As months go, April is a busy time to be a teacher. This year it will be even more frenetic for English teachers Sybille Blitgen and Mandy Loes as they launch the Iron Sparks CrossFit box.
The two CrossFit fanatics came up with the idea to open their own gym after Mandy, a former gymnastics champion, developed and shared a series of fitness programmes requiring no equipment, during the first lockdown.
“At one stage, we said it would be awesome to develop this this more and make it bigger,” said Blitgen. The two Luxembourgers ran with the idea, and began the process of acquiring affiliate status to the CrossFit franchise. CrossFit was established in the US in 2000 as a multidisciplinary fitness and healthy lifestyle company. It has since expanded globally and today there are thought to be more than 13,000 CrossFit gyms or boxes around the world. The “Iron Sparks” box, named in a nod to the Arbed heritage of the area where the gym is based, is thought to be the eighth box to open in Luxembourg and the only one to opne in a school.
Blitgen credits this to the generosity of Lycée Bel-Val, the college where she works, which granted them exclusive use of a disused outdoor basketball court for classes. Loes said: “The whole idea was to have it in the school is because we want young people to be involved in it,” said Loes.
Blitgen added: “They [the college] also gave us the budget to start this, which is unbelievably kind of them because they believe in what we’re offering and what we stand for.”
A different point of view
What they stand for is a clear ambition to encourage as diverse a membership as possible.
During school hours, the box will offer classes to students, complementing their weekly two-hours of physical education. After 3pm it will be open to the paying public. Regardless of the time, Iron Sparks will be marketed as an adaptive-athlete friendly gym, members of which will be encouraged and supported in the recently expanded category list of Crossfit competitions.
“If we really want to achieve inclusivity, we need to make sure that everyone can take part in the same class at the same time without being judged. And that, to me, is not a given, not just here in this country, I need to make that clear, but in most parts of the world,” said Blitgen.
As the sister of someone with Down Syndrome, inclusivity is close to Blitgen’s heart and though she recognises that no-one deliberately seeks to exclude people based on their abilities, or background, she believes not enough is done to encourage greater diversity in sport.
She said: “People keep saying, ‘Oh, but we are inclusive we are welcoming’. But then, for instance, if you have a look at a picture on their website you see that it’s only Caucasian [people], for instance, or that there are no people with wheelchairs or prosthetics.”
The two teachers are in the process of gaining adaptive training certification so that they know how to welcome “pretty much everyone and help adaptive athletes because it’s not something we’re used to, or see all of the time,” said Loes. “We have to learn, which is challenging, but also interesting because it’s a completely different point of view.”
A market in Luxembourg
This proactive approach to inclusivity has struck a chord with scores of people in Luxembourg in recent weeks. “The interesting thing is so many people have contacted us and it just proves that there is a market for this in the country,” said Blitgen.
The two have yet to confirm the box launch date. Once they do, they will be supported by volunteer coaches to give up to five classes, on school days only for now. They are also seeking volunteers to assist with social media and communications.
They will charge a low membership fee, the proceeds from which will be invested back in the project. Ultimately, the two hope to inspire other gyms to follow. Loes said: “Not everyone can come all the way down to the south to train. That’s why I hope that there will be other gyms” establishing similar policies to actively practice inclusion.