“A Place to Call Home”: Nevada Gym offers free membership to servicemen and women with disabilities


Credit: Branded One CrossFit

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Nick McCombs wants his gym to be a place for athletes to “call home”.

McCombs is the president and head coach of Branded One CrossFit, a nonprofit gym in Las Vegas that offers free memberships to military personnel with disabilities. Running the gym, he says, has been the “most humbling and rewarding thing” he has ever done, seeing every day the impact that fitness and community can have on the mental and physical barriers that his students face. members face every day.

  • I was not in the army myself“he said,” But I just wanted to be able to help more people. Branded One was a nonprofit from day one because, as McCombs said, ‘nobody starts a CrossFit gym to get rich, we’re here to help people. We thought so. we were doing a non-profit organization, we would be able to help even more people.
  • Knowing that the Vegas area already had plenty of opportunities for young people to get CrossFit exhibit – McCombs explains that a few years ago a local school district paid physical education teachers to get their L1 certificates – he chose to focus on the military and women.
  • “And now, being in it for these three years, there are definitely people who could never have afforded to go to my gym who can now come and who have seen huge impacts on their lives, ”he says.

The big picture: According to an August 2019 US Department of Labor report, about 25% of veterans suffer from a service-related disability. But, these numbers are limited to veterans of the United States Armed Forces; Any first responder – active or inactive, from nursing to law enforcement, with a zero to 100% disability rating – is eligible for free membership in Branded One.

  • McCombs and his team adapt to all disabilities. (One of his trainers has obtained the official CrossFit Adaptive Training Certificate.) It’s something he likes to think of the gym as “really good.”
  • We have all these disabled members and you know, some of them are suffering internally, ”he said, noting the diversity of their athletes’ abilities. “We got really good because we have all these people tailoring the workouts appropriately to their current fitness level. “

A secure space: Cultivating a welcoming, non-judgmental culture has been as important as tailoring training, if not more, in ensuring the mission success of McCombs and his athletes.

McCombs compares his space to what he calls “gymnasium brothers”; gyms that focus too much on individual performance or get “too carried away by the training aspect” of CrossFit.

Branded One, he says, is a safe space that people can count on, where “it’s all about everyone, it’s never about the individual person.”

  • “I always try to make everyone feel welcome when they walk through the door, you know, before COVID you would have seen a big smile on the coach’s face, ”McCombs said.
  • “Many of these [members] would have been the silent type who would never have greeted anyone. But if you’re going to work out in this gym, you’re not that person anymore. You’re going to be the person who greets someone when they walk in the door, because, if you remember, it was you, ”he adds.
  • “I had people who looked good, and then they ran out of the gym crying, ”he explains. “I try to be as welcoming as possible because you will never know when a super sensitive person comes through your door.”
  • On their website, Branded One says at least 228 police officers committed suicide in 2019 and due to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), more firefighters died by suicide than at work in 2017.

How it works: Branded One operates like any other nonprofit, relying on donations and fundraising to run the gym. A four-member board makes decisions for the future of the organization.

  • About half of the members of Branded One are paying members. Some are civilians and others are servicemen and women without disabilities who wish to support the Branded One mission.
  • McCombs compares membership fees – which is in part a donation – with the purchase of a table during a benefit gala. If the table costs $ 120, that’s not paying for the meal which, on its own, would cost a lot less. Most of the funds are considered a donation.
  • “It makes things interesting,” he said.. Three years after its opening, McCombs is finally able to pay its coaches who, until then, were volunteers.

Their biggest annual fundraiser is The Battle of Branded One, a competition held in November to raise funds and in honor of Veterans Day. This year they were fortunate to have teams of two competing away, in person, raising just over $ 36,000.

McCombs says they also hope to start applying for grants.

Looking forward: In the near future, McCombs plans to launch an affiliate program. He hopes to invite other fitness facilities, beyond CrossFit, to be a part of Branded One. These gyms will follow the mission of the nonprofit organization, providing free memberships to military and women and raising funds for the benefit of the organization as a whole.

  • He points out that his version of an affiliate program will be different than other organizations that offer similar opportunities. “Other nonprofits have a program where they say that once a week we have these workouts where we can meet,” he explains.
  • “No, I want people in my gym every day, twice a day if they wish. And that’s what I want to see other gyms offer, a place they can call home, not a unique place, ”he says.

The bottom line: The aim of Branded One is to empower men and women with disabilities. McComb’s focus on creating an inclusive and welcoming community associated with fitness has clearly paid off.

McCombs tells the story of an athlete who has been with him since the beginning, when the association organized training sessions in a park. Not only did she undergo a major physical transformation, losing 35 pounds, but also mentally.

  • She arrived one day and was just struggling and I got there early to go out, ”McCombs says. “I said, ‘Hey, what’s going on? “”
  • “I came to the gym instead of drinking. “ was his answer, he said. “Here I am, spending time with you and at the gym with everyone, instead of sitting at home and feeling sorry for myself and drinking too much.” “
  • “I feel so lucky to be a part of this” McCombs continues. “It’s so cool that I can see someone making some positive decisions in their life when they could have taken this terrible road and decide not to do it because of the gym, because of this community. support that surrounds him. “

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