Crossfit craze comes to downtown Cortland

CORTLAND, N.Y. – Where shoes once lined the walls of this iconic Main Street building, weights and barbells have taken their place.

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Seasoned athletes and Crossfit newbies now occupy a space that once housed Sarvay Shoe Company, a flagship business in Cortland run by Dale Taylor of Virgil that closed last year.

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The former Sarvay Shoe Company store at 50 Main Street. Photo courtesy of Sarvay Shoe Company Facebook page.

Since the space was first opened on Salisbury Street in Cortland in November 2013, Seven Valley Crossfit has outgrown its humble origins, prompting the recent move to a more central location.

The business was started by Mike Phillips and Dana Soprano; the pair found each other through their mutual love of Crossfit and their desire to open up a gym that focused exclusively on the trendy workout.

What is Crossfit?

The textbook definition of Crossfit is a workout that involves constantly varied, functional movement performed at a high intensity.

Put more simply, many of the workout routines mimic movements that are part of everyday life: pushing, pulling, running, jumping and throwing.

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Seven Valley Crossfit members take part in an advanced class at the new facility on Main Street (Peter Blanchard/Cortland Voice).

For that reason, a Crossfit gym often contains few of the complex, high-tech machines that one would expect to find at a commercial gym like Planet Fitness.

“We are the machines here,” Phillips said. “We don’t need any machines.”

The rising tide of Crossfit

Phillips, a SUNY Cortland alum who also works part-time as a mechanic at Grant Street Auto, never expected the business to take off so quickly.

“Our membership outgrew the space. We had to actually stop bringing in people,” Phillips said. Soprano, who teaches math at Otselic Valley Central School District, was also surprised by their early success.

Another problem was the location. Despite the growing popularity of Crossfit both locally and nationally, Phillips says their business suffered from a lack of visibility.

“A lot of people who’ve lived in Cortland their whole lives don’t know where Salisbury Street is,” he said.

The former Seven Valley Crossfit location on Salisbury Street.

The former Seven Valley Crossfit location on Salisbury Street.

After two years of rapid growth, Phillips and Soprano were able to secure funding to lease a space at 50 Main Street, opening up their business to a new audience of potential members.

Phillips says he first heard of Crossfit when joined the U.S. Air National Guard four years ago. If he expected to pass his training, a friend told him, he better look into it.

He started by making homemade equipment and doing Crossfit workouts at his house. He then joined a Crossfit gym north of Syracuse, where he fell in love with the group atmosphere and team-building aspects of the sport.

“The camaraderie of having a group settling like this, everyone working out together, it’s really amazing,” he said. After completing his military training, he decided he wanted to make Crossfit part of his career.

Part of the reason for the rise in popularity of Crossfit, Phillips says, is its inclusiveness. Working moms and olympic athletes can be in the same room, doing the same workout, at the same degree of intensity.

“We have people that have been living sedentary lifestyles for the past five years and are 200 pounds overweight in the same class as collegiate athletes,” Phillips said. “It’s infinitely scalable. We like to say that intensity is relative.”

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