From CropFit to CrossFit: A Farm Boy becomes a CrossFit Coach

Jacob Competes in Strength on the Streets

Muncie CrossFit Coach Jacob Sprong often coaches the 5:30 AM Muncie CrossFit class at The Arsenal. He’s not a stranger to the early hours.

“I lived on a farm, so I got up at 5:45 AM, dressed, and went to work real quick. We worked 6 AM to 11 PM during planting season. Those were long days.”

His family had hogs for a few decades, before selling them off and moving exclusively into corn and soybeans.

“I remember when I was real little, walking into the hog barn and hogs going crazy. Back then they were huge to me. Four hundred to Five hundred pound hogs. Growing up in the country . . . I liked some of it. I would have been the fourth or fifth generation Sprong to be a farmer.”

But Jacob found sports, especially baseball.

“I played baseball since I could walk. I played middle infielder and center fielder. I wish I could go back and have trained like I do now. I maybe would’ve been a better player, gone on to play in college. In high school, if you weren’t super-motivated and didn’t want to lift weights, they didn’t make you.”

Jacob also gave football a shot, but broke his foot his freshman year and his arm his sophomore year before calling it quits. At 5’10” and 150-pounds, he was as thin as a stalk of corn and nearly as fragile. It bugged him.

“I was super small growing up. I was the last one to hit puberty, get armpit hair. I was always the smallest kid. I still can’t even grow a beard yet. I was really self conscious growing up, but you wouldn’t know it because I came across kind of cocky.”

Jacob graduated from Delta High School in Delaware County and went to Vincennes for one year where he majored in agricultural engineering. He was still on the path to being a farmer or at least working with farmers when he decided to come back home. His girlfriend Sammi lived in Muncie and he just missed Muncie.

Growing up Jacob’s dad encouraged him to do whatever he wanted to do, but, still, Jacob thought his dad actually wanted him to work on the farm. Jacob finished a year at Ivy Tech while helping out on the farm and then he found CrossFit and started to question his future in agriculture.

Finding CrossFit

“The first time I ever came to The Arsenal, I was terrified because my mom had done it, and at this point she was fitter than me. She had told me stuff you guys did, and I had watched the CrossFit games on TV, the 2014 games had just finished. Rich Froning . . . I watched every video, every interview, every workout.”

“The first time I came in Greg was teaching. It was a little partner WOD on a Saturday, and it was like a med ball carry and burpee workout, nothing too crazy. I was dying during the burpees, literally dying. Then I stuck around and did the Olympic class. There were probably 25 people in the class. Nat Carpenter was my partner. We were snatching before the class, and I did the bar the entire time. I tried to put on tens, and I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t snatch 65 pounds. I remember I saw Nat snatch 135 pounds, and I thought he was the strongest guy in the world. ‘A snatch with the red plates on!’ I thought it was so cool. I ended up getting a membership after that and the rest is history.”

Jacob took a short break from CrossFit when it wouldn’t fit in his schedule working as a mover, a job he labels “the worst job ever.” When he returned, he approached CrossFit with a newfound vigor.

“I started going again around September 2015 and when I got back, a light bulb went off. I was like, ‘This is what I want to do!’  In February of 2016, I got my Level 1, and I just nagged BJ for the next two months nonstop trying to get hours. I started in May.”

Becoming a Coach

For the first time in his life a job wasn’t just a job, work wasn’t just work.

“When I got the job, it was actually kind of selfish, because I wanted to just be able to have a job I liked. I got to work out all the time, but I realized that I love coaching. I had wanted to be a coach in some sense, maybe not a CrossFit coach, my whole life. Now my goal is to be a strength and conditioning coach for a university. I love coaching all the athletes, but I do have a passion for coaching elite athletes like you Kelsey. [Ok, he didn’t say that part about me being an elite athlete.] That would require my Masters. After I finish at Ivy Tech, I’ll have to decide if I want to stay around Muncie, go to Ball State or go somewhere else. I’m just not sure right now.”

I remember Jacob’s first day as a CrossFit coach. It was a surprise. “Huh, you’re our coach now?” I’m not a leaderboard hawk by any means, but earlier in that week I noticed I had topped him in a workout. “Not bad old man Timmerman,” I thought to myself, “not bad.” That’s all I remember from that day, having a rare moment of pride in the gym. I’m pretty certain that’s the last time I ever beat Jacob at anything other than resting.

Here’s how Jacob describes his fitness level coming into CrossFit:

“If I didn’t walk any of a 400-meter run, it was an accomplishment. My deadlift was like 275. I couldn’t back squat 265. My best clean was 205 at the time. I had no capacity to do anything, not strong at all. I was kind of filled out because of bodybuilding a lot, but no fitness at all.”

So . . . he basically just described my level of fitness and capacity. Anyhow, enough about me, I think it’s important to see where he started from to where he is now.

“Now it’s kind of cool because I can snatch 20 pounds more than I was able to clean. I snatch 240, and I just cleaned 300 about a month ago.”

That’s the fun part. Remember when Jacob said he thought Nat was “the strongest person in the world” when he snatched 135 pounds?  It’s great seeing people grow during their CrossFit journey.

“I pretty much only hang out with CrossFit people anymore. A lot of my friends are either busy working or moved away for college. I usually take weekends off to hang out with my girlfriend, but other than that, I’ll hang out with Andrew, Skyler, Ahmed, Emily, and all of them. That’s part of another thing I love about CrossFit. People become your best friends.”

“It sounds kind of weird, but I want to do well in the open and make members proud. Skyler and Adam? They are going to go to a competition and win or be in the top two. Me? I’m not as good. I’m trying to get better and be an example for the members of how you can come from nothing and get good at CrossFit.”

Coaching at Muncie CrossFit has given Jacob a new appreciation for CrossFit.

“Working out in the gym as an athlete, there were only certain people I’d have the chance to interact with. Being a coach, I get the full community aspect of it. I interact with all the members and genuinely care about what they are doing. Getting a PR, finishing a workout.

“That’s one of my favorite things to watch. If I have a new person, I love watching them figure it out for the first time.”

Being a part of a community where you can celebrate the successes of others and not just your own means you get to celebrate a hell of a lot more.