Written by: Corey Langley
Step into a 7:30 class and you’ll likely hear a grown man yelling at the top of his lungs. Normally, it’s some sort of supportive scream or an emphatic “7:30!” AJ De Los Santos is the man behind it. What once started as a joke of class support has now turned into the class-time cheer as WODs are coming to a close.
For me, personally, AJ is a fitness compass. Mentally, my needle has always been pointed in the direction of comparing my fitness level to that of AJ’s. I’m a proponent of emulating success, I guess. The 7:30 class has been my haven away from work for a little over a year now and, with the exception of his misguided attempts to go to earlier classes, AJ has been with me every step of the way.
He taught me how to do butterfly pull-ups, added me to his soccer team and even invited me to compete in my first competition (something I wasn’t able to do due to injury, unfortunately). During the 2018 CrossFit Open, I even went head-to-head with the guy. He won by a large margin.
My “AJ” story isn’t that unique, though. Ask any number of members at CrossFit ABF and you’ll find that the vast majority have been positively impacted by him in someway or another. That impact translates, too. I do my best to help newer CrossFitters as much as possible, because that’s how I learned. That was the example AJ set.
Now that he’s a Member of the Month, I got the chance to sit down for a quick chat with a friend that, deservedly, is now enshrined in ABF culture with his own MoMWOD.
Corey: Tell me how you got into CrossFit.
AJ: I can tell you how I didn’t get into CrossFit. Living in New York, I had a lot of friends doing CrossFit and I was hearing a lot of the “cult-ish” style. Everyone’s together and everyone has an eating lifestyle. But I love to eat and, living in New York, I wasn’t going to stop eating. I didn’t get into it for a long time. When I moved to Florida, Valerie Potucek, talked me into joining CrossFit. After that, I just stuck to it.
Corey: What made you decide to get back into fitness? Is that something you’ve been going at for a while and just decided to try something different with CrossFit?
AJ: It’s something I’ve been doing for a while. Growing up as a military brat, my dad, family members and I bonded over the gym. So, we spent a lot of time there, but we were really only doing cardio. I was a swimmer and I played soccer. It wasn’t necessarily just conditioning or weightlifting. Moving out here to Florida, though, I didn’t have a lot of friends, but I was encouraged from co-workers – being Val and Courtney – to go. I just stuck with CrossFit and gained friends through ABF and this community.
Corey: Is community something that’s important to you as a CrossFitter?
AJ: 100%. Community stands for a lot of things that I was missing in my life. So, having that new-found sense of friendship, family and community really is what helped me through, helped me stay and encouraged other people to join.
Corey: Have you tried other CrossFit gyms in the area?
AJ: Other CrossFit gyms? No. I have friends in different Boxes, but I’ve never ventured out.
Corey: What do you think sets ABF apart from other places in the area that you’ve heard about?
AJ: For me, it’s our specific culture here at ABF. Not to say it’s a lot more recreational, but, hearing from friends at other Boxes, I hear how serious and competitive they are. Their lifestyle is more committed than what I’m willing to put into it. I think that’s why I continue with ABF. It’s that right balance of commitment, fun, recreation and community. It’s not as stringent as other boxes.
Corey: You’ve done competitions, though. What makes you get up in the morning and want to train to compete? What do you like about the competitive atmosphere?
AJ: Competition-wise, I’ve done team WODs. Because of our community and friendships, I typically sign up for the team WODs. I don’t see myself as an individual competitor.
That partnership is what keeps me coming back and making sure I stay in shape and I support other people at the box. I make sure I stay at my best performing level, because I’m making sure I partner with those members who encourage me to be part of their team. I don’t want to let them down.
Corey: Because you frequent the 7:30 classes, you’ve actually worked with a ton of new people at the gym. What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to people just starting CrossFit and coming to ABF?
AJ: For me, it’s for those people looking to diversify their health and activity. As challenging as the workouts are or when you hear about RXing and scaling, I say don’t worry about what your neighbor’s doing next to you. Worry about what you, personally, have as goals and stick to them. Everyone will encourage you. Nobody’s judging you for what you’re doing. It’s more about helping with your form, technique and making sure everyone’s supporting each other to meet their own individual goals.