A Chainstore Gym Retrospective

A Chainstore Gym Retrospective

Today is one year since the opening day of the Chainstore.

To celebrate, we’ve asked Katie Sandford, one of our most regular members, to write a guest article looking back over the past year. Katie writes the ever entertaining blog I Do Many Things, and is also on board as one of the women behind #SheCanTrace. Thanks Katie!

February 2014. Remember Chainstore opening night? I do. It seemed like there were hundreds of people, all vaulting railings and climbing ropes and balancing and jumping at once. It was chaos, and yet somehow also perfect harmony. I remember someone volunteering as a traffic cop, using hand signs to coordinate different routes passing through the same space. I remember the crowd drifting away at the end of the night, with small knots of people hanging from handrails on the DLR in their new white t-shirts.

March, and everything is still new and shiny. It’s the start of the first Power 101 course, and the group consists of people with legendary strength and some of us who have barely ever touched a barbell in our lives, led by a hardcore pro lifter with the brightest yellow shoes I’ve ever seen. We’re all on a quest for gains, and we’re all successful. Every single one of us finished that course with better jumps and squats than when we started.

Everything is more familiar by April.

Regulars are starting to establish their routines and become familiar to each other. Classes are on almost every day, with small groups and lone rangers working around them.

May, and the entire floor area is covered with exhausted women at the end of the first ever International Women’s Weekend. Women came from all around the world just for this, and it’s been amazing. We’ve come inside from the glorious sunshine to finish off with some yoga – I’m probably not the only one who fell asleep on the mats.

It’s the first Friday in June and the evening class is finishing up. A small group of us are standing together, not sure what to expect from the Night Mission that Blane is about to lead us on. I don’t want to slow everyone down, but I know these are good people who won’t resent me if I do, and I want to do my best for them. And in the end, nobody slows anyone down. By the time we collapse on the ground together outside Chainstore the next morning, we’re a team. We’ve done something amazing together, and we’ll never forget it.

I’m hooked on weightlifting by the summer, thanks to Power 101 and the weekly weightlifting class. I spend every Wednesday in July on the platform, smashing weights loudly while the cast of the Alice show rehearse scenes over and over. When I actually see the finished product a few weeks later, I appreciate it even more, having seen some of the hard work that’s gone into it.

August, and the floor is strewn with exhausted survivors again – both genders this time. We’ve made it through Rendezvous 2014, the first one to last an entire three days. I hurt so much I feel sick, but I’m in a massive circle of people playing Ninja. It’s like we’ve forgotten how to stop.

It’s September, and things have evolved. Regulars who were nodding acquaintances back in April are becoming friends. We’re learning from each other – drop-in crossfitters, here only for the weights and floor space, are actually having a shot at vaults, and I’ve taken part in their WOD.

There’s an official Crossfit box in the building by October. They train relentlessly several times a week, always finishing up exhausted but happy. I see them do a lot of exercises I don’t understand, but the one thing I never see any of them do is give up.

I’m hesitating at a jump one day. The coach looks up, and says “you got this!” I make the jump. Thanks, Crossfit.

This place feels like home by the time November rolls around.

I can barely remember what things were like before it existed, and I’m pretty sure I spend as much time here as I do in my flat. Walls are covered with our chalked handprints from vertical jump tests, tally marks and occasional random art. UV paint, left over from a photo shoot, can be seen on the well-used railings. A happy dog lies under the front desk, greatly enjoying the attention from people passing by. Parkour is always the focus, but other things happen on the fringes. I bring a longboard in, and someone shows me some tricks for it. I take out my juggling balls because I’m too tired to keep training, and someone else joins me for some partner throws.

It’s half gym, half melting pot, all awesome.

Time passes. It’s New Year’s Eve and I’m forming a human pyramid and a plank tower with friends. I can’t think of a better way to see in 2015, even if we did frequently end up with our feet in each others’ faces.

February – one year after opening. Alex is doing some kind of painful mobility work on a couple of mats in the open space. He wanders off, and I push a box up to his abandoned mats for kong practice. A kid appears, and adds a step so that we can work on kong precisions. I don’t know his name, but we train peacefully together, with a friend joining in for dash vaults. We move onto dive rolls, and I drop out for my own mobility work. Someone else replaces me, and introduces some flips. It’s like that here. One thing flows into another, groups of friends and strangers join and divide, and you never know what’s going to happen or where it will lead. 

In the past 12 months, we’ve seen show rehearsals, international events, glow-in-the-dark photo shoots and hundreds of hours of training. We’ve seen backflips, human pyramids and peoples’ first ever tentative vaults. There have been WODs, chalk art, parkour, Viking chess, paper planes, juggling, balancing, and more parkour. We have vaulted, rolled, stalked silently, petted dogs, lifted weights, shared techniques, witnessed personal bests, struggled through injury rehab, moved together and learned together.

It’s been a good year. Here’s to another one.