I ride a bike pretty regularly on the miles of paths that circle the local lakes here in Madison, Wis. My normal route was heavily trafficked by visiting athletes of all stripes, as our little city played host to the 2018 CrossFit Games (Aug. 1-5). An international event that packs our streets, businesses and parks with hardcore fitness junkies, the Games are a master course in putting on an event that transforms not just a venue but a community at large.

Setting aside some of the strong opinions on CrossFit, the sport/workout itself seems to get results. Walking around the Alliant Energy Center, the second-year CrossFit Games site that will serve as annual host at least through 2021, I was surrounded by legions of men and women who more closely resemble Greek gods than mere mortals. Nevertheless, the real beauty of the CrossFit Games lies in the organizers' aim to generate participation from spectators and community members who might fall a tad short of "elite athlete" status.

The venue itself is rife with chances for spectators to test their strength and endurance, from burpee and jump rope challenges to opportunities to try out the latest equipment. Across the city, CrossFit-branded outdoor installations in area parks invited passersby to try a pull-up or grind their way through a rings workout. There was even a pontoon boat that ferried anyone interested to a barge in the middle of Lake Monona, where they could then participate in morning yoga or a CrossFit-inspired HIIT workout, among other activities.

Some label CrossFit a cult for its many rules, acronyms and Spartan-like philosophy. In reality, the community that assembled for five days in Madison felt more like an uber-healthy, fantastically diverse (32 countries represented) family that was just happy to be getting together and excited to share their passion with everyone in town. While the energy around Madison during the event was proof of what fitness can do for the individual, it was also a testament to the power of physical activity to motivate and unite an entire community.

When you're through reading this month's issue, we hope you'll check out our online coverage of the 2018 CrossFit Games to get a feel for how the event transformed an unassuming Midwestern college town into a gathering place for some of the fittest athletes on the planet.


This article originally appeared in the September 2018 issue of Athletic Business with the title "A city transformed by fitness." Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry. Click here to subscribe.

Andy Berg is Executive Editor of Athletic Business.