You may remember meeting James Lancaster through our 2017 interview. The former pro football player had recovered from an injury that ended his career and had reinvented himself as a competitive CrossFit athlete.
At the time we met him, he was training for the CrossFit Games Central Regional and running a program where he and longtime friend Joc Crawford do fitness training with inmates at 201 Poplar to teach teamwork and conflict resolution.
He’s still investing his time at the jail, and he recently took on a new venture that will let him share his knowledge and fitness philosophy with more people. He has opened his own gym, Deep River Fit.
Deep River Fit opened in early June at 116 Cumberland. The gym offers CrossFit and nutrition coaching for a general audience, as well as speed and agility training for youth athletes. James says he added youth athletic training because he’s grateful for how much it shaped him.
“That’s near and dear to my heart because that completely changed my life growing up. I still talk to guys that I trained with back in high school. I wanted that culture back.”
James’s career has gone in many different directions but he says he finally made the leap into opening his own gym because, frankly, he wasn’t getting any younger. “Everyone told me constantly everywhere I coached my entire life, ‘James you are so good at this. You have got to do this for a living.’ For some reason, being a coach had sort of a stigma for me. I thought as a man I needed to go and run a construction company like my father did, or have retirement or go and be a medical salesman. I’ve gone through the police academy, I’ve been a project manager for a custom home builder, I’ve run a facility before. I’ve been offered to be an insurance adjuster… literally everything you can think of. It just finally dawned on me that I just need to do what I’m good at, and everyone believes in me with what I’m doing now.”
With Deep River Fit, James wanted to create a place where people feel like they belong to something special, so he has curated a number of member perks and discounts via partnerships with other businesses. He has partnered with Hu. Hotel, High Cotton Brewing, and Dr. Bean’s Coffee, which they’ll serve daily at the gym. He’s working on additional partnerships with outdoor brands Avery, Banded Gear, and Natural Gear, and the gymnastics/CrossFit grips company Victory Grips.
“I want everybody to see how eclectic the community is. That way when they join the gym, yeah they’re getting great programming, but I want them to be a part of something, as corny as that sounds. Everyone is looking to be a part of something. Everybody.”
Deep River Fit uses the tagline “Be bold. Come as you are.” It cuts right to the intimidation factor of CrossFit. James says that CrossFit began with standards that were out of reach for the average person. Athletes were all working toward the competitive sport aspect. “It grew so hard and fast that people started feeling kind of out of touch with those athletes. It’s almost like, why would I play a certain sport if I can’t attain what they’re doing, or it just looks too difficult?”
James says the culture of CrossFit is changing, and he simply wants to use it to meet you wherever you are in your fitness journey and get you to an overall healthier place.
“You’re gonna have those people who just want to eat fitness for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but the thing is CrossFit was created for that everyday person. We’re using CrossFit to have better overall health and wellness. There are so many different things that you could use, but for the best bang for your buck within an hour, CrossFit has already proven that.”
As for their coaching style at Deep River, they’re not really into barking orders. James says if that’s something you need, the coaches can do that for you if you ask, but the vibe of their community is about making everyone feel at home and letting things develop naturally. Even so, he wants you to know that doesn’t mean that it’s lacking in intensity. “Intensity is how we achieve our goals.”