Instant legend

— North­east Philly's Sean Thom­son is ranked second in the world as he pre­pares for the Cross­Fit Games

Sean Thom­son stretches be­fore he be­gins his reg­u­lar train­ing for the 100-mile run to raise money for aut­ism and the Ree­bok Cross­Fit games, where he is cur­rently ranked second in the world, Monday, April 2, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)


A few months ago, you would have figured that Sean Thom­son was on top of the world.

Last April, the 25-year-old per­son­al train­er and former North Cath­ol­ic point guard (Class of 2004) and a few of his closest friends com­pleted an epic 100-mile run in less than 24 hours to help raise al­most $15,000 for Saint Joseph’s Uni­versity’s Kin­ney Cen­ter for Aut­ism, a cause near and dear to Thom­son’s heart.

If con­quer­ing such a Her­culean feat wasn’t enough, Thom­son’s No Lim­it Gym at 3144 Wil­lits Road was thriv­ing. After open­ing his own es­tab­lish­ment in May 2010 and spe­cial­iz­ing in a new re­volu­tion­ary form of train­ing known as Cross­Fit, his cli­ent list quickly swelled to more than 100 people.

On the sur­face, everything seemed per­fect — but privately, Thom­son was go­ing through hell, and things got so bad near the end of 2011 that he gave ser­i­ous thought to giv­ing up everything he had worked so hard to build.

Thom­son de­clined to dis­cuss the spe­cif­ics of his per­son­al prob­lems, but said they were bad enough that the health-ob­sessed fit­ness fan­at­ic was out drink­ing four nights a week and call­ing out of work. Be­fore he let it all slip away, Thom­son turned once again to Cross­Fit and his cli­ents to help re-real­ize his pur­pose; now, he’s get­ting set for the second an­nu­al 100-mile aut­ism run from No Lim­it to Wild­wood, N.J., on April 20, as well as pre­par­ing to com­pete for a $1 mil­lion prize in the on­go­ing Cross­Fit Games.

“From Novem­ber to Janu­ary, I star­ted doubt­ing my­self big time,” Thom­son said dur­ing a re­cent chat at his gym. “I thought about get­ting a part-time job or join­ing a uni­on, and for the most part I was just act­ing like a total knuckle­head.

“But then I took a hard look at my­self and at the people around me, and I knew to quit wouldn’t be me,” he con­tin­ued. “I looked at my life and asked my­self, ‘What am I really so mad about?’ I get to walk to my gym every morn­ing and help people im­prove them­selves phys­ic­ally and men­tally, and be­ing around them and see­ing them work so hard for me and for them­selves that made me want to work harder. They’re my out­let. I feed off of them. There are so many people that have it worse than me, to the point where I real­ized I’m liv­ing a mil­lion­aire’s life without the mil­lion dol­lars.”


That soon could change, as the new and im­proved Thom­son has re-ded­ic­ated him­self to his craft in such a hard-core way that he is cur­rently ranked second in the world in the in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar Cross­Fit Games.

When Thom­son opened No Lim­it nearly two years ago, he op­ted to train people us­ing Cross­Fit, a re­l­at­ively new but in­cred­ibly ef­fect­ive fit­ness re­gi­men that com­bines a broad range of car­di­ovas­cu­lar activ­it­ies, weight­lift­ing and gym­nastics.

Re­quir­ing pro­fi­ciency in do­mains such as stam­ina, strength, flex­ib­il­ity, power, speed, agil­ity, bal­ance, co­ordin­a­tion and ac­cur­acy, Cross­Fit is “the prin­cip­al strength and con­di­tion­ing pro­gram for many po­lice academies, mil­it­ary spe­cial op­er­a­tions units, cham­pi­on mar­tial artists and pro­fes­sion­al ath­letes world­wide,” ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cial Cross­Fit Web site (www.cross­

But what makes Cross­Fit really ap­peal­ing is its abil­ity to also com­pletely trans­form the lives of every­day people, which is why so many are ditch­ing the el­lipt­ic­als and tread­mills of tra­di­tion­al “globo gyms” to get trained by Thom­son. Re­ly­ing heav­ily on con­stantly vary­ing workouts as well as per­son­al nu­tri­tion, Cross­Fit has the abil­ity to trans­form both body and mind, and Thom­son’s for­ay in­to this new pro­gram has per­fectly co­in­cided with its bur­geon­ing na­tion­al pop­ular­ity.


Thom­son’s par­ti­cip­a­tion in the an­nu­al Cross­Fit Games will force him to the side­lined role of cheer­lead­er dur­ing the April 20 100-mile run, as he is cur­rently ranked first in the Mid-At­lantic re­gion and second in the world amongst the com­pet­i­tion’s par­ti­cipants.

“Be­cause I leave for the games less than two weeks after the run, I’m just go­ing to be rid­ing along in a car this time,” Thom­son said. “Last year my body didn’t re­cov­er for two weeks, and I have too much on the line to show up to the games sore as hell. Even though I won’t be run­ning this year, I have a great group of guys com­mit­ted to the cause, and not only do we still get to raise money for aut­ism, but I get to see people I’ve trained run from North­east Philly to Wild­wood To watch my friends and cli­ents ac­com­plish this is even more ful­filling than do­ing it again my­self.”

Last year, Thom­son said he re­turned from the run with “such a swag­ger,” and that “after do­ing that, you couldn’t put a workout in front of me that was go­ing to be too dif­fi­cult.” After con­quer­ing the 100-mile trek and then some per­son­al demons to boot, he ded­ic­ated him­self to the Cross­Fit Games, a na­tion­al com­pet­i­tion that will al­low Thom­son to com­pete against oth­ers just like him.

After com­fort­ably pla­cing in the re­quired Top 60 for the first round of cuts, Thom­son ad­vanced to the Re­gion­al round, to be held in Landover, Md., from May 4 to 6.

The six total workouts over the three days will be var­ied — some are time-based, while oth­ers will be fo­cused on strength and move­ment; if Thom­son fin­ishes in the top three in the Mid-At­lantic Re­gion­al, he will punch his tick­et to Los Angeles for the fi­nal round from Ju­ly 13 to 15 (to be aired on ES­PN), where the male and fe­male win­ners will each be awar­ded a rumored $1 mil­lion prize.


And while Thom­son is ra­bidly and ob­sess­ively pre­par­ing to make it to Cali­for­nia, he said the big cash pay­out is not what mo­tiv­ates him.

“Noth­ing will change for me per­son­ally if I win. I’d still live with my room­mate on Ashton Road,” he said with a laugh. “Aside from maybe buy­ing my dad a boat, any money I win will be put right back in­to the gym, which I want to ex­pand and move to a more spa­cious loc­a­tion to be able to help even more people real­ize their goals. I own this gym and I’m the face of it, so any money and ex­pos­ure I might get from the games I would put right back in­to be­ne­fit­ting Cross­Fit and the people that have chosen to make it a part of their lives.”

This jour­ney cer­tainly has been an un­pre­dict­able one for Thom­son. A freak arm wrest­ling ac­ci­dent pre­ma­turely ended his col­lege bas­ket­ball ca­reer, which led him to per­son­al train­ing and in turn al­lowed him to ul­ti­mately dis­cov­er Cross­Fit. Grap­pling with such a quick wave of pro­fes­sion­al suc­cess led to his un­ex­pec­ted per­son­al prob­lems late last year; however, with the worst now in the past, Thom­son is a new man, thank­ful for what Cross­Fit has giv­en him — and also one who is eager to give back everything he has earned.

“When I was really strug­gling per­son­ally, I was giv­en the best com­pli­ment I’ve ever got­ten,” he said. “I got this new cli­ent, an older wo­man, and her hus­band, who I had nev­er met be­fore in my life, reached out to me and told me by mak­ing his wife’s life hap­pi­er, I made his life hap­pi­er. He flat out told me that I helped save his mar­riage, and when I heard that, I knew I couldn’t close this place, not even if I end up get­ting to Cali­for­nia and win­ning that money. If I can help save the people that I train, that’s great, be­cause they helped save me, too.

“As much as I think I’m im­port­ant to the people that I train they’re that much more im­port­ant to me,” he con­tin­ued. “These people are my role mod­els, and I need them. They put a smile on my face every day and let me go to bed know­ing I have the coolest job in the world. How can I com­plain about that?”

With his darkest days be­hind him and a new sense of pur­pose, Thom­son’s com­plain­ing is fin­ished now that he’s right back where he be­longs — on top of the world. ••

Dona­tions for the 100-mile aut­ism run can be dropped off at the No Lim­it Gym (3144 Wil­lits Road) or by con­tact­ing Paul Hon­dross at 610-660-2170 or kin­neyaut­ 

To learn more about Cross­Fit and the Cross­Fit Games, vis­it www.cross­ 


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