gym events

“It was Pandemonium”: A Lesson from a Gym Grand Opening Nightmare

Planning a gym grand opening is an exciting adventure, but what happens when it doesn't go as planned? Here's one gym owner's tale of managing the chaos!

Emily Beers
March 27, 2024
“It was Pandemonium”: A Lesson from a Gym Grand Opening Nightmare
Planning a gym grand opening is an exciting adventure, but what happens when it doesn't go as planned? Here's one gym owner's tale of managing the chaos!

The year was 2012. Staci Russell and her husband Bill were preparing for an epic event. The gym grand opening for CrossFit Cleveland in Rocky River, OH would introduce their new location to the community. For the Russells, it was a celebration of how far they’d come as gym owners.

Staci is a self-proclaimed, “have fun kind of girl.” She was a smoker and drinker before Bill introduced her to CrossFit in 2007. And from that point forward, she was hooked.

Back then, most people had never heard of CrossFit. So Staci and Bill set their sights on spreading the word. They started offering weekly workouts in the park, open to anyone who wanted to attend.

CrossFit Cleveland gym grand opening
Members of the current CrossFit Cleveland gym community. (Photo credit: CrossFit Cleveland)

“We made our own equipment,” Staci recalled. “Boxes and medicine balls made from basketballs. The first medicine balls we filled with pennies, and then we realized that was kind of dumb. There was no Rogue back then, so it was a lot of DIY. It was just, put on your boots and figure this out.”

Next Step: Opening a New Gym.

As the park workouts gained popularity, the Russells started to dream big. And in 2012, after securing their location, they were off and running with opening a gym.

Then they began planning their gym grand opening and the stage was set for an unforgettable day. More than one hundred people had RSVP’d to attend. The inaugural workout was Fight Gone Bad. And all the proceeds would go to a family whose child had special needs.

In addition, the Russells were expecting a couple of incredibly special guests. CrossFit Games athlete Julie Foucher and CrossFit founder Greg Glassman were also scheduled to attend.

When the Gym Grand Opening went Sideways.

Everything seemed to be ready to go. But out of nowhere, a snowstorm hit the area. If that wasn’t bad enough, it was around 10:00am when the building’s sewers started backing up.

“So now we don't have bathrooms and it’s just chaotic in there,” Staci said.

Some of the gym grand opening attendees began heading out into the snowstorm to go to the bathroom in the nearby woods. Others trudged down the street to a nearby Starbucks. Eventually, in the midst of endless Fight Gone Bad heats, the police showed up.

“I’m there talking to the police, trying to tell the cops what’s going on,” Staci laughed. “Poop is flying all over the place. It was pandemonium. And then I see four or five big SUVs hauling down the road.”

Glassman and his posse had arrived.

In the moment, it seemed like a nightmare. It definitely wasn’t the way the Russells wanted to celebrate their gym grand opening. But looking back, Staci says it made for a hilarious story. Further, it bonded her gym community and they still talk about it to this day.

CrossFit group class workout
Members working out during a group class at CrossFit Cleveland. (Photo credit: CrossFit Cleveland)

And despite the chaos, CrossFit Cleveland raised $16,000 dollars that day, including what Staci said was a “a very, very generous donation” from Glassman.

A Lesson about Finding Gym Space.

When the Russells were looking for new gym space, they were told the building they were eyeing had been sitting empty for more than a decade. What they didn’t know was that, during that time, a tree root had lodge itself into the sewer system.

So when the bathrooms were being used consistently during the gym grand opening, it backed up the whole system.

“The sewer system is all screwed up to this day,” Staci said.

As a result, she has some advice for other gym owners that may be looking for new gym space. First, avoid old buildings whenever possible. Second, insist on a building inspection to be proactive about what you’re getting into. And finally, understand that things will go sideways. Who knows? Your event might just make for a great story later on.

Pro Tip: Want to find out how PushPress products can help you in every stage of running your gym? Book a demo with our team today to find out more!

With a Crazy Gym Grand Opening in the Rearview, the Russells are Focused Forward.

One of the best parts of this story is the longevity in success the Russells have achieved with their business. The couple owns one of the few remaining affiliates that opened in 2007 still flourishing under its original ownership.

Staci and Bill Russell, owners of CrossFit Cleveland
Staci and Bill Russell, owners of CrossFit Cleveland. (Photo credit: CrossFit Cleveland)

Now in her 50s, Staci is paving the way. Still coaching about ten hours each week, she’s proving that coaching isn’t just a young person’s game. Her team consists of one full-time coach and three part-timers, who share the rest of the class load.

Now, her biggest passion is nutrition and lifestyle coaching. A Precision Nutrition coach, Staci also works with Healthy Steps Nutrition to offer nutrition coaching to her clients. She believes this is why she and Bill are still running the business, 17 years later. They’ve come a long way from that chaotic gym grand opening more than a decade ago.

“Bill and I love what we do,” she said. “We really just cherish helping people. So I think (we’re still doing this) because of our love of helping people, and changing lives.”

Emily Beers

Emily Beers is a health, fitness and nutrition writer. She has also been coaching fitness at MadLab School of Fitness in Vancouver, B.C. since 2009.

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