To understand how Steel Train CrossFit came to be, we’ll have to go into my story. Although I never really enjoy talking about myself, it does provide some clarity in how STC came to life.

I’ve had a tumultuous childhood. Before I was 14 I’ve always found comfort in food. Although I never became obese, I was a fat kid and I hated it. My parents never taught me about nutrition or about loving myself. When I was 13 I moved from my mom’s house to my dad’s house. My parents divorced when I was 7. The situation at my mom’s house was unstable to say the least. When I was 13 I moved to my dad and I started creating a rhythm. This slowly created some sort of stability in my life. When I was 14 I started doing athletics and that’s when everything changed for me.

I went from a fat kid to an athlete. All I did was commit myself to an athletics club (Rotterdam Athletics), train 2-3 times a week and eat ‘normal food.’ Nothing special. But I transformed. Physically and perhaps even more mentally. This is where my love for training started.

I did shot put, discuss, javelin throw and sprint. I wasn’t a talent, except for the sprinting part. I played soccer as a kid and I’ve always noticed I could outrun just about anyone and I always loved a sprint duel. When I was training for only 3 months, and I was 14 years old I ran my first 100m in 12.4 seconds, which wasn’t too bad. (I could tell by the look on my coaches face). That being said I became 2nd in that competition and got beat by a 12 year old. lol.

Besides training on the field, we trained in the gym. Bodyweight circuits in a gymnastics room and weight training in the gym. Stuff like benchpress, lat pull-downs and squatting. I loved these circuits and weightlifting sessions even more than the field training. I did it, because my trainer told me to, not because I had a plan of some sorts. But I could feel the impact of these workouts on my body and mentality.

I quit athletics after about 3 years, not because I wanted to but because my trainer quit. I joined a local gym and kept training. There was simply no other option. I found my strength, my confidence and mental fortitude in training, so I HAD to continue. I did the things I was taught, but also slowly starting to research different types of training and ‘what else’ I could do.

I learned a lot, but never really knew what was bogus and what was real advice. I was still just a kid. After my highschool period I wanted to pursue either music or sports. This choice fell to sports for obvious reasons, So I started college on the Hague University for physical education. During this time, I started working as a fitness trainer at the local gym.

Ever since my transformation when I was 14, my passion for fitness and training was born. It was also at that age that I knew what I wanted for my future. At least that was my dream; one day owning my own gym. At the time I had all the wrong ideas about owning a gym, because it’s nothing what I thought it was… But before I elaborate on that, let me go back to the story.

So during my time in college on the Hague university, I started as a fitness trainer and later personal trainer at the local gym. I loved sharing my passion with others. My study continued for about 5 years, that’s when I started teaching physical education at a highschool. I freaking hated that job. Yep, you heared it right.

I did it, because that what you’re supposed to do, right? Attend college, find a job and work till your 65 and have a mediocre life at best. UGH! If you ask my wife how got out of bed each morning, you’ll laugh your socks off. It was TERRIBLE.

It wasn’t that these kids were terrible, or the work itself. It’s a good job, many people love it. But I have always been a dreamer and this is not what I dreamt about. Doing what you love and leaving your positive impact on the world. I was far from it. This was so unaligned with my dreams and vision I had for myself, I became terribly unhappy. I quit after 4 months.

I had no money, no steady income, nothing. I did have a girlfriend (who’s now my wife, yay) who supported me in every step. Even when I said: No more, I quit. She saw what it did to me and she supported me. (love you dear :-))

I decided then, to pursue my dream. Start for myself. I had the experience and knowledge to train people and the deep desire to share my passion, so I did. This was my first ‘business’. I quote on quote it, because I thought it was a business, but of course it wasn’t. It wasn’t a business and I wasn’t an entrepreneur. Far from it. I created a job for myself. But I was happy with it, at least at that time.

Slowly it started to occur to me, that in order to make a decent living out of this, I needed to train ALOT of people 1 on 1 and besides that, I could never go on a holiday without losing income. Both these things started to annoy me and I decided to try to train groups. So I started training people in little groups, outside. Now known as ‘bootcamp’, that was the type of training I was doing before bootcamp flew over from the US.

My girlfriends sister, who was living in Amsterdam at the time, mentioned a company operating in Amsterdam called “the bootcamp club”. They were looking for ‘entrepreneurs’ in this field. Because my ‘business’ was ok, but never really taking of (logically if I am the only employee) I became very interested in this. I applied for the franchise of my city “the Hague” and I got it. I was thrilled.

I’ve been a franchisee for about 5 years and later even added another region. I did good within the company, but I was still far from an entrepreneur. Even though I had a decent income, about 15 trainers and some freedom. I had no idea what I was doing. At the time I really thought I did. But the wake up call was soon to come.

I was unorganised, spend more money than I could afford and had 0 managing skills. At the end of my franchisee period the business came crashing down. I could not afford the rent of my office and could not afford to pay my trainers. My intentions were good and sincere, but I lacked the entrepreneurial, administrative, organisation and managing skills. I fell on my face so hard, I was filled with shame and anger at myself. I was seriously delusional to think I was an entrepreneur. I was a cocky kid, just earning his first stripes. Nothing more.

The bootcamp club stepped in and hired me as an employee at their office for 1 more year. It was a good time, but I was unhappy. This again was not me. People declared me crazy, because this was a good job, with a good company and a good income. It was all good. But not to me. My actions just did not align with the dreams and wishes I had for my life. I was again, unhappy. It felt like defeat for me. Was I going to give up on my dreams? I managed to do this job for about 10 months and it was just empty, I quit a good job, again.

During my time working for the bootcamp club I listened to audio books everywhere I could, about self development and business. I listened to all the inspirational speakers like Jim Rohn, Tony Robbins and Brendon Burchard and many many business gurus. I tried to learn and apply their knowledge to my life.

After The Bootcamp Club, I started many different entrepreneurial ideas. I wrote 2 books, I started a network marketing business, I sold aloe vera, I started an online ’empire’ (haha, that’s what I told myself) but nothing worked and I could not sustain my effort in any of these businesses. It all did not represent who I was. Slowly I was starting to doubt myself. Was I just a lazy person? Could I not achieve what I dreamed of? The faith in myself and my dreams slowly started to deteriorate, failure after failure. But I still had a little fire inside of me, somewhere I knew, I just had to find ‘it’ for me.

At one of my worst periods, mentally and physically I decided to try something completely different to get myself out of my negative state: I tried CrossFit.

When I started Crossfit, I still believed I was sort of fit and strong. I always continued training. So I walked into a local CrossFit gym as a cocky kid. (I wasn’t actually a kid of course, but looking back I was, mentally) CrossFit humbled me like nothing else. It made me a better person. It taught me life lessons and it made me fit, instead of thinking I was fit. CrossFit changed my life.

It lashed it’s claws on to me. A month into doing CrossFit I knew; my passion in fitness/training and sharing it with the world is right here. The impact I wanted was right here in front of me. It wasn’t like I thought about it or had an ‘idea’. I knew, 100%, this was IT. There was no other option for me now.

So I started brewing on the idea and I started STC out of passion. I remember telling my wife, who had seen failure after failure and lots of struggle over the years. She was scared, but again; supported me. When I started STC I knew I wanted to do things right this time. I knew this was IT for me. With the notion that I had experience as an entrepreneur and as a trainer, I figured I could make this work. And I was wrong, again…

There it was, Steel Train CrossFit. I poured all my savings and then some, into this. I also took a big loan to get this off the floor. I was over the moon, a bit nervous but convinced I could do this. A few months in and I already started to ran into many issues. I didn’t care, because I was going to figure this out, no matter what. The biggest issue was the daunting pressure of doing everything yourself. I created a job for myself, once more. A job I loved this time, but owning a business means there are many different roles and tasks. Most of which, you do. I loved coaching, I loved owning a business, but did not love all the other stuff that much. And again, everything was on me. And as you grow, these roles and tasks only increase, so the workload on yourself increase with every step you take.

I’ve started STC to make an impact. To create something magnificent. It became painfully clear that scrubbing your own floors will not get you there. I was exhausted each day and because I did it ALL, the business could not grow. Because this was IT for me 100%, I had no other choice than to figure it out. I told myself: whatever happens, I WILL figure this out.

I’ve bumped my head about 500 times in 2 years time and started looking for solutions. I told myself, I had to get my head out of the sand. If it’s not working; change it. But I was also telling myself ‘I could do this all alone’. I wanted to show myself I could. So I never asked for help, I tried it alone. And it simply does not work. So, I got my head out of my enormous pile of sand and I started listening to people that had actually build successful gyms.

I genuinely thought that a CrossFit gym or microgym with 250+ members was successful. But I found successful gyms with 150 members and unsuccessful gyms with 600 members. Having and running a successful gyms takes a lot more than just that.

In this process I had wake up call after wake up call and I realised, the best thing I could do for STC and for myself is hire a mentor. I could keep bumping my head and find it ALL out by myself, or listen to an expert and stop pretending I had any clue what I was doing. I can say that now, because I did hire that mentor. And I found out, it was the best decision I could make.

Wearing yourself out and doing every little task yourself, doesn’t create a business. It’s a job, not a business. Wearing yourself down will not serve your people, your business or yourself and you will limit yourself and your business. You can still be a hard worker and a sincere person and also create a successful business. One that serves your community, your employees ánd yourself. This is the biggest lesson I’ve learned.

Steel Train is now the gym I want it to be. I am able to leave the impact on this world that I want to leave and I’m loving the process. I am happy to say that building a gym is hard, but I love the process. My actions are in line with my dreams. I’m working harder than ever, but I’m happier than I’ve ever been. I love working on my passion and I love creating an impact in people’s life.

If there is 1 thing I’ve learned in this whole process: If you want a business; you cannot do things alone. You NEED a team. And if you’re not an entrepreneur, learn to become one. Or make sure you are ok with doing more yourself and stay smaller. Both options work, as long as you know what you want. If you want to move forward like I did, get yourself some outside help and advice.

Every single person in your business is of vital importance. If you want a successful business, you need to be the captain steering the ship. No captain at the wheel; get ready to hit shipwreck! Don’t make the same mistakes I did, learn how to navigate your ship.

If you like reading more about STC’s journey, in my next post I’ll share what we do at STC with our mission, vision and values and our why. Why do we do what we do and how do we do it.

Thanks for reading and feel free to share your thoughts below or drop by our gym for some coffee if you want to have a chat.


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About The Author

Erik is the owner and founder of Steel Train CrossFit and Steel Train Coaching. His mission is to empower people's lives through health and fitness coaching.