SUNY New Paltz graduates Joe Judge (2008) and Keith Van Wickler (2007) had no idea that the training regimen they decided to use at New Paltz while on the rugby team would ultimately help determine their careers, as well as take them around the world and back.
Now, Judge, 28, and Van Wickler, 30 are the co-owners and coaches of CrossFit 299 in Highland, N.Y.
During their time as the co-captains of the Men’s Rugby team at New Paltz, there was no coach, so they decided how the team trained. Through some trial and error they started learning how to do CrossFit, a weightlifting, gymnastics and endurance type of working out performed at a high-intensity, and after a couple of years they started getting into actual CrossFit.
After graduating from New Paltz, they moved to Australia to play rugby. Upon returning back to the United States, Judge worked as an oil broker and Van Wickler went back to school and received his master’s degree in physical education from Canisius College.
Although they parted ways, both were still active participants in the CrossFit community. Van Wickler was a coach at CrossFit Buffalo and Judge was training at CrossFit Westchester.
Van Wickler said he and Judge made good partners as co-captains of the rugby team and were both into CrossFit, so they decided on the idea to open their own place.
“We both took pretty radical turnarounds,” Van Wickler said. “Joe was brokering oil, I was going to start teaching full-time somewhere else. We both relocated and changed careers to do this.”
Judge said he loves CrossFit because of how it’s constantly changing and how it translates to his other hobbies, rugby and snowboarding.
Van Wickler said he enjoys CrossFit because of the community aspect it fosters.
“It really builds a nice community and camaraderie that is similar to what you get playing team sports,” Van Wickler said. “You come in and start working out with the same people everyday. You start to get to know each other, you start looking forward to being here.”
Judge said they initially wanted to open a gym in New Paltz because of their familiarity to the area, but New Paltz didn’t have the type of space they were looking for. What they found instead was the building that used to be the County Office of Mental Health in Highland — it was exactly what they were looking for.
They received the keys to the building on July 3, 2013 and immediately began knocking down walls, painting the insides and renovating the lighting. Van Wickler said this process took six weeks, and then another four to five weeks was spent buying equipment, which has remained a continuous process for them since opening on Sept. 1, 2013.
However, Judge said the construction of their gym was not the hard part prior to opening.
“The tough part was generating interest, creating a buzz and getting people to be here, so when we opened the doors we could start attempting to make money and attempting to pay our bills, dent the overhead and start that whole process,” Judge said.
To create that “buzz,” Van Wickler said they used Facebook to advertise. Also, the people they knew in the area and in the CrossFit community allowed word to spread quickly about their gym.
Judge said they offer basic CrossFit classes, Olympic weight lifting classes, mobility classes, open gym hours and specialty courses.
There are also three additional coaches, Greg Saso, Malinda Treglina and Tim Taylor, who teach one to two classes per week, all of whom have had prior CrossFit experience before joining CrossFit 299, Van Wickler said.
“A big part of what we do is not only coaching our members, but also coaching our coaches to improve their skill-set, so they can provide a better product for our members when we aren’t here,” Judge said.
Going forward, Judge said they want CrossFit 299 to keep growing at its current rate, with 50 members after seven months and to continue providing customers with a quality experience.
In addition to working at CrossFit 299, Judge is currently captain of the USA Rugby Div. 1 Club in White Plains, N.Y. and Van Wickler is a substitute teacher in the Highland and New Paltz Central school districts.