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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Crossfit Pittsburgh: Where Community Drives Achievement

The Pietragallo Family
There are currently over 6,000 Crossfit affiliate gyms world-wide. Sweat and Butter has had the pleasure of working with Mike and Jenn Pietregallo, owners of Crossfit Pittsburgh - the 54th Crossfit opened on this earth - for a year and a half. For those who don’t know this dynamic couple, meeting them in person for the first time is like seeing an old friend. Their radiance and kindness fill the room instantly. Even outside of “the box”, the slang term for a Crossfit gym, their energy is contagious and uplifting.  Mike was kind enough to take the time to share with us his views on health, fitness, business, and his motivation to establish a Crossfit box in Pittsburgh. No matter your fitness level or preferred type of exercise, we can all gain perspective from the Pietragallos on overcoming personal challenges as well as those related to creating a business to improve the lives of others.
Where did you practice of fitness begin?
My wife and I were always active. As a kid I was heavily involved in sports, so training and preparation were year-round activities. I came from a wrestling background, then, in college, I began training in martial arts. Before there was MMA I studied boxing, karate, Aikido, Jujitsu, and Judo, so fitness training was constant. After graduation from the University of Pittsburgh in 1986 I entered the Navy, so I suppose that in every stage of my life a healthy lifestyle played a major role.
What drove you to start your business?

I was introduced to CrossFit by a teammate while on a deployment to Iraq in 2004.  I tried my first WOD (workout of the day) and I was hooked instantly.  I began to put WODs together for my wife and email them to her.  When I returned home from that trip, I thought it would be a great idea to bring CrossFit to Pittsburgh.  At that time there were no other affiliates anywhere close by.  The closest was CrossFit Philadelphia.
Through the obstacles that come from starting a business, what kept you motivated?

Mike after a WOD
For me building the business was no different from building myself.  The challenges presented during a WOD are really no different than the challenges of running a business. For instance, I have to do this WOD today, and it’s 150 Wall Ball shots.  In business, a given day may require that I mix about 1,000 pounds of concrete by hand and pour it into molds to make Atlas Stones. Neither task is glamorous.  Neither is fast-paced and exciting. They’re both going to test my will and grind me down, so how I decide to approach either of them is what will make the difference. Every time I get frustrated you can bet that within the following 12-24 hours I’ll have a break through moment.  Usually when someone I’ve been training has a breakthrough of some kind, I see their post on Facebook, or they come in to train and can’t wait to tell me in person.  There is no better feeling than that.  Knowing that you made an impact is pretty cool.  Hearing the excitement in an athlete’s voice when they tell you about a new personal record makes all the sweat and work worth the effort.

Now that you are a teacher, a coach, a mentor, a figure of fitness, have you seen shifts in your personal health management?

Absolutely.  If I don’t maintain a certain standard, how can I ask anyone I train to maintain that standard?  If I can’t lead by example, then I need to get out of the way and let someone else take over.  That doesn’t mean that I have to be the strongest or the fastest, but it does mean that I have to hold myself accountable to the same set of expectations that I ask of my athletes.

Jenn doing high pulls at the box
What do you hope to achieve through your business endeavors? 

Freedom.  I suppose that’s what we’re all after, but I mean total independence. If I can impact lives in a positive manner and in exchange for that be allowed to get up every day and go to work in shorts and a t-shirt where I can have fun with like-minded people, then I have achieved that independence. I think that freedom only comes from a willingness to serve others.

What do you think we all struggle with and how do we overcome these things?


Fighting our Demons.  They come in various forms, and we all have them.  Often times it will manifest itself in the form of “losing a few pounds” or “training for the (fill in the blank).”
Ultimately, though, it’s something deeper for each one of us. We overcome it through persistence and faith.  I think that is the essence of the CrossFit community.  We’re not a “Globo” gym where you come in, pop in the ear buds and rock out in your own little world. We’re a community, a family.  We share pain and sometimes suffering as well as achievements.  We do this because of the men and women right there with us.  Many times I’ve felt like tapping out, but what’s kept me going is the fact that I’m surrounded by men and women going through the same thing I am.  I’m depending on them, so I have to keep going because they’re depending on me, too.  I think life is like a 15-round fight. Sometimes you luck out and score an early knockout.  More often, though, you win it one round at a time, with persistence and the will to never quit.

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Throughout the interview, Mike reiterated that his motivation for fitness and his business stems from the drive not only to achieve his own fitness and business goals but also his drive to help others achieve the same.  He left us with this: “In order for us all to succeed, we need faith, persistence and community.”
If you are interested in learning more about the community at Crossfit Pittsburgh, find more information on their website or through their Facebook page.


Stephanie Telep is a co-founder and health coach at Sweat and Butter.  She received her training at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Duquesne University.  She is inspired to help others make necessary changes in their lives while fostering a positive and healthy path. She can be reached at stephanie@sweatandbutter.com




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