms.  

CrossFit coach Dan McCarthy said the gym didn't specifically market to the Hasidic community.

"When we were doing our business plan, that wasn’t something we’d even thought of," he said. "We thought of the people who were moving into the neighborhood, but we didn't think about the Jewish community, and definitely not the women."

Lezell is far from alone in her love of the workout craze.

Gym owners Kurt Roderick and Aaron Hans expected to reach about 30 percent of their gym's 250 membership capacity by the end of their first summer. Instead, they're almost 70 percent full. 

"We do zero advertising, and we’re full every week," McCarthy said. "Our marketing is the guys and the girls that live in the neighborhood and come here, and over the past six months they now have six packs and biceps." 

In addition to the sweat, Crow Hill offers members and neighbors access to its in-house farm share. It's no kale or cucumbers, just pasture-raised animal protein. 

"One of the things that’s tough, especially in neighborhoods like this, is it’s hard to get good quality meats," McCarthy said. "[Through the CSA] you can order one pound of ground beef or an actual pig's head, which one of our members has been doing."

After their early successes with Hasidim and headcheese, the trio say they expect to be full by November, and hope to expand their already diverse membership with a kids' program next spring. 

"We want to get a separate nonprofit to bring neighborhood kids in who wouldn’t normally be able to do this," McCarthy said. "[The moms] are the ones that are really pushing the kids' program, because they all have many children. They’ll show you a photo of their kids doing bear crawls at their house and they’re super proud of it." 

As for the moms, they're often equally proud of themselves. 

"We love it. Those three classes, everything in our schedules revolve around those classes," Lezell said. "It gives you this energy and this confidence...you're on a high for the rest of the day."