For Aaron and Alexis Weedo, co-owners of CrossFit Lakewood Ranch, the story of CFLWR started long before there was a box. And long before there was a them.
“CrossFit is where we landed, but it was a culmination of who we are, separately and as a couple, as well as what we’ve done,” Aaron said.
As a child, Aaron grew up watching his father train groups of guys in his garage after work. He watched his father experiment with different programming, testing out different types of workouts on different athletes. Aaron credits his father with first sparking his interest in training, and later on inspiring Aaron to chase his dream of opening his own gym.
“I watched underground personal training for 15 years,” Aaron said. “It sparked my interest so that when I would lift weights for sports, I paid more attention to the trainers. It interested me more than just as an athlete.”
Aaron and Alexis Weedo
Crossfit LWR Founders
While Aaron was watching his father train clients, Alexis was watching the gymnasts in the Olympics. Her childhood included a similar propensity and talent for sports, especially for gymnastics. She taught herself how to execute double front flips and double front flips on the grass and trampoline in her backyard, and by the young age of 8, she was competing.
“I loved watching the Olympics and nothing impressed me like gymnastics,” she said. “I watched the gymnasts and I knew I could do what they were doing.”
Competitive gymnastics required three-hour practices four times a week at a gym that was an hour and a half from home. She and a friend carpooled, moms splitting the drive for five years.
“Gymnastics is really time consuming,” Alexis said. “It takes focus and dedication and they ask a lot of you at a young age. That’s why I’m so particular about athletes moving in the right way. Gymnastics takes so much perfection and that’s why I’m so detail oriented with movement.”
Alexis earned an academic scholarship to the Honors College at Florida Atlantic University. She worked in a sports performance facility throughout college, working with college and high school athletes on speed and agility training, plyometrics and sport-specific drills. When she started personal training after college and saw the difference in the needs between college athletes and a different clientele — older, more sedentary — she felt ill equipped. Alexis, always the student, wanted to learn more. She began working part time at a physical therapy office to learn about injury prevention and rehabilitation. She helped the therapists instruct their patients on home exercise programs and learned the appropriate rehabilitation path for differing injuries. When she saw young athletes with injuries, she was able to help with sport-specific exercises. She also learned how to take sometimes complex body movements and make the information accessible to different types of people. Alexis continued her work with physical therapists for five years.
For Aaron, the lessons and values he learned from his dad also carried through higher levels of competitive sports and caught the attention of the United States Naval Academy football team. For two years Aaron worked his way up the roster for Navy Football, eventually leading to the record for kick return yards against Army.
The way Aaron describes it, even before his and Alexis’ paths join, they overlapped in their mutual interest in injury prevention. While Alexis was learning what she could working for physical therapists, Aaron had been watching closely his trainers and coaches and noticing — and appreciating — the difference in technique instruction between the two. When he graduated from college he began training clients in his garage, just like his legacy dictated. Aaron was working at a corporate job, training clients, playing semi-pro football, and maintaining his own fitness level.
And in 2005 he found CrossFit.
“I found it from afar,” Aaron said. “I wasn’t doing the WODs but I was reading the articles and following the website. I was scoping it out. I saw the spark but I didn’t want to jump on board right away because it seemed too good to be true — that Greg Glassman had discovered everything about fitness.”
Aaron left his corporate job to begin following his dream. He started working at a local gym, which is where he met Alexis in 2009. They were both trainers on staff and both followed closely what was happening in the new world of CrossFit. They experimented with CrossFit workouts, both for themselves and for their clients. Alexis remembers doing the benchmark WOD Annie and in particular Aaron’s spastic double-unders.
For the Weedos, pieces of their journey to CFLWR seem to fall into place in a way that can only mean that their CrossFit gym was meant to be. One such event happened on the day that Aaron decided to leave the local gym and open up a CrossFit gym. He called a friend, Matt Wilmoth, who had been running a CrossFit affiliate in Port Charlotte, and explained his aspirations. And Matt let Aaron know that he was opening CrossFit Sarasota the following day — and would Aaron like to help out and coach there?
“I started with him the next day, the very first day he opened CrossFit Sarasota,” Aaron said. “I taught his beginner classes and learned how to teach CrossFit. From the beginning my intention was to learn everything I could and then open my own gym. Matt was instrumental early on in helping us get started.”
Aaron stopped working for the local gym and started working exclusively for Matt. Alexis brought her physical therapy clients to CrossFit Sarasota. They were learning the ropes, learning to love CrossFit.
And then, tragedy and sadness, but with it another piece of the Weedos’ journey toward CFLWR: Aaron’s father passed away.
“He had always talked about opening a gym,” Aaron said. “He should have done it and I watched him not go after it for his lifetime. It was in his blood and it is in mine. And when my dad passed away I knew the time was right.”
Aaron and Alexis began looking for a location for their gym. They wanted to move far enough away from Matt and CrossFit Sarasota. They chose Lakewood Ranch and when they opened in 2011, CrossFit Lakewood Ranch was the first affiliate in Manatee County.
Aaron calls Alexis the glue of the gym — the person who holds everything together behind the scenes.
“We’re a good balance,” Alexis said. “Aaron is hype and energy and big ideas. And I’m able to put the details together for those big ideas.”
CFLWR started the way most do, in a small industrial space on Lena Road. They purchased used equipment and started with a few clients. Those clients told their friends, and the Weedos’ years of experience in instruction, fitness and injury prevention began to show their value. Within a year they doubled their space; after two years they began the process of moving to their current location, a gym created just for CFLWR on Paylor Lane.
“I wanted to give our members more,” Aaron said. “I took what I saw in college — high-end weight rooms and top-notch sports facilities — and combined that with CrossFit. At the end of the day we’re doing the same workouts, but I wanted to give my members a better space and better equipment to do those workouts in.”
Alexis credits the generosity of the community for making their CFLWR a reality — especially everyone who has believed in them along the way.
“Our community provides support for our members to reach their goals,” she said. “You can’t do your best by yourself. We all provide each other with support and encouragement.”
Aaron said CFLWR as it is now is exactly what he pictured, especially the community that’s been created.
“Growing up playing sports, families worked together,” Aaron said. “We carpooled to practices and helped each other out. I wanted that feel in a gym. I wanted to create a community where people would come together as a family. A place where no one is judged. That’s what I see here and I like that. Our community is everything.”