It was Carey Bald’s second day of class at BTB Fitness, a CrossFit affiliate hidden in the industrial outskirts of Atlanta. She rolled into the parking lot, wedging her car into a space among the scattered dumpsters. Twenty minutes early for the 5:30 p.m. class, she checked her phone before going inside, hitting “play” on a new voice mail to find out that the agency she worked for had terminated its contract with her employer. Bald was suddenly unexpectedly unemployed, after having moved from Wisconsin to Georgia for the position less than three months prior.
“They didn’t need me to come into work Monday morning, is how they phrased it,” she said.
For several moments, she sat in her car, absorbing the impact of the news. Idly she wondered how she would pay the next month’s rent.
“I was mostly just shocked that my job had ended and I was back to square one, looking for a new job in a new city,” she said. “I’ve never been put in a situation where I’ve been terminated for any reason whatsoever, so to go from complete financial stability to complete instability was the biggest shock … basically having the carpet yanked out from under me.”
But almost as devastating was the thought of losing CrossFit. A former volleyball player and track athlete, Bald started CrossFit in 2012, finding for the first time in her post-collegiate life an exercise program she didn’t grow tired of.
“I was the girl at the globo gym who would spend 10 minutes on the treadmill and then 10 minutes on the elliptical, then be bored and leave,” she said.
Olympic weightlifting, she said, is her favorite aspect of CrossFit.
“I can really see progress with lifting,” she said. “Working toward percentages and seeing those kind of mathematically adding up … that’s the reason I can’t let it go.”
A wave of runners rushed past her window: the 5:30 class, warming up with a 400-meter run. Bald snapped back to reality.
“That’s when I realized I needed to go inside and let coach James Roper know that I wasn’t going to be working out that day,” she said. “And financially that I couldn't commit to a membership.”
Friday turned to Saturday, and Bald did her best to focus on moving forward, dusting off her resume and scouring the Web for open positions. She tried not to think about barbells and kettlebells and all the fitness she was missing out on. Meanwhile, Roper and Nick Gecsy, the owner of BTB Fitness, were cooking up a plan.
After Bald told Roper she could no longer commit to CrossFit, Roper emailed Gecsy with an idea: If each of BTB Fitness’ 28 coaches contributed $7.68 of their paychecks for October, they could raise enough funds for one month of unlimited CrossFit classes for Bald.
“Absolutely, send it out,” Gecsy said to Roper. “I 100 percent support it.”
Gecsy understood perfectly what Bald was going through. While training to become a coach and before taking the helm at BTB Fitness — originally owned by Jeff Hayes, who lost his battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in January 2015 — Gecsy lost his job as a restaurant general manager in 2011 while his wife was two months pregnant.
“He was like, ‘Don’t worry about the money,’” Gecsy quoted Hayes. “‘We’ll figure it out. Just continue training.’”
At the time, Gecsy was fresh off a first-place finish in a nutrition challenge, 25 pounds lighter and in better shape than he was in his military days.
“When I lost my job, Jeff was so open to not letting me worry about the money but to worry about continuing on the path I had been working so hard to do,” Gecsy said.
Today, Gecsy pays Hayes’ kindness forward, often reducing clients’ membership fees by 50 percent or more when they fall on hard times.
“At the end of the day, that’s more important than money to me,” he said. “I’ll always find a way to pay my bills, but I don’t want my members to suffer because they can’t afford it.”
On Monday, Bald began the arduous task of sending out applications. But the best email she received that day wasn’t from a potential employer — it was from Gecsy.
Not only had each of BTB Fitness’ coaches contributed to Bald’s cause, but most had contributed far more than the $7.68 suggested, some donating up to their entire month’s check.
“By the end of Monday, we had 700 some-odd dollars from all my coaches,” Gecsy said.
The sum was enough to purchase three months of unlimited membership for Bald.
“I had no words at all … I was crying all the way through it,” she said.
The most incredible part, according to Bald?
“I hadn’t even met Gecsy at this point,” she said.
The pair met for the first time on the next day. Recognizing each other immediately, they embraced — and then got down to fitness.
“It was so awesome to have her in class and coach her for the first time,” Gecsy said.
Bald has been there every day since.
“Everyone has been extremely welcoming,” she said. “I was overwhelmed by their generosity and the human nature of being shoulder to shoulder, people trying to lift somebody up in a very difficult time, and for somebody that wasn't even really a part of that family yet.
Recently, Bald accepted a new position in her dream field of sports marketing. She credits CrossFit and the BTB Fitness community with helping her stay focused and positive during uncertain times.
“Walking into a community of people that are supporting in that way is essential when you’re trying to take the next step in your career,” she said.
For Gecsy, it was second nature.
“At the end of the day, CrossFit is an extended family,” he said. “When that gets ripped away from you — I don't know what divorce feels like, but it feels like you’re divorcing or separating from your family.”
“Money is not everything,” he continued. “You continuing to train and live a healthy lifestyle and stay fit through the methodology and what we do in CrossFit is more important to me.”