Humans of Hierarchy - Carl Hansen
July, 16, 2019

We are all humans. We contain multitudes of layers and beautiful complexities. We maintain a curiosity about the world and the people we see in all settings and environments.

At a CrossFit gym, it’s easy to look around and see one class of athletes completing one workout. Though, the longer we watch and assess, the more we realize that this one class is composed of many individuals with many different talents, stories, and backgrounds. These members are all here for their own reasons. They push themselves using different mindsets and strategies. They possess unique experiences that brought them to where they are.

We all have our reasons for walking into a CrossFit gym for the first time.

We are strong. We are resilient. We are the Humans of Hierarchy.

Today, we meet Carl, his travels, his mentality and what brought him to CrossFit.


I’ve been in workouts with Carl and I’ve seen him during Open Gym. I’ve seen him at Barbell and watched him in the 2019 Open. He’s what I’d describe as a quiet force; he moves and achieves silently, but when you actually watch him lift, it’s not lost that he’s been doing this for some time.

I sit across from Carl at Potter’s House before he attends Open Gym one Thursday. He’s smiling as he recalls his father getting him to play baseball and T- ball as early as the age of three.

“My dad encouraged me to get into sports early and was a main supporter. He also was my coach,” he shares.

He laughs and sits back in his chair and says, “I remember in 7th grade my buddy and I were on the bus having an arm wrestling competition. We both got beat by the same girl, so we decided to start lifting not long after.”

He talks about asking his parents for weights around this time.

“My mom was a little cautious. She let me get a seven pound weight. This was back when pamphlets came with weight sets, so I just read it to learn some moves. The internet wasn’t really a thing,” he says.

He tells me that it wasn’t until high school that he got a weight bench and heavier weights.

“Looking back, I only did upper body workouts. I’d bench press and do curls, but I didn’t know much else,” he says.

Although he played baseball for the majority of his grade-school years, he found himself running track in high school after being cut from the baseball team.

I ask what this experience was like.

He chuckles and says, “I remember going to the coach and asking him specifically why I didn’t make the team, but I never really got an answer, so I tried track instead.”

Carl ran the 100 meter sprint, the 200 meter sprint, and the 400 meter sprint. I ask him which he preferred.

“The 200 meter was probably my favorite. The way it’s set up, you hit your top speed at the most important part of the race. The 100 meter is all about how you start, and then the 400 is a different pace and mindset entirely.”

He tells me that he got decent times and that some colleges reached out for recruitment, but none offered scholarships.

“I knew I wanted to go into the military, so I applied for ROTC scholarships in high school. I ended up getting a scholarship to Villanova,” he shares. From there, he went to Villanova on an ROTC scholarship for engineering.

I ask about his academic interests at this time.

“Well, I loved cars when I was younger, and I thought cars were engineering. So I went for an engineering major.” He and I laugh. “It’s funny when we make decisions that young.”

I ask about athletics at this time, and if track was something he continued at Villanova.

He answers, “My dad being the very involved parent, talked to the track coach at Villanova. He set up a conversation between me and the coach, and it actually ended up kind of turning me off to wanting to do ROTC, track and engineering. It kind of scared me;I was afraid to take on too much”

He goes on to share that the way his dad pushed him to run track during the start of his college experience was difficult for him.

“I felt like I rebelled against running track a little more than I may have if my dad hadn’t wanted me to do it so badly,” he says.

So, during his freshman year, he focused on academics and ROTC, which still involved training. He talks about realizing that he was only around ROTC and engineering students and had the desire and the time to tack on track after all.

“I went to talk to the coach about trying out for the team. He wanted to know what training I’d done in the last year and then let me onto the team.”

I ask if this involved a physical tryout for the team of if was more of a walk-on.

“I didn’t have to try out, but he checked to make sure I hadn’t been a piece of shit during my freshman year and that I was in decent shape,” he says, smiling.

He ran the same events during his Sophomore year in college as he did in high school. 

This makes me ask about running in general.

“I currently and have always hated distance running. I love sprinting and always have. On vacation, I’ll ask Renee to get up and run sprints with me on the beach,” he says while laughing.

He tells me that his training days for track were varied but intense. He would have hard workouts and lifting Monday and Wednesday, moderate workouts Tuesday and Thursday and then a light or off day on Fridays.

“It was then that I actually started training my lower body,” he says. “ I did squats and cleans. I still didn’t really know how to correctly do cleans…but I tried. It’s funny- I did cleans on and off for three years and though people would correct me, I was never actually taught what was wrong.”

He goes on to share his experience on the 4x400m relay. They went far- to a Big East Conference win and then during his senior year competed in NCAA regionals.

Throughout college, during his track training, he tells me that he also had ROTC tasks and trainings.

“Though, I got out of the weekly exercises because I was involved in a sport. But once I was done, I was commissioned as an Ensign in the Navy. I was going to be a pilot, so I was sent to Florida after college,” he says.

I ask him about training, diet, and his general goals.

“When I ran track, I was pretty light and lean. Once that was over, I decided that I wanted to get bigger. So I did this eating fad while in Florida where I’d eat two giant hamburgers for dinner with rice and broccoli.” He laughs at this. “It was like, four thousand calories each day. In Florida, I was basically going to school, lifting and eating a lot. And you know what? It worked! I got up to where I am now at 180/185.”

We talk about nutrition and its impact on training and fitness.

He continues, “I was pretty consistent with it. I just followed it strictly for a few months.”

From Florida, he moved to Corpus Christi for more flight training, where Carl found himself less engaged in the schooling and process.

“The instructor was kind of a jerk and I wasn’t doing well with it, so I found out I could transfer into civil engineering,” he tells me.

From there, he went to Mississippi, where he had a platoon of enlisted Sea Bees who worked for him

“There was one guy who had failed his fitness test twice, which then put him at risk of getting kicked out. So I talked with him once about his goals. I asked him if he wanted to fix it and he told me that he did, but that he didn’t know how.”

I sit up straighter in my chair, interested in Carl’s engagement with this individual.

He continues, “I called a friend who had recently lost a lot of weight. I wrote out what this guy should eat and made a workout program for him. It was essentially two-a-days. I’d workout at four am with him and then we would go to our usual workouts together with the whole unit. I still remember, we would do three minutes as far as you get on the track, then rest for three minutes and then go again. He ended up losing weight and passing his fitness tests.”

He tells me that this individual went on to retire and then to Villanova for his PMP to start his own business.

I comment on Carl’s selfless act in helping his friend through a fitness challenge.

From there, Carl deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, where he still weight lifted day to day.

“I remember feeling kind of bored at this point, and so I found CrossFit. This was more like CrossFit old-school, during the first or second year of the games. I’d look up the main site workouts on their page and start doing them on my own,” he shares.

He pauses then smiles before saying, “Please keep in mind that I still didn’t know how to clean at this point.”

We both laugh at this, counting the number of years he’s cleaned incorrectly.

After deployment, he moved to San Diego and wanted to move forward with his fitness. He got his level 1 Certification.

He says, “This was with Jolie Gentry and Pat Sherwood as instructors. Greg Glassman actually came to it and talked. Sage Burgener was in class with me.”

He talks about these early CrossFit days with a smile.

“I remember doing Fran and being really bad at it. I started going to CrossFit SoCal, which is no longer a gym. I went pretty inconsistently, but I finally learned how to clean!”

We take a moment to celebrate this part of his story.

“It was in California when I met Renee. We moved in together and got married in San Diego. From there, we moved to Bahrain. We had a CrossFit there at the base that was self-run by the people in the military.”

He goes on to share that he was asked to coach at this time because his unit knew he had his L1.

“They had a Wordpress website and I remember having to figure out how to use it,” he laughs.

He coached workouts at 5 am and 6 am and then workout after on his own.

He says, “It was a neat experience. I felt like I learned what not to do with programming. I’d pull workouts from other gyms. I found through trial and error how to choose workouts that best fit my audience. I learned that programming was a lot harder than it looks.”

Carl tells me that he enjoyed this time as a coach, but that their facility wasn’t a real facility.

“We’d be lifting on the sidewalk and dropping barbells. We’d crack the cement and get yelled at to move. Not to mention, in Bahrain, it’s like, 90 degrees at 5 am, which was another added challenge,” he shares.

From this experience, he and Renee found “an actual” CrossFit gym. He talks more about Renee here.

“In San Diego, I convinced Renee to do CrossFit. She was hesitant and slightly intimidated, but then liked it. In Bahrain, she got more into it and got more consistent. I still wasn’t consistent, but would usually use work as an excuse,” he says, smiling.

I make a comment about all of their traveling and different experiences with CrossFit.

“Yeah, I applied to go to grad school at Stanford, so from Bahrain, we moved there. I got my Master’s in Civil Engineering. We went to CrossFit there and it wasn’t good; the programming was awful so I went to a regular gym for a while where I’d program for friends.”

From California to Bahrain, and then back to California, Carl shares that he and Renee moved again to Mississippi.

“I was really busy with work as a training officer but went to CrossFit 228 there. I got more consistent then and would go at 5 am every day and then straight to work. This got rid of my ability to blame not working out on a long work day, so I started to find my stride,” he tells me.

From there, he and Renee moved to DC. They looked at two boxes, one of them being Hierarchy.

“Honestly, we liked it because of Dave and because it was under the Harris Teeter. Renee was stressed about moving to the city, specifically how we would buy groceries,” he laughs.

“We loved the box, Dave won her heart AND it was under a grocery store,” he says, smiling. “It was an easy decision.”

Carl and Renee have been at CrossFit Hierarchy for a little over a year at this point.

He talks about Renee’s positive influence. “I was never really consistent throughout the years and the different locations. Renee was a great influence. It was like I got her into it, but then I never got consistent on my own. I got to a place where I was working too much and not exercising. She was the one to really bring me back to it, which I’m very grateful for; I may have gotten further off track without her influence.”

We continue this topic of motivation and the CrossFit community in general.

“If I do workouts by myself, I don’t push myself as much. If I’m in a group, I feel more motivated. That’s a big reason for why I’m a proponent of CrossFit. I also think that ego is tied to my fitness level, probably because I’ve been an athlete my whole life. It’s part of who I am,” he shares.

We continue.

“CrossFit covers the community aspect, but also helps with individual mentality. It’s like once you’re out of college, and if you’re used to being an athlete, there isn’t a lot that exists that gives you the same feeling and satisfaction. It’s like you still see yourself as an athlete, but no gym does. A regular gym just sees you as someone who wants to exercise. CrossFit sees you as an athlete and you feel it.”

He continues and talks about the definition of an athlete.

“You’re an athlete because you’re working toward something and not just doing it solely to stave off death,” he laughs.

He finishes by saying, It’s more encouraging to feel like you’re working toward something. At Hierarchy, I’m in the best shape of my life, which has everything to do with the coaches and the community.”

Humans of Hierarchy - Xylena Reed
June, 18, 2019

Xylena Hof H:

We are all humans. We contain multitudes of layers and beautiful complexities. We maintain a curiosity about the world and the people we see in all settings and environments.

At a CrossFit gym, it’s easy to look around and see one class of athletes completing one workout. Though, the longer we watch and assess, the more we realize that this one class is composed of many individuals with many different talents, stories, and backgrounds. These members are all here for their own reasons. They push themselves using different mindsets and strategies. They possess unique experiences that brought them to where they are.

We all have our reasons for walking into a CrossFit gym for the first time.

We are strong. We are resilient. We are the Humans of Hierarchy.

Today, we meet Xylena, her competitive mentality, and incredible strength.


       One of the best things about watching Xylena workout is her facial expression. For any other CrossFit athlete, this would be a comment on all of the funny facial expressions they make as they move through intense and sometimes impossible-feeling movements. However, for Xylena, it’s quite the opposite. When Xylena is moving through intense movements, her gaze stays straight ahead, her eyes lock forward, and her facial expression never changes. She has the most intense focus I’ve seen, and I’ve photographed a lot of athletes.

She and I sit together one evening before her 7 pm workout. She’s sitting back and sharing about her atypical upbringing.

“You know how Mike likes to joke about me being a Russian spy?” she asks me, smiling. “Well, he’s not that far off.”

She tells me about her childhood, where she was born in Washington state in a house that had been built by her father.

“It was part of an intentional community called Tolstoy Farm, after the Russian author. The idea was that everyone would share the responsibilities of gardening and other things to sustain the community. Needless to say, I grew up engaging in non-traditional activities.”

She tells me memories of her climbing trees, running around the hills, working in the garden, bucking bales, hauling firewood, biking and canoeing.

When she was seven, she moved to Spokane, Washington and was exposed to more traditional activities. Here, in a typical school day, Xylena managed to sneak in some soccer playing during recess.

“Once we moved to the ‘big city’ I really wanted to play soccer and do gymnastics, but my dad was against organized sports. He told me that they were a waste of time and money.”

She continues. “I’d play soccer and baseball with my brother and his friends, but it was never official or an actual organized sport,” she explains.

It wasn’t until eight grade that she was able to join a school sports team.

“My mom, my best friend and my P.E. coach basically had an intervention with my dad. In the end, we convinced him to let me join the track team.”

I ask her about her feelings about this topic and whether she ever felt held back from sports.

"I was frustrated, but I wasn’t aware of how much money it was at the time. Now that I realize how much it would have cost, I do understand some of his reasoning. Maybe I could have convinced him to let me try out for the soccer team when I got to high school but I knew my skills were already way behind everyone else's so I didn’t bother starting an argument, ” she says.

She talks about running track from 8th grade and all through high school.

“I’ve always been a sprinter, which is why I die during all endurance workouts at CrossFit,” she says, laughing. “I ran the 100, 200 and then did long and triple jump. When I got to high school I started weightlifting as winter training for track after school and during my junior year they opened up the weightlifting PE class, which was mostly made up of football players, to girls. My best friend and I were two of the first girls to sign up; the few others were some of the football players’ girlfriends. We were the only ones to take it seriously and I learned how to squat, bench and hang clean in the class.”

I ask about her dad’s involvement over these years.

“He was very supportive of my academics and music” she says, looking away, “but he never supported my desire to play sports. I only remember him briefly showing up to one of my track meets in the five years I did it. My mom was always there to support me even if she didn’t understand my competitive drive.”

While she thrived in running and jumping in high school, she got to college and didn’t feel like she’d continue.

“My best friend, who was an excellent hurdler, and I both went to the University of Washington and we stopped by to talk to the track coach in the first week we were there. He basically told me that my numbers weren’t good enough. I also learned that college jumpers are like, six feet tall. I knew I’d never be able to compete at a Division I school so I moved on to other sports.” She laughs as she recalls this.

Instead of track, she found herself playing intramural and city league soccer, volleyball, and softball, all co-ed teams and both indoor and outdoor versions. I ask more in-depth questions about her strengths in soccer.

“I was a decent defensive soccer player. Having never been coached, my ball-handling was iffy but I was still a good sprinter and good at getting in front of people and not being afraid of the ball or the guys twice my size. I got a lot of pleasure out of surprising guys when I beat them to the ball. I played soccer all of college and found a team again in grad school. I captained a co-ed city league team in Baltimore for three years and would often play two games in a row on the weekends because other teams sometimes didn’t have the minimum number of girls.”

While playing on multiple soccer teams she was also an avid rock climber.

“I started rock climbing at the UW gym during my last year of college and really got into it when I moved out to the east coast. By the time I got to grad school I was climbing at Earth Treks 3-4 days a week and even competed in some local events towards the end. I loved it because it wasn’t just working out, it was problem solving. You have to plan your route and figure out the technique that works best for your body as you do it. It’s both a mental and physical challenge which is very enjoyable for me. Plus, each route is graded on an ascending number scale so you know you’re improving as you climb more difficult routes,” she shares.

We get into a conversation about the feeling and mental benefits of getting to see yourself progress in something physical.

She goes on to say, “It’s for this same reason that I love CrossFit. I’m a research scientist and my job is slow-moving; there is little to no immediate feedback. Research scientists live for that one good result that may take years to get, and although some scientists will disagree, I don’t see my job as a competitive platform. Having an activity where I can let my competitive side out and easily see my progress gives me the balance that I need to know that I am growing and improving in life. ”

This gets me to asking how CrossFit even came across her path, as she was immersed in so many other sports and activities.

“The real honest reason for me joining CrossFit was because I broke my ankle playing soccer. I got two small spiral fractures in my right ankle and was in a walking boot for about ten weeks. I wasn’t allowed to drive anywhere, I couldn’t climb or essentially do anything,” she says, looking down.

She shifts forward in her seat and goes on. “I think I was pretty depressed. I felt useless. This was the moment where I realized what working out did for my mental health. I’m not sure I knew its impact until this happened. I’d always been able to move until then.”

She goes on to tell me that her boyfriend at the time had been doing CrossFit for a few years. She’d dropped in a few times but had never given fully into his idea to have her join his gym.

“I remember not feeling ready to commit to it. But then when I broke my ankle, I wasn’t allowed to climb or play soccer, but the doctor cleared me to lift after ten weeks with the boot,” she says. “I remember feeling excited and figured that it was something worth starting so that I could move again.”

I pick up on her sense of determination through all of this, and find out she’d only worn the boot for eight of the ten weeks. She tried to climb again shortly after switching to an aircast but there was still too much pain from twisting to find the right foot position, and that she was too scared to play soccer again, and so she turned to CrossFit.

She recalls her first workout, but it’s from one of her earlier drop ins, before her injury.

“I remember that it involved pull ups, and I was upset because the coach told me to use a band,” she says while smiling. “I’d been climbing things my whole life and knew that I could do pull ups.”

I ask if after the workout she felt like she regretted the band.

"No-not at all. Mid-workout, some part of me knew that I needed to use it.”

This comment makes us both laugh.

Xylena completed her PhD in Human Genetics in Baltimore before moving to D.C. in January 2016 for a job.

She and I talk about her two CrossFit gym experiences.

“CrossFit Federal Hill was where I first joined, before I moved and where my boyfriend at the time went. It was a great facility and had a good environment, but I never really felt like it was ‘my’ gym.”

She recalls walking into CrossFit Hierarchy for the first time.

“I dropped into Hierarchy my first week in DC and was deciding between three gyms in the area.” She laughs and says, “Christine Bald was coaching and I think she got excited because she thought I was a much better athlete than I actually was.”

She recalls doing a 1RM snatch and then Randy.

“I PR’d my snatch that day and got so much excitement and support from the people in class and Christine. I knew immediately that I wanted to join.”

She tells me about her ankle recovery and how it made squatting low nearly impossible at first.

“I remember Christine and Garrett constantly yelling at me to squat lower for months. Sometimes I still hear it from the rest of our coaches” she laughs.

We talk about strengths and weaknesses as she shares her first Open experience at Hierarchy in 2016.

“I think this when some of the coaches realized that my cardio wasn’t very good. I remember being disappointed in myself, and wondering why could I do all of the movements separately, but when they were in a metcon, I couldn’t breathe and felt terrible.”

She tells me that her cardio and endurance were never her strong suit.

She looks at me and says, “Strength has always been my strength. I have always been strong and I’ve always liked being strong.”

We discuss lifestyle and how that played a role in this.

“When I was at CrossFit Federal Hill, I was only going three days a week and eating out and drinking a lot. I think I also went about the workouts the wrong way. If I knew I could lift the weight then I would Rx, even though my form wasn’t great.”

We talk about how this is a common thing, and how easy it is to be blind to it in the  moment.

“I think for me it was more of a personality thing than a CrossFit pressure thing. I wanted to prove that I could do it,” she says. “Don’t get me wrong, I think CrossFit stereotypes play a big role in the perception of the sport. Part of the reason I was resistant to join was because of that. I used to joke with my boyfriend at the time that he was a meat head and I was a closeted meat head.”

We both laugh before she finishes, saying, “I know it’s not for everyone, but it’s something that makes me really happy.”


We begin talking about competitions and how her personality started shining through as she progressed through CrossFit.

“I remember feeling bitter that I wasn’t good enough to compete on teams in my first year of Crossfit. I worked hard at it and looked forward to getting to compete. Now that I’m there, I enjoy being on this level. In general, I love learning new things and I found myself wanting to learn how to do everything.”

I tease her about her abilities now and what it’s like to watch her.

“I’ve worked really hard to improve my engine over the past few years,” she says sincerely. “I could do a single bar and ring muscle ups within the first few months of starting but I couldn’t do more than twenty consecutive double unders when I first joined Hierarchy. I remember the frustration. But I once I joined Hierarchy I really pushed to be consistent and listen to whatever advice the coaches give me.”

She laughs and adds, “Jean Li asked me recently if CrossFit was boring now that I knew how to do everything. But I feel like there is always something to improve. I want to get stronger and faster and better at gymnastics.”

Her mentioning Jean inspires me to ask about the community at Hierarchy. She tells me that when she moved to D.C., she didn’t have many friends. She would hang out with people from work, but that was it.

She smiles. “Actually, Mike was my first friend at the gym. I remember his first theme party (a ‘white trash’ party) that I was invited to about six months after moving here. I wasn’t in a great state emotionally, since when I moved to DC my boyfriend moved to Boston, and I remember it helping me feel like I belonged.”

She smiles bigger and tells me that now, three and a half years later, almost all of her closest friendships are from the gym.

“Honestly, I probably wouldn’t still be in D.C. without them; I would have moved to Boston or back to the West Coast.”

She shares that when she and her boyfriend broke up last year, she became even closer with people at the gym.

“I was so amazed by some of their gestures. I remember bursting into tears at the beginning of a 7pm class telling Luvean that we had finally broken up and she immediately gave me a big hug. When we got back from the warmup run and were stretching, no fewer than 3 other people came over to give me a hug without even asking what was wrong. Others invited me over for dinner and made sure that I was okay,” she shares, with a big smile. “I started spending more weekends here and have now formed some amazing friendships.”

She looks at me and says, “I’m really happy to have this community. It’s this place that makes me feel emotionally and physically healthy.”


I can’t let our conversation end without discussing where she is now with her strength and competitions.

She shares having competed for the first time, five months after starting CrossFit.

“I did one of the Festivus competitions for beginners. It was fun, and I remember it making me realize that I had a lot to get better at as an athlete.”

From there, she competed in an Rx Division a few months later because someone at her gym in Baltimore was injured and needed a spot to be filled.

“At this point, I had most of the movements down, but I found that I was more nervous than excited. I ended up getting last, but the competition was intense. There were people there who went on to regionals. I got destroyed. One girl didn’t even do all of the workouts and still beat me,” she shares.

Once at Hierarchy, she joined a team for the Girls Gone Rx competition, which she describes as a more fun and laid back experience.

That same year, Xylena competed in MAAC for the first time.

She smiles and says, “This was right after the Open where Christine realized that I couldn’t breathe while working out, and she put me on a scaled team (which at MAAC is still very competitive) with Ashtan, Bonnie and one of the athletes from CrossFit Hierarchy Ivy City.”

She goes on to tell me how amazing this experience was for her. She talks about the communication and teamwork that went into the weekend and what it felt like to be part of a team.

She tells me, “This was the first time I really saw the whole CrossFit community together.”

In regard to MAAC, she continues.

“The next year I did MAAC for the first time in the Rx division. I ended up slipping from the pullup bar and hitting my head on the floor during the second workout. The organizers insisted that I go to the emergency room to be evaluated for a concussion and as soon as they verified that I was okay and let me go, I went right back to the competition to complete the day with my team.”

“Two years later, Tyler asked me to be on his team for MAAC. That’s when I felt that I’d really made it,” she says as we laugh together. “I was the best day of my CrossFit career.”

She laughs as she admits to “letting them down” when it came to running, but tells me how amazing the experience was overall.

“I like to compete because it’s a big part of my personality. I want to know what I can do and I see competitions as a way to really challenge myself. I get this from every day workouts too, but what’s nice about competitions is that there are so many other people trying to do the same thing. All of my CrossFit competitions since joining Hierarchy have been on a team which adds a camaraderie aspect that I enjoy. I’ve considered doing another individual just to test myself, but I’m a little scared.”

We talk about some recent Olympic lifting competitions she tried this winter.

“The first one I competed in didn’t go well at all. Traditional Olympic lifting meets consist of 3 attempts for each lift to get a max snatch and clean and jerk. I was underprepared in a lot of regards. Tyler helped coach me, which was great, but I don’t think either of us knew really knew what we were getting into.”

She describes the setup of these kinds of events and how intimidating it can be to walk out onto a stage alone to lift as people watch.

“I’d only seen videos online, and there was no way to account for how terrifying it would be for me to be on a stage in front of a hundred of people. I really don’t like being the center of attention and when they called my name and I went out, my heart rate never slowed down after the first lift. I couldn’t calm down, my hands were shaking and my mind was in a haze” she shares.

“We also didn’t really know how to time warm ups. I was opening at a weight higher than most of the other competitors which meant they had to finish all their attempts before I even had my first attempt. So I probably warmed up too early for the snatch and then too late for the clean and jerk.”

Even after this rattling experience, she felt like she could do better. She tells me that afterward, she felt like she needed to prove to herself that she could do it.

“So Andrew and Antonio told me about another meet in April and I signed up immediately. I felt like I’d let Tyler and the other coaches down the first time. I had to do it again for them and for myself.”

She talks about her supports through this process. She tells me that for the second one, Eva helped her focus on her mistakes from the first time.

“Eva wrote everything out for me. I started lighter and we made a plan for how to deal with the crowd. She walked me out onto the platform before my session and told me to pick a spot on the rig to focus on so I didn’t look at the people. We made sure not to rush my warm up or the lifts. I knew what to expect the second time.”

I ask her how it went.

“We planned not to make any PR attempts that day, so I made all of my lifts and ended up getting second in my group with some respectable numbers.  I got a medal and some knee wraps that I still don’t know how to put on. It gave me a huge confidence boost and made me excited for the next time,” she says, smiling.

As we wrap up, I ask her what’s next, as I feel inspired by her return to competing individually after conquering some specific fears.

"Now I want to see what I can do. I want to see what I’m really capable of with my strength. I’m currently on a waitlist for another Olympic lifting competition. I plan to attempt a PR and I feel much more confident.”

Humans of Hierarchy - Tyler Millstein
May, 20, 2019

We are all humans. We contain multitudes of layers and beautiful complexities. We maintain a curiosity about the world and the people we see in all settings and environments.

At a CrossFit gym, it’s easy to look around and see one class of athletes completing one workout. Though, the longer we watch and assess, the more we realize that this one class is composed of many individuals with many different talents, stories, and backgrounds. These members are all here for their own reasons. They push themselves using different mindsets and strategies. They possess unique experiences that brought them to where they are.

We all have our reasons for walking into a CrossFit gym for the first time.

We are strong. We are resilient. We are the Humans of Hierarchy.

Today, we meet Tyler, his journey and his reasons behind establishing CrossFit Hierarchy.


I worked out with Tyler a few weekends ago. Throughout my time at the gym, I’ve watched him in different workouts. I’ve seen him excel across different Opens and I’ve seen him PR on Saturday mornings before 10 am. The amazing part about watching Tyler isn’t necessarily his personal achievements. What most fascinates me is his ability to hit these achievements, drop the barbell and walk over to the next lifter to give them encouragement. Watching Tyler is both physically and mentally astonishing.

Looking at Tyler, you’d never guess that growing up, his dad pushed him to do sports simply because he realized that Tyler couldn’t do a single push up.

“I was in elementary school and he thought it was ridiculous that I couldn’t even do one,” Tyler tells me one night on his back porch. We are outside watching his Great Dane, Bronx, carry around a stick twice his size.

“I was also kind of plump growing up,” he says, matter-of-factly. This makes me laugh, as it’s hard to imagine him not in peek shape.

We talk about his memories of sports in general growing up and whether physical fitness held any importance for him.

“I remember always getting last in fitness tests growing up. Like, I’d get last in the mile run and during field day; I was always getting beat by other kids.”

I ask him about his own perception of this.

“Honestly, I don’t think I cared or even understood what it meant to get last in something physical. I wasn’t in good shape and I didn’t particularly enjoy it.”

His dad enrolled him in soccer in another attempt to get Tyler into sports.

“Soccer was the first sport I played, but I was so bad because I was out of shape and fat. Or maybe I should stick with saying ‘plump,’” he says, smiling.

Soccer was short-lived, so he got into baseball and skateboarding, where he found himself starting to enjoy sports and physical competition.

“I was a little hoodlum child, running around with my skateboard,” he says facetiously.

He turns to me and explains, “I think I didn’t like all of the running in soccer; I preferred to hit things.”

As he progressed through school, he started getting more serious about baseball. He realized he was better than some of his teammates and started traveling with the team.

“Not to brag, but we went to the little league world series,” he says, smiling. “Around this time, we started training a lot more, like year-round. The training was something I enjoyed. That, paired with finally enjoying some competition was when I remember finally liking sports.”

I ask him when the first time was that he lifted.

“During baseball training I lifted some, but I didn’t need to be big for baseball. It wasn’t until my dad made me try football when things changed.”

He explains having little interest in football, but again being encouraged by his dad.

“He told me that I just had to play one year because it was his favorite sport. I think he also thought it could teach me some good lessons,” he shares.

Turned out, Tyler liked football more than baseball, and began playing both.

“Everything felt exciting about football. I realized I liked to lift heavy and to hit people. But maybe we don’t say it quite like that…” he says, laughing.

I type exactly what he’s said with no regret.

He describes the variety and intensity of his training, explaining that he had to be fast and lean for baseball, and then strong and big for football season.

“ I had a speed coach and a lifting coach. I’d run and lift up to twice a day. It was crazy because I’d gain and shed about 30-40 pounds for each sport.”

I voice how hard and difficult this sounded.

“It actually wasn’t, because nutrition wasn’t a thing. No one talked about eating balanced. So to put on weight, I’d eat a ton and then just increase how often I ran and trained at the track when I had to lean out. Being a teenage boy, I could play with my weight relatively easily.”

He laughs. “I remember having long track sessions and then going to a sub place right after to eat a twelve-inch sub, fries and a coke.”

We talk about how interesting it was at this time that nutrition was not as prominent as it currently is.

“Yeah I didn’t know anything about post-training food or rest days or any sort of balance. This was around the time where three-a-day practices were encouraged and thought to be beneficial to athletic performance.”

Although Tyler eventually got a scholarship to play at Westley college in Delaware, he soon realized it wasn’t the college experience that he wanted.

“Basically, I liked to party and knew I wasn’t going to be a professional athlete at 5’5”. I wanted to have a real college experience.”

After a semester, he transferred to Salisbury. He tried playing baseball there, but found the training to bore him, so he “began partying more than training” until he quit.

At this stage, Tyler found himself happy but without a sport again, which his dad picked up on and tried to change.

I comment on his dad’s consistent encouragement.

“Yeah my dad had a tenant in Bethesda who owned a CrossFit gym. One day, he told me that I should try it because he thought I’d really like it,” he tells me.

I find myself fascinated by the thought of Tyler’s first CrossFit workout. He’s smiling, looking out into the yard.

“I think I also went to Burger King that day. I remember not feeling intimidated by whatever the workout would be. I’d trained hard before so I didn’t think it would be an issue. I guess I was very confident mostly because I had no idea what it was.”

I ask him about his first workout specifically.

“I went in a little cocky, but I remember doing a mini version of Jackie (500 meter row, thrusters and pull ups). I started completely strict and then quickly had to get a band for pull ups,” he tells me, smiling.

I find myself having a difficult time imagining Tyler using a band for pull ups.

He turns and says to me, “people all start somewhere. I started just like everyone else, which a lot of people don’t know because they didn’t see it. But I’ll speak more to that later.”

He tells me that after this first workout he sat in his car in the parking lot for about 40 minutes.

“I couldn’t drive home. I was like, physically ill. I distinctly remember saying to myself, ‘fuck this. I’m never doing this again. It’s absolutely horrible.’”

This was in 2008, when CrossFit had been around for about 8 years. From there, Tyler tells me that he had a normal summer where he continued to avoid CrossFit and party with friends on the beach.

In the Fall, his dad encouraged him to get CrossFit certified so that he could work at the same gym he’d initially tried.

“Even though I still didn’t fully know what it was, conceptually, I drove to Morristown NJ alone and passed the L1. I came back and went through the internship under one of the coaches.I knew I had to get a job and this seemed like the best fit.”

I ask him about his memory from this time and this training.

“I remember it being a frustrating process. The coaches weren’t really around and weren’t super helpful. They never helped me with my own stuff. They didn’t teach- they either assumed I already knew things or they didn’t care. But it actually helped me in the long run as a coach. I know how to teach people because I had to learn these things through trial and error over the years.”

He describes this time as an endless cycle of teaching, learning and eating Chipotle, which makes me laugh.

Once he finally began coaching, he talks about how it felt.

“I was nervous. It was  strange being a nineteen year old coaching adults who are like, 35-40 years old. I felt like people didn’t want to listen to me; it’s probably because I had earrings,” he says with a smirk.

I ask about what he was doing for personal fitness during this phase of coaching and learning. He shares that he worked out with the coaches, but didn’t follow any plan for workouts.

“I had a good engine. I beat them a lot. I feel like it was my CrossFit honeymoon phase.”

I inquire more about what he means by this.

“It’s like the beginning when you feel like everything is great. You feel motivated and super competitive, like you’ll die before anyone beats you in a workout. You’re PRing a lot. But eventually, that does slow down. Day in and day out, the excitement fades. But I don’t say that as a bad thing. That’s when the realness of it sets in and you actual get to work. That’s when things aren’t easy. You're not PRing every week. You have to stay up late and get up early. It’s no longer all sunshine and rainbows.”

He tells me this phase lasted a while, but that he remembers the process of continuously working on things and improving.

“I started actually caring. I was fifteen minutes from a CrossFit gym at school. Shout out to CrossFit Salisbury; they were great. One of the owners was a regionals athlete and one of their members was a professor of mine. When I went in, I felt like I could aspire more to the coach and look up to and learn what he did.”

He turns toward Bronx to pet him and says, “I was dirt broke and begged my parents for some money to go to this CrossFit gym, which they assisted with happily.”

I ask him about this new mindset going into CrossFit again.

“ I remember that nutrition was so funny then. I’d wake up at 4:30 am and eat a protein bar and have an energy drink for fuel. I’d do a 6 am class and then chase it with a tuna sandwich, pizza rolls, and a stack of saltines.”

I laugh at this as he pauses before adding, “But I remember waking up excited.”


Tyler graduated college and moved to D.C. to a tiny “shoe box efficiency studio on 9th and N.”

He describes a very specific memory from this time. “I hadn’t seen it because I’d graduated then spent the weekend at Seacrets in Ocean City. I drove to D.C. that Monday and walked in. I instantly started opening all of the cabinet doors, which confused my sister. I told her I was looking for the rest of the apartment.”

At this time, Tyler was coaching at Metro Center CrossFit.

“I had zero friends so I would just coach all day and then read Game of Thrones at night. I didn’t sleep much. I remember feeling fine but bored. I had crazy insomnia because of how loud it was; there was a lounge by my apartment that provided a lot of noise so I slept very little. I would pound energy drinks because there was like a six month period where I’d sleep like two hours a night.”

We talk about physique and return to the theme of nutrition.

“I was skinny at this time. This was back when people said to avoid carbs. People still didn’t know how to properly fuel. So I was in good shape, but I was super skinny and weak.”

I laugh at this. I can’t imagine Tyler being weak, so I dive in for more specifics. He shares that he couldn’t do any heavy barbell movements and that because he’d never been properly trained to train legs, he avoided it.

“I couldn’t really squat or do deadlifts,” he says.

He talks about a wake up call around this time, when he’d been doing CrossFit for about three years.

“I realized that I needed to step back and learn. I tried and failed everything. I would look up videos of movements. I took a jump rope home and did it every day.”

I ask about some of the most challenging movements and he shares that snatches, cleans and pull ups took him the longest.

He sits up in his chair and looks out into the yard.

“Everyone is different. We all have weaknesses, even me. If you never do upper body, you have to go through progressions before you get it. A lot of people think things come easy to people perceived to be better athletes, but really they struggled just as much at the beginning.”

We talk about the personal elements of progress and the influential parts, like having a good coach.

“You need someone to explain things and not make you feel like an asshole for not knowing something. Coaches back then would tell you something, but they wouldn’t tell you why or show you. No one wants to feel like they’ll be stuck at the same level forever. “

I begin to hear the Tyler that we all know and love.


Later in the year, Tyler found himself joining CrossFit Praxis in DC, where he instantly felt more connected than with previous gyms. He worked out, began making friends and eventually coached there.

“These were the wild west days of CrossFit,” he says while smiling. “We would go out, get super fucked up, then show up Saturday all hungover to workout together, coaches and members. There were no rules. It was like inmates running the prison, essentially.”

He talks about these times fondly, both with workouts and with forming his social circle.

“This is where I met everyone: Nikita, Hilary, Ashtan, C-Rob , Christine Bald, Mel and probably more that I’m forgetting at the moment,” he shares.

Unfortunately, during this time, he injured his shoulder badly from over training.

He says, “It sounds insane to admit this, but at the time, we had athletes like Rich Froning doing six workouts a day, which then we tried to emulate. I would train, like, twenty days in a row.”

We talk about the dangers of this time. The overtraining and the lack of information on how sleep and diet affected working out and maintaining workouts.

“I tore my labrum in three places and it was like a light bulb went off in my head. I describe it as my first learning experience. I realized that overtraining is a real thing and that I needed to take better care of myself. It was the first time I ever felt vulnerable as an adult, actually.”

He sits up straighter in his chair. I could feel a change in his tone and the beginning of something big happening as he described the transition time.

“So I started taking rest days. I started taking care of myself and resting. I didn’t want any kind of surgery because I couldn’t deal with the demands of the recovery. So I just rested it and recovered myself.”

We touch briefly on injuries and his take on them.

“I mean, they’re not fun, but you can either look at them with a shitty attitude or shift your focus on getting better at something else. You can get hurt because you’re overworking what you’re already good at and avoiding what you don’t like. For me, this injury pushed me to finally learn and train my legs.”

I ask about his coaching today.

“There are smart ways of going about getting better at things. Everything I’ve learned over the years has been the hard way, which is why I try to help people not learn things the hard way. For others, I want to show them the right way the first time. For myself, I try to be healthy and strong [and handsome, for Ashtan].”

He tells me about his theory of practicing what you preach and to not show unhealthy ways of doing things.

“More is not always better. Take rest days. Know how to move. As long as you’re moving safely and smartly you’re fine. But don’t compromise form in order to beat someone in a workout. Know when it’s time to ‘turn it off and go’ but that doesn’t replace smart training. Every movement is about longevity.”


So how did Tyler come to CrossFit Hierarchy?

After being at Praxis for nearly two years, the head coach left and someone new came into the role. Tyler tells me that he was programming but wasn’t certified. He shares that he changed everything and both coaches and members were unhappy.

“Some of the coaches there starting approaching me about starting a gym. It was never super serious, but we talked about the process and what it would be like. But then a rumor spread that I was going to do it and poach members,” he says.

“I remember I coached a Saturday and then the owner asked to speak to me. We hardly had a conversation, but he asked me to not come back. I didn’t even get to say goodbye to any friends. I literally had to turn in my key and just leave that same day.”

He sounds both sad and frustrated as he recalls this.

This incident with Praxis ended up lighting a fire under Tyler. He tells me that he felt like he’d worked hard and knew what was decent in CrossFit (both box quality and coaching) and realized he no longer wanted to work under someone.

“It was a sink or swim moment. I figured why waste more time working for and with others if I could just do it myself. After being at three gyms, I knew that I could do better because I knew that I cared.”

I ask about his why and the process of opening a business.

“I was fully invested into CrossFit at this point. I wanted to help people because I love people and knew that I could make an awesome gym. The process was extremely stressful. There is lots of money going on and very little return at first.”

This was also during the time when his parents brought Bronx, his dog, as a puppy into his life.

“It was like a blur. Shirts, website building, the logo. Taking Bronx out to pee three times a night. My parents helped me a lot. Christine Bald and Ashtan helped because they knew the online world and marketing.”

CrossFit Hierarchy opened in 2014, after about 6-7 months of preparation and building. People from Praxis followed Tyler because of their belief in his establishment of a gym and their belief in him.

I don’t know people’s exact experience during this time, but I suspect they followed Tyler because of his passion and commitment to a solid CrossFit experience. I ask Tyler about his feelings about the first day Hierarchy opened.

“I was a little nervous, but I remember feeling comfortable and confident in what I was doing. Plus, I had so much help. Our first workout was great. We had some sponsors and people worked out and celebrated with me.”

We talk about acquiring members and he stops, telling me about one specifically.

“I was the only coach at first. I coached months and months of the 6 am classes where only one person would show up. Shout out to Katy. Morning after morning, it was just us. She joined CrossFit because she wanted to quit smoking. She stopped before her first workout and then never did it again. She had open heart surgery too at that time. Five and half years later, she opened her own affiliate in Span with her boyfriend.”

We talk about his inspiration from this and general investment in new members joining to better themselves.

“People don’t realize that everything they’re experiencing I've experienced. No one comes out on top of everything. At some point we have all struggled with the same things. People assume a lot when they see me, but I’m the first to admit it: I actually don’t always like to workout. I’m usually not motivated to do it. Working out is hard. It’s a struggle and it’s hard to get people to believe that I struggle too.”

We talk about how this is portrayed today in media and he brings up a fascinating point.

“The struggle isn’t glorified anymore. Everything today is a highlight. You see the 1% but you have to remember the 99% are the ones grinding away day after day to get there.”

He continues talking about the mental side of it all.

“I don’t care what people do for weights and times. I love when people hit PRs. That’s a highlight though. I encourage people to start celebrating mental victories. Struggle is majority of the time, so if you’re super thrashed and you can’t row one day but can go unbroken on another movement, you should leave the workout celebrating what you did. You can only do what you can do that day, and if you push yourself, it’s awesome. I’m a firm believer that if you start cheating yourself in one thing, it starts a trickle effect into other things in the gym and other aspects in your life.”

As we begin to finish up, I ask him about general coaching and CrossFit advice. I ask about what he lives by and what he tries to convey to others.

“I feel like CrossFit makes it easy to look at things negatively because it can be really hard. When we struggle, it’s easy to feel shitty. When I’m struggling, I look at that day as an opportunity to get better. I tell myself I don’t have to go workout, but that I get to. If your body is beat up, then work on mental things.”

As a coach, he tells me what motivates him in others.

“I try to instill in their minds that they can do something that they previously thought they couldn’t do. Because when they do it once, they’ll do it twice.”

Finally, I ask about day to day mental workout conditions.

“Check your own bullshit. You’re not always going to be in perfect workout shape. You’re not always coming in with the perfect amount of sleep. Maybe you got yelled at while at work and you’re in a shitty place. The workout is a reset. You get to reset, and that’s the beauty. Every day is an opportunity”

Humans of Hierarchy - Kelly Ann Foster
April, 15, 2019

HofH: Kelly Ann

We are all humans. We contain multitudes of layers and beautiful complexities. We maintain a curiosity about the world and the people we see in all settings and environments.

      At a CrossFit gym, it’s easy to look around and see one class of athletes completing one workout. Though, the longer we watch and assess, the more we realize that this one class is composed of many individuals with many different talents, stories, and backgrounds. These members are all here for their own reasons. They push themselves using different mindsets and strategies. They possess unique experiences that brought them to where they are.

We all have our reasons for walking into a CrossFit gym for the first time.

We are strong. We are resilient. We are the Humans of Hierarchy.

Today, we meet Kelly Ann, her energy, and her resilience.


While photographing the CrossFit Open this year, I am constantly drawn in by certain moments and athletes.One individual athlete that I found myself continuously inspired by as I watched and photographed was Kelly Ann. Specifically, during 19.5, I watched as she moved from thrusters to jumping pull ups, smiling and talking with her judge the entire time. I couldn’t stop taking photographs of her effortless strength, exuding from her both mentally and physically.

       As graceful as her Open performance was, I learn that Kelly Ann’s fitness journey has been far from effortless. It’s a sunny afternoon in late March. She’s invited me to her rooftop with the promise of a “a great cup of coffee.” We are sitting, coffee in hand, chatting about what it took for her to get to where she is now.

She begins and tells me that growing up and in her family, if you weren’t a boy, you were valued less.

“There were literally restrictions on what I was “allowed” to do. So, I spent all my time proving I could be as strong and as tough as my brothers. I was always trading them for their outdoor jobs like mucking stalls, cutting acres of grass with a push mower for my scrubbing floors & bathrooms. Anything to show that I could do it too. Heck, I played ‘Army’ with those guys and beat them every time,” she says, laughing.

She continues. “I remember once on my father’s family farm watching him teach my brothers how to shoot while I stood by furiously watching. Then they went into the house for a water break and I walked out on to the practice area, picked up a gun and took a shot. It knocked me backwards, but I reloaded, held the rifle tight to my shoulder, and pulled the trigger. I hit the target just as my father reached me and then turned to hand him the gun. I looked right at him and said, ‘not bad for a girl’ then walked away head up and ringing in my ears.”

Now I’m laughing. This is one of those anecdotes that will stay with me as we continue to talk and most likely far beyond this interview.

She takes a sip of coffee and says, “What I didn’t know at the time was that he was preparing me for life and the boundaries I was always going to need to push back against.”

She continues. “In high school, there weren’t many options for girls if you weren’t a gymnast or a cheerleader, so I became a runner. I ran long-distance because the practice was 18 miles and it would burn up my energy.”

I ask her about this trend and how it developed as she grew older.

“I stayed a runner even in college, but it was college were I first learned about fitness and was allowed to use the weight lifting equipment for the first time. It is in college that I became certified to teach ‘Aerobics’. Do they use that word anymore?” she asks, laughing.

She tells me that her running continued into parenthood, when she was raising three girls.

She smiles and says, “I would run 12 miles three days a week and listen to Michael Bolton on my cassette player!”

While running the marine corp marathon (the second time she’d run it in her thirties), she suffered her first injury.

“It happened while raising my three daughters on my own, which was hard. I wanted to be with them as much as possible, so I taught aerobics and body conditioning, 26 classes a week. I would teach while they were in school and once I got them in bed, I would go back out to teach evening classes.”

This is incredibly impressive to me, as I sit back and soak in what she just shared.

“It was hard financially but teaching fitness classes really helped with making my schedule around their needs. I ruptured my soleus muscle in my calf and was told by the orthopedic that I had so many stress fractures in my legs that I would be crippled in two years if I kept it up. “

This sparked the need for a career change for Kelly Ann. She landed a job with a successful restaurant chain, The Great American Restaurants at Arties, in Fairfax, VA.

“I’m good with people and I was really good at this job. I built business for them and ended up winning an award for my role,” she says, proudly.

“Running with the family dog was about the only fitness I could manage at this time.  But as the girls approached high school, the demands of the restaurant started to interfere with my priority, which was my three daughters, Kendall, Tierney & Jaclynn.”

She tells me about each of her daughters’ own athleticism.

“They were all active in different sports. So, in order to keep up with their schedules, and I wanted to keep up with them and continue to support them. So, I sent out a resume with a cover letter saying that I had two heads and sixteen arms and could learn anything” she tells me around laughter.

She tells me how the woman who interviewed her laughed at this, but then essentially “took a chance” and hired Kelly Ann.

I find myself so engaged in Kelly Ann’s story and energy. I feel the theme of her determination threading her story together.


She continues. “So my oldest daughter, Kendall, got a job with Washington Sports Club as the General Manager. She had been a personal trainer with them all throughout college. Four months into the job, she started to go blind and we found out that she had MS. I’ll never forget her response to this: she turned to me and said, ‘Well, if I’m only getting half a life, I’m starting mine now.’”

She and I sit in this momentarily, soaking in the admirable response to such sad news.

“Kendall called her boss told him she had a mad crush on him. They dated 3 weeks then eloped. She learned that pregnancy, for some reason, put MS into remission. They started a family right away.”

This led Kendall to question, what happens if she keeps pushing her body to its limits, much like pregnancy does?  For her, continuing to push limits eventually took her to a CrossFit gym.

Kelly Ann turns to me and says, “My daughter is incredible. She has been at Regionals the last three years. She’s ranked 52 out of 17,000 on the West Coast. She’s one of the athletes CrossFit takes to run the obstacles for the Games athletes before they do them, and she has MS but is symptom free.”

I’m in awe and I’m completely inspired by this part of the story. Though, I find myself thinking that the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.

Kelly Ann was training hard during this time too. She managed another severe injury as she got back into teaching classes at WSC.

In April of 2011, she shares another injury. “I jerked up my trainer’s 50lb kettlebell off the floor to go into a deep squat and felt an unbelievable pain. Turns out, I tore my cartilage and my hamstring detached from my tailbone. After major surgery, with a new addition of two titanium screws to hold the hamstring in place, it took 14 months of hard PT to recovery and a lot of tears.”

She looks down at the table and then right back up at me. “But I didn’t give up.”

She spent the time recovering and got back into running in April 2013. Right as began running again, she found herself training hard again for a Tough Mudder. One day, in Kalorama Park, she was in a harness pulling a 175 Lb. sled up the hill, when she tore her piriformis muscle. She tells me this the deepest muscle in the pelvis and controls lateral movement.

My jaw drops, calculating the short time she spent back on her feet, recovered, before hitting a major roadblock yet again.

“I felt pretty defeated after this one,” she says to me, looking down. “I had just gotten back on my feet and I was told that it would be another extremely long recovery. It was my third major injury but I had been pushing and training hard for Kendall. I knew I would get there, but this was a time where I felt the least positive about physical fitness.”


During this particular recovery, Kelly Ann had to relearn how to balance, which she describes as frustrating and extremely challenging.

“I would trip upstairs trying to move my left leg. I never thought I’d give up on myself, but at this point I tried to, because I couldn’t do anything with my left side. Nothing was working, and I was making no progress in PT.  I cried a lot.”

I see a spark in her eye as she looks up, straight at me and says, “but then, I met Tyler.”

I smile, knowing that this was where her story was going to take a positive turn.

“I was working for the owners of Southern Hospitality at the time and I met Tyler there one day. I shared Kendall’s journey to CrossFit and mentioned to him my once physically active life and my current struggles in recovery.”

She smiles and says, “He told me that I should come to the gym and let them take care of my injury and fix it. I laughed, thinking there was no way that I could do CrossFit in my physical state. I supported Kendall, but me doing it? There was no way.  But he said they modified workouts for every person who walks in, and that if I started there, I’d get better.”

We pause and reflect appreciation for Tyler, the coaches, and the general feelings of care we each experience at Hierarchy.

“I felt like a deer in headlights walking into the gym for the first few times, but Tyler and Christine Bald were so helpful. They waived foundations for me and modified every workout as I recovered.”

She recalls a speech that Christine gave about CrossFit Hierarchy where she talked about it as a “community who cares.” Christine talked about personalized workouts within a group setting and emphasized the importance of individual care and attention in each workout.

Kelly Ann smiles and looks at me saying, “If I hadn’t already signed up at that point, that speech would have convinced me.”


Currently, in April 2019, Kelly Ann celebrates three years at the gym. She talks about the challenge of the first year and how this last year was her best year yet.

This year, Kelly Ann participated in the CrossFit Open. She tells me how she wanted a reason to come to the gym and cheer people on. She talks about the importance of a community of people who support each other.

“I’ve been to and taught at hundreds of gyms and I’ve never felt community like I do here at Hierarchy. I walked into a workout the other day and Eva was coaching. She came up to me, saying she’d been thinking about me all day in relation to the upcoming workout. I mean, who does that?!”

We laugh and talk further about the impact of feeling cared for and seen in a CrossFit community.

She shares, “CrossFit is misunderstood. Lots of people think it’s a cult, when really, it’s a family. Many think that it’s dangerous and something they can’t do, when really, they need to give it a chance. I’ve got no ego in the game. People my age, especially men, may not try things that challenge them because they’re scared to try and scared to fail.”

She and I discuss her many injuries and how none of them happened at CrossFit. Ironically, she found the most healing and repair once she joined.

She still faces some limitations.

“I’ll never be a runner again, but I can row or bike instead.” She smiles and says, “Honestly, I am the best advertisement for CrossFit. I am almost 60 and I workout every day at a CrossFit gym lifting what I can do within a community setting. I love every minute of it, and it’s not because I love the workouts. It’s the people.”

I’m quiet, silently nodding as I resonate with what she says.

“I was actually sad when the Open was over, and I never thought I’d feel that. I loved coming together every Friday and encouraging each other. I went and sought Andy out to thank him. I could always hear his encouragement during each workout and it kept me going. The people make the experience.”

We wrap up and she shares a final thought about her journey and participating in Humans of Hierarchy.

“There are a lot of people who helped, supported and encouraged me along the way, especially the coaches and I am so grateful for them. But I’m here because of Tyler, and I wanted to share this story to give back a little for what he did for me.”

Humans of Hierarchy - Justin Wood
March, 18, 2019

We are all humans. We contain multitudes of layers and beautiful complexities. We maintain a curiosity about the world and the people we see in all settings and environments.

At a CrossFit gym, it’s easy to look around and see one class of athletes completing one workout. Though, the longer we watch and assess, the more we realize that this one class is composed of many individuals with many different talents, stories, and backgrounds. These members are all here for their own reasons. They push themselves using different mindsets and strategies. They possess unique experiences that brought them to where they are.

We all have our reasons for walking into a CrossFit gym for the first time.

We are strong. We are resilient. We are the Humans of Hierarchy.

Today, we meet Justin, his reasons, and his fantastic sense of celebration



Justin has a specific kind of workout look. I’ve had the honor of getting to workout with and watch him most days. I’ve seen him hit PRs, I’ve seen him get frustrated, and I’ve seen him celebrate others. When he gets in the zone, you can see it in his eyes. He focuses and performs in a way that is both mesmerizing and impressive. He looks straight ahead, his gaze unwavering.

He sits across from me outside on a beautiful D.C. evening. We’ve just worked out and we are about to split a plate of delicious food.

Despite having known Justin for some time, I begin learning things about him the second he starts to talk.

He has his Undergraduate Degree and Master’s Degree in Physical Education and Health from WVU, and is currently a Phys. Ed. teacher.

“I was an athletic training major my first semester on campus and actually hated it. I had to change it immediately,” he says to me, matter-of-factly.

He shares how he didn’t know what he wanted to do or what direction he wanted to go in after dropping this major.

“Funny story,” he says to me in between bites, “I was hard-core into Jesus for a hot second. Like, I LOVED him.”

I laugh at his presentation and because he’s smiling as he’s recalling his own journey and story.

“So my youth pastor called me during this time and asked if I’d help out with vacation bible school. They wanted me to be in charge of the physical activities throughout the camp days.”

He continues. “There was a kid there who had cerebral palsy, and I can still remember his name. As I was planning the activities for the camp, I had multiple people tell me that this particular kid wouldn’t participate because of his condition. I thought that was absurd, and so I made it my goal to get him out of his chair every day and have him take part in the games.”

As Justin tells me this, an infectious smile spreads across his face. I stop typing, momentarily, smiling myself, to soak in what he just said. I don’t feel surprised. This is who Justin is.

He says to me, “I think he’s really my reason for all of this. I called my advisor that day and told her that I loved this work and that I loved working with kids. She told me to major in Physical Education and the rest is history.”


Justin had a friend in his Master’s program named Holly. She did CrossFit and would talk about it often with him.

“She would mention it a few times, but I only knew of it vaguely. She and I would go to a conventional gym on campus and workout together. One day, we were bench pressing and she arched her back off of the bench.”

Justin makes a surprised and baffled face as he shares this.

“I had never seen someone do that before, so I said to her, ‘what are you doing with you back?!’”

“She told me she’d learned in in CrossFit.”

He laughs as he says, “So, I told her that looked gross, and I walked away.”

Now I’m laughing.

He talks about this time and what fitness was to him. Justin describes his relationship with Taco Bell and Wendy’s during undergrad, both of which were located right outside of his on-campus gym. I tease him, making a comment about a post-workout cheeseburger and he laughs, then corrects me.

"No, no. You don’t understand. Baconators were my jam. Sometimes before a workout. Wendy is such a bitch, but I loved her and couldn’t stay away.”

We laugh, but I’m intrigued about  how he got away from this habit.

“I was eating shitty food and working out inconsistently. One day, my mentor pulled me aside and told me to practice what I preach. He told me that if I wanted my kids and people to take me seriously, that I had to take my health seriously. I’ll never forget him saying this to me.”

It’s hard to picture Justin like this, as I only know him to be motivated and disciplined.  He pulls out old photos (and an I.D. that showcases his once, bleach blonde swoopy hair) to prove his “Wendy-loving phase.” It hardly looks like him, but he’s proven his point.

Justin knew that he was tired of the conventional gym. He knew he needed a challenge and a healthy change. When he came to Holly, describing wanting more for his workouts and health, she directed him again toward CrossFit again.

“I told her I wanted a challenge. I told her that I’m loud and all about celebrating success in fitness.”

Justin and I pause to talk about his personality and how it fits so perfectly to CrossFit, and how he felt the mismatch with other conventional gyms.

“In most gyms, everyone’s got their headphones in and their doing their own there. There is no celebration and there’s not enough noise,” he shares.

“I needed something more.”


In July 2016, Justin moved to D.C. Holly had given him three gyms that she knew would set him up for success. He narrowed her suggestions down to three: Trident CrossFit in VA, CrossFit Kingstowne in VA and CrossFit Hierarchy in D.C.

“I researched each of them and then physically went to them to check out their vibe. The very first one I went to, I stood in gym for ten solid minutes before anyone spoke to or greeted me.”

He shares his first impression of Hierarchy.

“I’d heard that the coaching and the community was solid. I was living right outside of D.C., so it was appealing to get myself into the city for workouts.”

We talk about the impact of walking into a gym for the first time and what you feel and see.

“I walked into Hierarchy and saw Christine Bald sitting with her legs up. Tyler was working out, which was slightly intimidating. But as soon as I entered, she greeted me, welcomed me in, and started telling me about the gym.”

He shares feeling slightly intimidated and scared.

“I felt like this reformed Wendy’s and Taco Bell addict coming into this intense space. But you know what, one of my favorite phrases is ‘fear means go.’ I knew my intimidation meant I had to try.

Justin signed up for Foundations that night.

We talk about his first few months. He laughs, sharing about a “classic” mistake people make during foundations.

“I totally did the thing: I faced the wall when doing my first pull up and cracked my head off of the top bar. I remember feeling embarrassed and laughing about it with the coach.”

We talk about the general feeling of being new to CrossFit.

“Yeah, I googled everything and remembered nothing by the time the workout happened,” he says, laughing as he talks. We both resonate with this and share first moments that we both look back on with laughter and appreciation.

The vibe of CrossFit, which he describes as “intense and loud”, fueled Justin’s strive to be fitter, healthier, and happier with a workout routine.

“Don’t get me wrong, there were some ugly moments as I got into it. I still think that I look like dying cat when I try to do deadlifts. Oh! And did you know that I was banned from doing cleans at first?!”

I laugh, not only because that’s a funny concept, but because I’m dying to know why.

“I was so bad at cleans, they had me on med balls for a while at first. I wasn’t allowed to clean with a barbell. It was funny then, and now, don’t challenge me to med ball cleans. When I see them in workouts now, I’m like LET’S. GO.”

He talks about this sticking with him, positively.

“Being told I wasn’t allowed to use a barbell yet didn’t make me feel bad. It actually reinforced what Holly had told me about this gym. I felt like I was going to be cared for and watched in a way so that I didn’t hurt myself.”

Currently, as a coach, Justin carries this philosophy with him

"I don’t necessarily care about your ego; I care about you being safe and getting better and stronger.”


There is a member side to Justin and there is a coach side. I find myself wondering and asking about his coach side.

“I don’t just want to help people achieve their goals. I want to help them and then also celebrate with them. It’s my favorite thing to see happen. No matter what success is for someone, watching it play out is everything to me; it happens all of the time, especially at our gym.”

We pick apart the different personalities that come out during celebration.

“I’ve seen people hit PR’s and be genuinely shocked, like mouths open. I’ve seen people drop the bar and run around screaming. I see passive, “Oh I just power cleans 15 pounds more than usual” responses. I see people explode with joy and run over to hug someone.”

We pause, reflecting on his reasons for coaching.

“Those moments are everything. When someone realizes their ability in that moment of triumph. It’s so pure and it’s beautiful how it comes out in different ways.”

Justin has a tattoo on his back that reads, “Complacency Fuels Mediocrity.”

“I tell my kids all of the time that they should never route or stand for failure. I tell them to keep growing. As a coach, and as a Physical Education teacher, I’m not some authority figure. I’m there to help people succeed. And I’m going to be loud about it because I’m loud as shit.”


As we come to a close, Justin describes how he talks about CrossFit to others, whether they’re simply asking or if they’re interested in joining.

It’s funny, because I never talk about the physical part or the workouts. I only talk about the people and the community as the reason to join.”

He talks about an extremely dark time in his life during which the gym and the people there, pulled him through.

“The members here are my tribe. My family. They make me a better person. I tell people this all of the time.”

He details many small instances that have made his days better and brighter.

“Mike has helped me so much, maybe even more than he knows. It’s small things. Carter and I pushing each other every time we step into the gym. Andy coming over to give me a high five after a rough go at 19.2. Sam and C-Rob asking me how I can re evaluate and get after it again. Tyler giving me hard realities. Dave giving me love and guidance. Xylena and Erin walking in the gym after two hours of lifting and staying just to remind everyone how incredible they are. Eva providing me with coaching guidance. Sarah and I making eye contact and breaking out into a dance. Nicole hanging with me at the holiday party doing fireball shots together. I can legit go on for hours.”

He pauses, and we are silent momentarily as he reflects.

“There are so many more people and moments. It’s actually hard to quantify and verbalize just how much almost every person has impacted me in a positive way.”

Justin pauses and puts his fork down. “I can’t emphasize enough how dark of a place I was at for 6-8 months. I felt like it was written all over my face every day. But everything felt erased as I walked through the door. And I didn’t even do anything except show up.”

Humans of Hierarchy - Lily Doerfler
February, 18, 2019

We are all humans. We contain multitudes of layers and beautiful complexities. We maintain a curiosity about the world and the people we see in all settings and environments.

At a CrossFit gym, it’s easy to look around and see one class of athletes completing one workout. Though, the longer we watch and assess, the more we realize that this one class is composed of many individuals with many different talents, stories, and backgrounds. These members are all here for their own reasons. They push themselves using different mindsets and strategies. They possess unique experiences that brought them to where they are.

We all have our reasons for walking into a CrossFit gym for the first time.

We are strong. We are resilient. We are the Humans of Hierarchy.

Today, we meet Lily, her journey, and her consistent determination


Lily moves with grace as she complete a series of toes-to-bar on the rings. It’s a Saturday partner WOD, and she’s linking her movements at an incredible pace. She walks from the rings over to the Med Ball, transitioning easily into Med Ball squats. As she flies through these, I say to her, “Are you even sweating?”

She laughs and smiles, then answers me all the while completing her squats. She’s fast, she’s determined, and she’s physically unphased by this workout.

Back in college, you could find Lily attending 2-3 water polo practices a day around a typical class schedule. She swam most of her life leading up until high school, before getting into water polo and continuing as a collegiate athlete at a Division 1 School.

Fitness has always been part of her journey, and I begin asking her about it after a workout on a beautiful sunny Saturday.

She sits across from me, latte in hand, pausing as she thinks about the start of her CrossFit experience.

“It was around my senior year of college, at a box near my house in Annapolis,” she shares. “I wanted to stay in shape for water polo, mostly.”

This was in 2016, when she found a nearby gym, Twelve Labors, behind a dirty old mechanic shop.

Lily lights up and laughs a little as she describes it. “It was like a TRUE box. Bare bones. Nothing but weights. The entrance was a giant garage door.”

She describes it as intimidating, walking into the space for the first time.“The very first girl that I met was extremely muscular and athletic,” Lily shares.

She tells me about the first workout she remembers: 20 minutes of wallballs; 800 meter runs every time the ball was dropped.

"So…I didn’t drop the ball. I hated running so much,” she says, laughing. “I think I slowly but surely did like, 250 wall balls just to avoid the running part.”

We talk about this particular box, the community, and her initial reactions to CrossFit.

“I thought that it was only for super intense people, like nothing got between them and their workout. I thought it was almost unrealistic. The intensity didn’t seem sustainable.”

Ironically, after that first CrossFit experience, Lily went back to her water polo team that Fall where her coach included short metcons and CrossFit workouts as part of their cross-training.

Lily explains to me, “We would do CrossFit workouts three times per week and then be in the pool six days a week, three hours a day. Half of our practices were conditioning, and half were specifically for water polo skills.”

She describes this time, saying how good she felt and how she was in the best shape of her life.

“I could never eat enough food. I was averaging like ten cookies a day,” she tells me. We laugh together as she sips her coffee.

“You know, I also started to find my stride more then. I enjoyed the workouts more because I was starting to lift heavy and finish all the workouts.”


In May 2016, she graduated and anticipated a shift as her Division 1 athlete days ended. She tells me that most people are so burnt out after the intensity of water polo, they stop working out entirely.

“Your body is in shock. You go from working out every day to doing nothing because you’re so burnt out. Plus, you want to have a life again.”

Despite this trend, Lily was not one of these people and was back to a CrossFit box within a week of graduating.

At this time, she worked in D.C. during the week while living in Annapolis. Lily found a gym for her weekdays and rejoined her former Annapolis gym for the weekends. She describes the D.C. box as unconventional, as it was inside of a hotel.

“I remember getting lost when I first went in; it felt like I went down three levels into the earth to get to it. But I was there every morning at 6 am,” she says proudly.

I pause here, narrating a theme that I see developing. Lily’s athleticism began before college, was tested and pushed during college, and then didn’t tire after. She didn’t take any time off between college and starting work. In fact, she made sure she had two gyms available as she went to and from D.C. and Annapolis.

I say this to her and she smiles. “Well, I’m not a very self-motivated person, but I hold very high expectations of myself. I usually need people to tell me what to do. Because of this, CrossFit workouts really speak to me; there’s both structure and reliability.”

       She goes on. “I felt like I was still working toward something, like everyday I was still competing with myself. I felt like I was doing it to better myself. Working out is like therapy for me; if I don’t do it, I don’t feel right.”

We talk about CrossFit in general and what she likes about it.

“It’s not people working out to change how their body looks- They’re going because they’re moving their body and sweating. It just makes you feel good. It’s a healthy community, but you can still enjoy going out for a beer without beating yourself up about it.”


While Lily’s story could stop here, it doesn’t. She decided that she wasn’t ready to work full-time yet and continued her internship and fitness. At this time, a semi-pro water polo team recruited her to play and coach in Canberra, Australia.

“I hardly had to think about it. I was going to go out there, play, and coach. I thought I was done with water polo, but this seemed to call me back. This was too good an opportunity to pass up.”

Unfortunately, once she was out there, she realized the the fast-paced lifestyle she was expecting didn’t exist. Her promise to play and coach slowly dissipated, and she was left with hardly anything in a middle-of-nowhere town in Australia.

She describes this time as dark and hard, as her expectation and possible future for this opportunity crumbled.

“I was in a foreign country, in the middle of nowhere, with nothing to fill my days. It changed so fast and I felt like the rug was pulled out from under me,” she tells me. “I had nothing to do and nowhere to go.”

Naturally, the first thing that came to Lily’s mind was to find a CrossFit box.

“I knew that I wouldn’t sink if I found good workouts, a good community, and some sort of schedule,” she says to me. “In that order.”

So she did just this; 9:30 every morning, Lily attended a class “full of mom’s and their kids.”

“The community was good, and it provided me with some connections. I interviewed to work at Lulu lemon at the time because there was a CrossFit coach there who was a brand ambassador and gave me the idea to apply. I started doing workouts with Lulu Lemon people at the gym and made some friendly acquaintances.”

She laughs, recalling a time where she almost got bitten by a wolf spider mid-WOD.

"Boxes there were a little different…it was just a little danger added to my workout that day,” she says, smiling.

She sits back in her chair and pauses for a moment. “It’s funny, now that I’m looking back at this time and reflecting, it really was CrossFit that made me feel anchored and grounded at a time when I was floating.”

She tells me about how this time reinforced her relationship with fitness.

“In College, everything was so high stakes. If I had a misstep , I was off the team or I lost my scholarship. Fitness was attached to something slightly threatening. When I was in Australia, I began to feel a transition; fitness became more positive and my relationship with it changed.”


I ask Lily if she’s every taken a break from CrossFit. She talks about a backpacking trip through Asia where she took a “necessary break” from it while traveling.

“Once I was back though, I moved to D.C. for work and knew that I had to find a CrossFit gym immediately.”

She pauses. “I know the way CrossFit makes me feel. Even retelling this, I’m reminded of what a priority it was at all phases of the last few years.:”

She dropped into a CrossFit Hierarchy class and left as a full member.

“I remember thinking and feeling, ‘Yes; feels good. Let’s do this.’”

Dave was one of the first people she met and she shares having a good feeling about the community.

“It felt friendlier than other gyms. You could tell people were friends, but it wasn’t cliquey.”

She talks about her nostalgia for being on a team.

“I love partner workouts because I still get that team feel,” she says. “Rob always says, ‘okay team, let’s go’ and it reminds me of what I love. Plus, it holds you accountable.”

Lily attends morning or in the evenings at 6 or 7 pm.

“You can have the shittiest day ever, but going to the gym can be something positive to turn the day around. It’s why I like to go at night- it caps the day nicely. Then you really earn your shower” she adds, laughing.

“There are certain aspects of the gym that work for people. You can pick and choose what you buy into. You can scale anything. You can come do your workout and leave and it’s fine. You can come and stick around and socialize and that’s fine too. There’s a broad spectrum of people and reasons and I like it there. There’s variety and an opportunity to have a different gym experience than other gyms. That’s what makes it worth the money.”

We talk more about the people and the community at Hierarchy.

“It’s okay if you’re super social and it’s okay if you’re not. Everyone is there for a different reason.”

We start winding down and I ask her about advice she’d give someone just beginning.

“I think it’s common to feel awkward and nervous at the beginning; but honestly, no one is looking. Be happy to simply show up. Half the battle is getting there. Once you’re there, it gets easier each day. One workout I might scale and do singles instead of doubles. But I’m there and that feels good.”

She tells me about her schedule and talks about her own determination in relation to new CrossFitters.

“You’ll never regret a workout. Even if you feel shitty during it, it feels good to go and move and see people.”

She pauses, then exhales and says, “Going to a workout makes me feel like I’m coming home. It makes me feel like I’m walking into a house where all of my friends are waiting. That’s what CrossFit is for me.”

Humans of Hierarchy - Ellen Kortesoja
January, 22, 2019

We are all humans. We contain multitudes of layers and beautiful complexities. We maintain a curiosity about the world and the people we see in all settings and environments.

       At a CrossFit gym, it’s easy to look around and see one class of athletes completing one workout. Though, the longer we watch and assess, the more we realize that this one class is composed of many individuals with many different talents, stories, and backgrounds. These members are all here for their own reasons. They push themselves using different mindsets and strategies. They possess unique experiences that brought them to where they are.

We all have our reasons for walking into a CrossFit gym for the first time.

We are strong. We are resilient. We are the Humans of Hierarchy.

Today, we meet Ellen, who describes CrossFit as her “humbling, educational, and familial journey.”


The wonderful part of sharing a story is that it can take many forms. Previously, athletes have shared their story and agree to have it written in a narrative form. Today, Ellen shares with us her own writing about her CrossFit story:

I live off of this type of high: a synchronization when everything is working perfectly. I forget any insecurity about myself and my physical limits and just operate. I feel like part of the whole organism, and it’s easy and flowing.

Fitness wasn’t always this way for me--it’s been a tumultuous relationship.

Sports were the first thing I can remember thriving in as a kid. I grew up playing them without hesitation or question. I always made the teams. I always had this natural ability, and it continuously gave me confidence that I could walk in and compete.

Sports were also the avenue to keep up with my big brother. Before I was even running around a soccer field at a young age, I was monkeying around the metal jungle beneath many ice hockey bleachers looking for lost pucks. My older brother played competitive travel hockey and pretty much excelled at everything else he tried. When our family would get together with aunts and uncles, my brother would play frisbee keep-away with our cousins, and therefore, I had to learn to play frisbee. He would play and win ‘knockout’ basketball games, so I needed to be able to play knockout. I had the great ambition of a determined little sister.

Unfortunately, after playing about ten years of multiple sports, I tore my meniscus playing division three college volleyball. I decided to hang up the jerseys, so to speak. That’s when I felt my life change. I had this question: What am I when I’m not associated as a part of a team? Tribeless and traumatized, I refocused myself in academics.

Since this change in priorities, I have had a tricky relationship with fitness--one that didn’t bring me joy in the way that playing competitive sports once did.

After leaving Michigan in 2013 as a washed up ex-athlete with no further competitive thrills beyond social sports leagues, I aimlessly floated from one Average Joe’s gym to another while living in D.C.

I signed up for anything I could get my hands on. Dodgeball, kickball, softball, basketball, soccer, flag football--I’ve playedthem all in the District. However, in my young twenties, I realized that drinking is actually the main event in many of these organized leagues. It didn’t feed my love for athleticism and community as much as I’d imagined.

From the YMCAs to the Washington Sports Clubs and finally at VIDA Fitness, I have also been a member of many gyms. I can’t fault these places for what they do or don’t offer, but as someone who couldn’t justify spending $100+ on personal training sessions multiples times per week, I was left to my own devices.

I vividly remember at this time how I felt. I would leave for the gym and be frustrated on my walk there, trying to figure out what I should do in order to maximize my time. I would often leave frustrated, too. I usually felt like I hadn’t done enough.

I felt like I’d exited the comfortable safety of a goals-oriented competitive sporting lifestyle. I realized that there was simply too much that I didn’t know. How could I formulate new and informed goals for myself and my fitness? And then, how do I know what to do in order to achieve those goals?

Then, I found Crossfit.

The first box that Tim (my partner in crime) and I found in D.C. was like a breath of fresh air for me. All I had to do is show up for a workout and knowledgeable coaches were there to guide me. I saw and felt changes in my body quickly, and realized I had never known how great it felt to be physically strong. CrossFit has given me back my fitness determination.

After this first box closed, Tim and I gym-shopped for a short time. CrossFit Hierarchy was an easy choice. The classes and coaching were form and technique-driven, friendly and inclusive. Immediately we wanted to become part of the Hierarchy family.  It reminded me of my own family: weird, loud, and everyone making each other better.

Finding Crossfit has meant finding a lot of good stuff I have been missing, along with some new things. I am humbled to learn the deficiencies in my body after a grueling workout. I pay more attention when different parts speak up--letting me know what needs more attention. It’s both a personal and a collective journey.

Crossfit always reminds me of what it felt like to walk into the gym for practice. Picking up where you left off, talking with teammates, preparing your mind and body for the work ahead. It reminded me of starting a new season with a team. First, there are small interactions. Then, they happen gradually until all of a sudden, you’re just pals. You can’t put your finger on when it happened, but now you are high-fiving and shouting encouragement across the gym.

Finally, Crossfit has brought me closer to my brother. We had one of those too-close-in-age relationships early on that sporadically devolved into emotional or physical battles. But as adults, he picked up Crossfit first and then nagged at me for years until I gave in--knowing, I think, that it would fill a void for me.

Now, on family vacations, we’re dropping into boxes, doing benchmark workouts in his Grand Rapids garage gym, or incorporating swimming to a sandbar on Lake Michigan beaches in an AMRAP. Becoming actual buds with your sibling (especially if they’re your only) as an adult, I imagine, is like finding out you have a secret stash of money you never knew about. And CrossFit has, in part, inspired this change.

Sports, often times, are a race to the end--quite literally. Inching forward just enough to rise above an opponent. Either you are a winner or a loser. CrossFit can also be this. But for me, I’m hoping it is much more of a mutual, long-term relationship. I see people making a lifelong commitment to CrossFit, and I want that. I want to feel the highs and the lows, and support everyone I’ve met along the way to the same degree I have felt wholeheartedly felt supported at Hierarchy.

Humans of Hierarchy - Austyn Adams
December, 17, 2018

We are all humans. We contain multitudes of layers and beautiful complexities. We maintain a curiosity about the world and the people we see in all settings and environments.

       At a CrossFit gym, it’s easy to look around and see one class of athletes completing one workout. Though, the longer we watch and assess, the more we realize that this one class is composed of many individuals with many different talents, stories, and backgrounds. These members are all here for their own reasons. They push themselves using different mindsets and strategies. They possess unique experiences that brought them to where they are.

We all have our reasons for walking into a CrossFit gym for the first time.

We are strong. We are resilient. We are the Humans of Hierarchy.

Today, we meet Austyn, his reasons, and his story.


Austyn walks over to the pile of weights and selects a heavy dumbbell. I watch as he attaches it to a metal belt, preparing to begin a series of weighted ring dips. As he begins, his eyes focus straight ahead. He goes through each rep with grace and power as others standing by cheer him on.

A task like this wasn’t always enjoyable for Austyn. Growing up, athleticism was nearly expected from him with a sister in soccer, and two brothers playing both baseball and football.

“Growing up, I played baseball, but I didn’t really find it all that interesting or enjoyable,” Austyn tells me after finishing an intense strength workout at Open Gym.

“I quit baseball because I didn’t like it, but it was tough because I was so small,” he says.

His parents were consistent in their encouragement for him to partake in sports, and he felt some pressure because of the physical status of all of his siblings.

After taking a break from sports for a while, Austyn began playing basketball. He shares that his dad, also in the navy, was not around a lot and didn’t often attend Austyn’s games. He describes “a pivotal moment” for him and his relationship with sports during a basketball game that his dad attended unexpectedly.

“I remember wanting to impress him so badly. I was so nervous that he was standing on the sidelines and watching, that I actually threw up. It was then that I realized that I was only playing to sport because I felt obligated, and like I had to do it for other people, not because I enjoyed it.”

“I was really small in High School. I was 6 feet and about 115 pounds. It was hard for a while, because my parents would say that I looked sickly and that I needed to play sports or join a gym,” he says, laughing.

Austyn recounts this tension between having others encourage him to play sports but not finding any enjoyment out of it. He describes his relationship with fitness in college as “without direction.”

“I went to LSU and as freshman, went to the gym regularly. But I didn’t eat well and never felt engaged in my workouts,” says Austyn. At this time, Austyn’s brothers had become a Navy sailor and body builder respectively, and sister a full-time nurse. “I felt even further from my family and how my parents wanted me to fit into it.”

One day in college, Austyn saw a post on his school’s Facebook page about a new CrossFit gym opening soon.

“I didn’t know exactly what it was; to me it was people moving weight around. I actually thought more negative things at first; I associated CrossFit with people not moving right and getting injured often.”

Curious, he watched videos covering the Open, finding that he was intrigued by the workouts and the athletes. He decided to attend a Foundations class and see what CrossFit was like for himself.

“I still remember my first workout,” he says, chuckling. “Seven minute AMRAP of seven thrusters with an empty bar and then 7 burpees. I made it through two rounds and then felt like I was going to puke.”

It was in this moment where the negative presumptions around CrossFit lifted for Austyn:

“The coach came over to me and told me to stop. He stood and talked with me about my experience and the importance of knowing your own limits, especially when first starting out in Crossfit.”

Austyn explains that this was a turning point for him. He felt cared for and he felt like he was seen and safely assessed by this particular coach.

“It felt like he cared about my wellbeing and was there to make sure that I did everything right so that I didn’t hurt myself.”

Austyn began attending workouts three times a week for the first year, feeling himself getting stronger, both mentally and physically. He moved to D.C. for law school and grad school which caused a small hiatus in his Crossfit journey, but then joined CrossFit Hierarchy. Admittedly, he shares that his start at Hierarchy was somewhat inconsistent due to the demands of school.

“Hierarchy was really welcoming. I loved the gym that I first attended, but walking into Hierarchy was like walking into a family,” he says with a smile.

The community and his own personal motivation got Austyn attending workouts four to five times a week after his first semester of law school. He realized that he finally felt that he had an affinity for working out, which fueled his desire to fit in workouts around his intense law school schedule.

“I finally felt connected to fitness. The gym made me happy and I began prioritizing it, even over some of my friendships. Fitness was finally important to me.”

Austyn talks about the physical and mental gains he made, especially in his strength and overall endurance. He explains that he felt a mental shift too, even in his law school efforts. What was most notable about this part of his story was that he connected his physical gains to his feelings of connectivity within this community.

“The members are like family to me. We each push each other to be our best selves, which is something I really feel and like,” Austyn tells me.

“I noticed having this extreme personal growth as I got closer to the people and the coaches. I got more comfortable with myself and with asking them questions,” he says to me. “The coaches here seem to care more than any coaches I’ve experienced. They take time to listen to us and go the extra mile without being asked.”

He erupts in a smile as he tells me about some of his experiences with the coaches at Hierarchy.

“Eva isn’t my personal coach, but sometimes it feels like that with how much she helps me,” he laughs. “She helped me train for Fesitivus, a competition I did. She really pays attention to my abilities and pushes me just the right amount.”

Austyn details the different styles of the coaches and how the combination fuels his progress as an athlete at CrossFit Hierarchy.

“Dave’s vision and attention to detail is amazing. And Tyler has this way of pushing me to do things he knows I can do, but that I never thought I could,” he shares. “Each coach offers something different, so that there is always encouragement, even when I’m the last person struggling to finish a workout.”

He explains that this extends outside of just the coaches as well. “I rely a lot on the knowledge and experience of other athletes in they gym too, like Andrew for the minutia of body mechanics and injury rehab, or Xy for outside-of-the-box tips on completing a movement. No matter who it is in the gym, you really realize that they can teach you something you didn’t know before.”


Currently, Austyn is driven by the question, “How can I get better?” He’s participated in two competitions, describing it as rewarding.

“I like the feeling of competitions because they make me see and feel all of the ways that I can grow and get better. It took doing a competition to realize how much I can work on as an athlete.”

Austyn describes going from feeling no connection to fitness, to currently attending workouts seven times a week, twice on Sundays for barbell then open gym, and twice Thursdays for the WOD and then evening open gym.

“It’s not just a fitness thing. It clears my head. It feels like I’m with a family away from my family.”

When asked about giving advice to those who may feel hesitant about CrossFit, Austyn describes the importance of having an open mind.

“You’re going to hit things you don’t understand. You have to figure that everyone starts somewhere. Just because you do something wrong doesn’t mean you can’t get better at it or fix it. My max deadlift used to be 105 pounds, now I’m creeping up on 400. Seeing the growth I’ve made since then shows that you don’t have to be good at something to start it.”

Austyn and I wrap up our conversation by celebrating the transformation of fitness over the years for him.

“CrossFit ended up building for me a self confidence that I never had,” he shares. “You have to give it a chance. You have to look around and realize there are all different kinds of people working out. You have to realize that you’re not alone. Especially at Hierarchy.”

Humans of Hierarchy - Andy Carton
November, 19, 2018

We are all humans. We contain multitudes of layers and beautiful complexities. We maintain a curiosity about the world and the people we see in all settings and environments.

At a CrossFit gym, it’s easy to look around and see one class of athletes completing one workout. Though, the longer we watch and assess, the more we realize that this one class is composed of many individuals with many different talents, stories, and backgrounds. These members are all here for their own reasons. They push themselves using different mindsets and strategies. They possess unique experiences that brought them to where they are.

We all have our reasons for walking into a CrossFit gym for the first time.

We are strong. We are resilient. We are the Humans of Hierarchy.

Today, we meet Andy, his reasons, and his resiliency.


The music is loud and the energy high. The board to the left shows the daily workout, which consists of hang power cleans, wall balls and toes to bar. The scene is almost mesmerizing as athletes go through the movements.

Andy is near the center of the room, surrounded by other members. He cycles a series of hang power cleans together, eyes locked straight ahead as he completes them. It’s almost machine-like, as his movements vary little during each transition into and out of each power clean. He drops the bar and walks to his wall ball, beginning his set instantly, not pausing for a second to rest.

It’s November 2018. Four years ago, Andy wasn’t part of CrossFit.

In 2014, Andy toiled away as a legislative aide and campaign worker during a six-year career in state politics. Though he didn’t find personal enjoyment in the work, he managed to run a statewide campaign by the time he was twenty-eight years old. Success came to him, but not at a healthy price.

“I hated it so much that at one point, I actually voted against my boss,” Andy says, laughing.

He describes the work as stressful and time-consuming, leaving him unhealthy in other aspects of his life. Managing the stress for Andy meant excessive eating and drinking. He led a lifestyle that didn’t leave him healthy or happy. Until 2014, he didn’t always think it was in his control to change it.

“I used to have chest pains pretty regularly, but I didn’t think it was that bad,” says Andy.

At this time, he was nearly 300 pounds.“I felt terrible, but I thought that was normal. It wasn’t until I found another way of living that I realized how bad things were.”

So begun the process of Andy’s journey toward a healthier life.

This journey involved joining a local CrossFit gym after encouragement from a friend, quitting his work in politics, and pursuing a career in Psychology. Andy transitioned into a more active lifestyle as well life as a full-time student at George Washington University’s Psy D. Program.

I sit across from Andy as he talks to me about this transitional time. I ask about what inner motivation and determination sparked during this major lifestyle change.

“I had a difficult childhood. I was in foster care for a short time, but those challenges fostered a great deal of strength,” he says. “All I ever wanted to do with my life was use that strength to help people. I found that I had an opportunity to reboot my life; I could change careers and start a new chapter.”

And this is exactly what he did.

Walking into the CrossFit gym for the first time in Bethesda, Maryland felt “crazy intimidating” to Andy. He tells me this, smiling.

“There was this inner voice that told me that I didn’t belong there. I imagine this is a voice that a lot of people have, especially with CrossFit. It can be really intimidating,” he says.

As a fellow CrossFit member and peer to Andy, and therefore having had the experience of fear and intimidation myself, I ask what kept him there and kept him coming back day after day.

“There was a certain defiance to it all,” he says. “This constant urge to quit because of the voice that told me that I was too heavy to do this. I couldn’t do a pull-up or run 400 meters, but I understood that hardship is the only path to strength, and just kept going.”

He describes the pride he felt leaving a workout each day.

“I think I was most proud of coming in last in a workout but then showing up again the next day.”

Resiliency, formed from experience and mindset, fueled his days.

“The progress almost felt accidental,” Andy describes. “I had great supports in my wife and the community at the gym.”

He took time to tend to his health, adjusting his diet and remaining consistent with workouts. At point, a few months in, Andy thought, ‘Let’s see how far I can take this.’”

Having nothing at stake and feeling as if his life was getting more on course, he did just that. Slowly, he began noticing workouts where he’d finish first, ending before someone who he’d never imagined beating in a timed workout. This developed as Andy’s grad program demanded more and more of his emotions and time.

“The Psy. D program was challenging at this time, and I saw it impact peers’ lives and health. I felt and still feel strongly about physical and emotional health as inseparable things. I wasn’t going to let my academic life diminish my athletic life. CrossFit was a great outlet for me during graduate school.”

Andy erupts in a smile as I ask about big moments during this time. He tells me, almost too casually, that he finished and ranked 45th for Men in DC in the 2017 CrossFit Open.

He describes this Open, smiling, naming it the proudest moment of his life. He says, “the imposter syndrome disappeared during that Open; I no longer doubted if I belonged. This was the first Open that I participated in and the first time that I got a muscle up.”

“There was no luck to it,” he tells me. “Just work.”


But Andy’s story doesn’t stop there.

Suddenly, in June 2017, Andy’s younger sister passed away, unexpectedly. She was twenty-three years old and about to graduate with her degree in Social Work.

“It was the worst thing that’s ever happened to me,” Andy shares.

He took three months off from the gym, leaving his gym in Petworth.

“I remember that I had a competition that weekend, and I had to tell my teammates that I wouldn’t be able to compete or show.”

Andy looks down at the table in front of us, pausing before continuing.

“I had no appetite and no energy. I wasn’t ready to give up, but I slipped back into eating and drinking poorly.”

He had a friend who would sent him orders of Territory meals, trying to help Andy get back on his feet and back to his health. He tells me that this was one of the hardest things he’s ever gone through, to date.

“Somehow, starting over was actually more challenging than starting back in 2014,” he says. “It was more difficult to have it, then lose it,” he shares, describing the difficulty of returning after losing his sister. He credits the way CrossFit fosters community in helping him recover.

In January 2018, Andy came to CrossFit Hierarchy.

“This community is special because no matter how bad things get, whether it’s a brutal workout, or a major tragedy, you’re going through it together.”

I ask him what an important theme during this time was, during this return to life after losing his sister. He looks up and says, “Well, what’s important to realize is this: I can set and meet goals despite setbacks and tragedy. I can continue to demonstrate resilience.”


Currently, you can find Andy working out at CrossFit Hierarchy in the evenings, around his Psychology program demands. Since losing his sister and having major exams for his program, Andy has begun his focus again on CrossFit, “trying to get back to where I was.”

When asked further, he tells me, “I’m trying to get back to where I was.”

With a small spark in his eye, he looks at me and states, “I think I am nearly there.”

He shares his goal for the next Open and for his future, saying he wishes to “do as well as I felt in the Open in 2017”, during which he finished 53rd for Men in DC.

He shares that he can see himself coaching eventually, “marrying two interests of fitness and mental health.”

We talk about the natural pairing of these two concepts and how it doesn’t always feel easy, especially within the CrossFit community.

“Over the years, I’ve seen so many people left behind- people get intimidated, quitting or finishing last and feeling discouraged,” he says. “I feel like I have a lot to offer. I know what it’s like to be on both sides.”

He feels the community and connection at CrossFit Hierarchy and describes his experience.

“This is the only gym where coaches don’t have to tell people not put their stuff away before everyone finishes. It’s one of the first things I noticed after joining.”


Andy and his journey represent the truest definition of resiliency, coming back from personal and physical setbacks, only to better himself and his health. He combines his passions and his determination and demonstrates to athletes everywhere the power of showing up.

He leaves us with this:

“What people need to realize about CrossFit is that it’s not an individual project. We show up and we pay this money for more than equipment. We pay for the comradery, the community and to suffer together.”

2018 CrossFit Open
February, 06, 2018

Its that time of year again folks, the 2018 CrossFit Open is just around the corner!

The coaches at Hierarchy cant wait to see how all of you do this year and are hoping to make this year the best one yet. Full details on how we will be running it this year, but make sure you head to to sign up!

What is it?

The Open is a yearly challenge put on by CrossFit HQ. Once a week for 5 weeks CrossFit HQ will release one workout, and athletes from around the world will have 4 days to compete the workout and submit their scores online. Athletes are assigned a judge for their workout to count their reps and encourage them through the process.

Why should you participate?

The Open is an amazing opportunity for athletes to challenge themselves and push their limits. Because the workout standards are set by CrossFit HQ, athletes attempt new movements or skills they might not normally try for. Every year we watch our athletes get their first pull-up, their first toes-to-bar, or set a PR for an clean or snatch, all in a supportive and encouraging atmosphere.

How will it be organized at Hierarchy?

Workouts are announced at 8pm each Thursday, starting on February 22nd. Athletes will have 3 opportunities to complete the workout:

Thursdays at 8pm Open Gym

Fridays from 5-8pm.  Normal classes will be cancelled, we will run continuous heats of the workout starting at 5pm, non-Open people are welcome. This is a chance to complete your workout, then hang out and watch others go at it or judge a workout for your friends.

Sundays at 1-3pm Open Gym

How to sign up?

To sign up for the CrossFit Open, go to and register. Registering costs $20. Make sure to list CrossFit Hierarchy as your gym!


We can’t to see the amazing things you all will do this year, so sign up soon!

2018 Nutrition Challenge
January, 21, 2018

Hello Hierarchy,

The coaches are pleased to announce the third CrossFit Hierarchy Nutrition Challenge! The nutrition challenge is an 8-week program designed to educate our members on proper nutrition and support your fellow athletes in improving their eating habits. The goal of this program is to empower you all to make long term positive changes to your diet, as opposed to a brief system-diet or cleanse. Many of you have completed our previous nutrition challenges, and we are excited to continually evolve the program based on your feedback. Whether you are old hand or totally new, there is plenty to learn so read on for more about the program and how to sign up!

Program Details:

What: CrossFit Hierarchy has once again teamed up with our friends at Composition ID to host the 8 week challenge, which will coincide with the CrossFit Open this year. Composition ID will provide the following for participants:

  • 2 DEXA scans per registrant (before and after, please read this blog post explaining what a DEXA scan actually is and how it is utilized)

  • 1 90 minute Nutrition Seminar, led by Nutritionist Daira Duric

  • Weekly Nutrition newsletter content to be distributed to participants

  • A report of the registrants’ final body composition changes over the course of the 6 week challenge (increase/loss of lean mass, increase/loss of fat mass, + relative change in body composition)

  • Coach Christine will also create/re-open the Facebook group for everyone to share recipes and support eachother.


  • Baseline scans: January 30- February 3

  • Post scans: April 1- April 7

  • Nutrition Seminar: February 10, 3-4:30pm at H1.


  • 2 DEXA scans = $159, to be paid directly to Composition ID through the link provided

  • Nutrition Seminars= $0

Sign Up:

  • Please sign at the direct scheduling link here

Why its Important:

  • Same reasons as last year- too many to list. This isn’t a “21-day fix”, rather an opportunity for you to learn about how to eat for strength and performance, how to increase lean muscle mass while maintaining or decreasting body fat, and the relationship between nutrition and fitness. It is also a great opportunity to have the support of the Hierarchy community before and during the 2018 CrossFit Open. Finally, of course, we put in a lot of work at the gym and we want our bodies to reflect that!

For any additional questions related to Composition ID you can reach out directly to Eva Meier at For questions related to anything else, please reach out to Christine at:


Your Coaches

Injury Prevention Clinic
January, 05, 2018

We are pleased to announce that on January 28th Melanie Smith will be hosting a second Injury Prevention clinic here at CrossFit Hierarchy! Mel, a rehab therapist current working for the VA, hosted a excellent session last year and we have gotten a ton of requests to do another.

This session will focus specifically on Shoulder Prehab, our most popular request following the first session. Full details are below, but please note: This session will be capped at 25 attendees and can be signed up for on Front Desk like a normal class.

When: Sunday, January 28th from 3-4:30pm

What to Expect: Review proper shoulder mechanics at rest and with lifting, learn techniques to improve mobility and flexibility, perform exercises to strengthen the shoulder.

What to Bring: If you have a lacrosse ball or foam roller, please bring along, otherwise, we’ll share,

Cost: $10 per person, payable directly to Mel. Cash, check, or Venmo all accepted.

Hope to see you all there, please contact if you have any questions!


-The Coaches


December Holiday Hours
December, 11, 2017

Hi All,

Happy Holidays! The holiday schedule for CrossFit Hierarchy will be:


Adams Morgan Location:

Christmas Day: CLOSED

December 26: 10am, 5/6/7pm

New Years Day: 11am and Noon

Ivy City Location:

Christmas Day: CLOSED

New Years Day: 10am and 11am


Please contact with any questions!

November Announcements
October, 30, 2017

Hello Crossfit Hierarchy,

Its hard to believe its almost the end of the year, but before we move on to 2018 we have a few exciting annoucements for you for the end of the year!

Barbell for Boobs

Tomorrow is the final day to donate to Barbells for Boobs! Thank you again to all of you that have donated and attended. We have raised $1,542 so far and I for one cant wait to see Tyler row 500+ calories. Timelapse video will be taken. If you have not donated year, please consider doing so here.

Schedule Changes

Starting this week (October 30th), Ther are two important scheduling changes which will begin this week (October 30th). These changes are:

  1. Open Gym on Thursdays – In response to member request for more open gym availability, we will be replacing the Thursday 8-9pm class with an Open Gym session. This time will function the same as Open Gym on Sundays, wherein members are welcome to attend and work on skill, movement, or workout they choose. Those who would like to attend and simply do the Thursday workout are also welcome! Additionality, It is our hope to be able to use this time moving forward to offer more varied one-off clinics, such as gymnastic, rowing, or injury prevention
  2. Removal of Noon Classes on Saturdays – Due to consistently low attendance numbers, we will be removing the noon class from the Saturday schedules. Ten and eleven AM classes will continue as usual, while the F3 and Free Classes will be moved up to the Noon slot.

We are always open to feedback, so you have any questions or concerns regarding the changes (or requests for other changes), please do not hesitate to contact me at

The 2017 Gobble Gauntlet

Finally, for the second year in a row, CrossFit Hierarchy will be hosting an intra-box competition! On Saturday, November 18th we will be hosting the Gobble Gauntlet at CrossFit Hierarchy Ivy City. Like last year, it will be a partner’s competition with Rx and Scaled divisions competing in three WODs over the course of the morning. Find a partner and sign up here now! 

After the competition we will be hosting a potluck at H2 to celebrate their three year anniversary! Cant wait to see you all there.

Its been a great year at the gym already and we cant wait to finish it out in style.


Barbells for Boobs Recap
October, 26, 2017

Barbells for Boobs is one of our favorite events at Hierarchy each year, and this year was no exception. This event more than any other we run showcases just how amazing our community is. The event this weekend was an absolute blast from start to finish, and I cannot thank all of you who came out, donated, competed, and or cheered on enough.

One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. With that heavy knowledge I’m so proud to say that right now CrossFit Hierarchy has officially hit our fundraising goal of $1,500! The $1,512 will go towards providing early detection screenings and post-diagnosis support to patients regardless of age, race, or economic disposition. Thank you all so, so much. We will be continuing to collect donations through the end of the month, so if you haven’t donated yet please consider doing here. Reminder, every dollar over $1,000 that we raise is another calorie Tyler has to row!

Finally, we have a few awards to hand out from the weekend! Our winners in each category were:

Women’s Rx: Anna

Men’s Rx: Chris Holcombe

Women’s Scaled: Anne Giebel

Men’s Scaled: Kenneth Rub

Congrats to all the winners, you’ll have some swag coming your way soon!

Thank you all again, and we can’t wait for next year!

Barbells for Boobs 2017
September, 17, 2017

We are pleased to announce that CrossFit Hierarchy will be hosting our Fourth Annual Barbells for Boobs event on October 21, 2017! We invite everyone to join us to perform the workout Grace and see the best of the community that makes CrossFit Hierarchy so special.

For those of you who are not familiar, Barbells for Boobs is our annual breast cancer fundraiser. Barbells for Boobs is a non-profit organization supporting the early detection and post-diagnosis support of breast cancer for all, regardless of age, gender, income, or insurance status.

This is our fourth year of the event, and we hope to make it our biggest yet. Anyone who wishes to participate in the workout, or just support a wonderful cause, can donate here on our fundraising page

 Thank you in advance for helping make a difference and we look forward to seeing you on October 21st!