Jason Williams once played basketball every day. He even dabbled in coaching and personal training. But In 2002, he tore his ACL. A year later, he was focused on recovering from his injury and working as a program manager at a bank in California.
“I ended up sitting behind a desk for seven to eight years, not really exercising at all,” Williams says.
At 315 pounds, athletic activity became difficult. “I tried to play basketball and could barely get up and down the court,” Williams explains.
He sought out boot camps, but stopped going after six months of sporadic attendance. On the verge of splurging on a personal trainer, Williams received an email from one of the boot camp organizers.
“He decided to open up a CrossFit,” Williams says. “My wife and I headed to CrossFit Oakland to check it out.”
The couple walked into Mike Minium and Nicole Okumu’s gym in Emeryville, Calif., and saw people doing handstand push-ups.
“I didn’t believe I could do this,” he says.
Okumu reassured Williams he’d be able to scale the workouts. So, Williams and his wife signed up and prepaid for four months of membership.
His first workout was Helen.
“It took me 27 minutes,” Williams remembers. “I couldn’t do pull-ups. I could do kettlebell swings, but I had terrible form. I could do running, but it was not really running.”
His second CrossFit workout was Filthy Fifty. Scaling all the movements and doing only 25 burpees, Williams finished in 57 minutes. Still, he vowed to show up daily.
“I was willing to put up with the pain,” Williams says.
He made it a nightly habit to check CrossFit.com for the following day’s workout. This provoked a sleepless night when he saw the next day called for running a 10K.
“I had never run a 10K,” Williams says. “It took me under an hour to finish, and I was so proud of myself. I could barely walk for the rest of the day.”
Over the course of five months, Williams lost about 50 pounds. Slowly, he and his wife tackled their diet.
“We planned what we were going to eat the week before and that kept us healthy,” he says.
Their workout schedule was three days on, one day off. The two ate with the purpose of feeling good for workouts.
Williams enjoyed seeing his physical improvements and got hooked on the CrossFit community. A few months in, Williams figured out how to do pull-ups.
“During the second round, someone noticed and everyone turned around and started clapping,” he remembers. “It was awesome.”
Shortly thereafter, the soreness dissipated and Williams started repeating workouts and recording faster times.
The Birth of CrossFit Thames
In 2008, after a year of CrossFit in California, Williams and his wife relocated to London for a job opportunity. At the time, there were no affiliates in London.
“I felt empty,” he says.
After attempting CrossFit at a globo gym, he found people doing CrossFit workouts in the London area. A year later, Williams played a part in opening CrossFit Central and became one of the trainers.
“If I want something and it’s not there, I’ll try to create it,” he says.
Williams met Jami Tikkanen at CrossFit Central. Tikkanen is coach to two-time Games champion Annie Thorisdottir. Williams wanted to take his commitment a step further.
“Jami and I had ideas of our own, so we talked about opening our own space,” he says.
Three months later, CrossFit Thames opened its doors. Williams and Tikkanen started with no members, but people found them.
“I wanted a place where I could continue what I started in California,” Williams says.
Back in California, even Williams’ mother tried CrossFit. Before starting at CrossFit Vallejo, her exercise entailed walking 30 minutes every morning. She couldn’t do a push-up or a pull-up and had never run much more than one mile.
“After eight months of CrossFit, my mom ran a half marathon and can now do 50 push-ups,” Williams says. “She also competed in a CrossFit competition. The fact that she was there, doing double-unders and kettlebell swings is incredible.”
About six months ago, Williams left his full-time job to co-run CrossFit Thames full time.
“I was ready to take that risk,” he says.
Williams enjoys creating an environment similar to the one at CrossFit Oakland, which changed his life.
“Seeing our box change other people is so rewarding,” he says. “I didn’t get to do that with my day job.”
When it comes to coaching, Williams shares his story with everybody. “I don’t know what everyone’s motivations are, but I think it’s valuable for people to know how much of a difference it’s made for me and my mom,” he explains.
Williams empathizes with the frustrations of beginning CrossFitters and wants members to know he’s been there.
“Having gone through what I did helps me teach other people,” he says.
When Williams sees 25 people show up for a workout, work as hard as they can and high-five each other at the end, he knows he’s changing lives.
“I can take credit for creating that,” he says.