Morning Workouts with the Head of School

by Jeff Colt

It’s 5:45 in the morning and campus is silent, with the exception of a few cattle dogs barking on the far side of the Crystal River. There are not many activities at CRMS that call for a pre-dawn wake-up; and with 300 sunny days a year, it’s easy to ask Why? Why wake up at that hour? Let alone work out at that hour. Well, there is a cohort of students who show up at the CRMS gym at 6:00 a.m. each morning to do just that. It’s not a team practice; it’s lifting weights with the Head of School, Jeff, and the Dean of Students, Jennifer. 

For over a year and a half now, Jeff Leahy and Jennifer Ogilby have been meeting with students each morning at 6:00 a.m. to participate in a structured workout together. The morning workout is written on the whiteboard and is often inspired by CrossFit; high-intensity interval training mixed with raw strength conditioning and some form of cardio.

What started as an activity for some international students stuck on campus at the start of the pandemic evolved into a regular group of students who join these administrators at the break of dawn to get their sweat on. The Head of School reflects, “There are so many reasons we stayed with the workouts. Gyms were closed or operating in a limited capacity making it logistically difficult to seek out an alternative. The number one reason to continue the workouts was that we had a core group that had heard about the workouts and had started to join in. Once we had students committed, there was no way we couldn’t continue to do it.”

Senior Will Packard is a regular at the Jeff and Jen show. As he worked to adjust to new COVID rules around restrictions and travel off campus during his Junior year, Will set a goal to work out more. “I decided to focus on my health and my body and channel my newfound free time into that. After a few months of little success, Jeff offered me the opportunity to join him at 5:45 to work out and train in a way that is regimented and consistent.” In Will’s words, “the rest is just history”, as he has shown up most mornings for over a year now.

Freshman Carol Hu decided to join with her friend Lila after hearing from Jeff about morning workouts during an All School Meeting. Carol, who is now two months into consistent attendance, shares, “Lila and I thought that it was a great idea since we can get fit and also be more awake for class in the morning.” Beyond feeling awake and focused for class, there is another special element of working out with these faculty: it dissolves the barrier between student and administrator and adds context to their character, momentarily sharing struggle and vulnerability.

In Will’s words, “Other boarding schools I toured seemed to be very strict or lacking in a personality. Everything felt so business-like and I feared never having genuine connections with my teachers or administrators. Working out in the morning has helped me find my place in the community as well as form a connection with very wise and caring people.” For Carol, “It’s a unique opportunity because I don’t think a lot of schools let students work out with teachers, but it really builds a special connection with teachers, and it lets me know more about them, have fun with them, and learn more outside of normal academics.”

What does that learning look like in real-time? Well, at five minutes to six, everyone gathers at the gym. Nervous chuckles and statements of uncertainty slip out upon seeing the workout on the board. Jeff is quick to give reassurance, “You’ll do great.” Showing up is the biggest hurdle and each student in the room has passed that test.

Warm-Up: Pushup ladder, 1 pushup, walk 5 steps, 9 pushups. 2 pushups, walk 5 steps, 8 pushups. 7 pushups, walk 5 steps, etc…

Bench press: 3 sets of 7 reps at a comfortable weight

Workout: 6 sets of:
Run 200 meters
12 burpees
Run 200 meters
6 devil presses (burpees with dumbbells)

About five minutes into the workout, shared laughter and self-doubt sneak out through shortness of breath. The workout isn’t easy for anyone and everyone has a different exercise they are dreading. While Will Packard shared that he likes the time with Jeff and Jennifer because he has the opportunity “to poke their brains for advice,” everyone this morning is just trying to keep up and persevere.

CRMS has adventure and the outdoors in its DNA, but Jeff appreciates the utility of the gym, both as a learning environment and as a means to train for the activities that get us outside. In his words, “If we approach the gym and the work we are going to undertake with a lot of humility, we are going to discover and reveal a lot about ourselves. The gym is a space where the notion of showing up and putting in some hard work translating to growth and improvement is on display.  This is true in just about everything in life, but we don’t always see it that clearly.”

As the final rep of the workout comes to a close and tired bodies are pulling themselves up off of the floor, the second step – putting in hard work – is also complete. It’s 7:00 a.m. and most students are just stirring in their rooms and contemplating the climb out of bed. The students in the gym with Jeff and Jen are wiping sweat from their faces, spraying down the dumbbells, and are ready to face their school days. Class surely won’t feel like such a big lift after this morning’s workout, and the shared experience, the enduring efforts mixed with laughter, have already made the day a success.

At CRMS, working out with the Head of School and Dean of Students provides students with camaraderie and daily accomplishment. Senior Orion Cherney wraps up the morning workout experience nicely, “I don’t really think about them by their titles. It’s just Jeff and Jen and we are all trying not to fall over from Jeff’s deadly workouts.”

Tags from the story

Head of School, Sports, Student, Wellness

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