The Difference Makers

Trey Whitaker
8 min readFeb 19, 2023


Crystal, Christina and Ashley

A year ago, I was living in New England and would take daily hikes through the woods near my home. Today, I live on an island in the Pacific Ocean and walk to the beach every day. A year ago, I was a business owner and now I volunteer my time. A year ago, I drove around in a red Jeep and now I pedal around on a red bike. A year ago, I would often trade snarky texts with a cherished friend, but she has since passed and a bit of my heart was lost forever.

“Change is a given; velocity is the variable.”

A leader that I worked with in the 1990’s liked to use that phrase. I’ve found it to be true.

When things are to our liking, we want things to stay the same. When things are going poorly, we hope that circumstances will quickly shift for the better. Either way, change is inevitable.

I started working in middle school and had a variety of jobs before entering the Army in 1977. I delivered thousands of newspapers, picked some tobacco, scrubbed countless pots and pans at a convalescent home and helped clean a bingo/reception hall. I left the Army at age 22 and began a 35-year career in the financial services industry. When I was first starting out, my salary was $12,000. To make ends meet, I worked second and third jobs as a handyman at an apartment complex and delivered eviction notices for a real estate agency. I became a business owner at age 57 until retiring last year at 63. All in all, about 50 years of working for a paycheck.

When you become embedded in an organization, you may eventually begin to feel as though you’re a critical cog in that entity’s success. You’re dependable and work hard. You’re innovative. You’re a leader. You’re proud of the work that you do. You’re contributing to the culture and success of the organization.

Inevitably, you will be sitting across the table from some generic corporate manager who will make it clear that, no matter how valuable your efforts are, you could be run over by a bus tomorrow and the enterprise would, without a hitch, continue to move right along without you. This is not an exaggeration. I’ve heard this exact example while sitting in the conference rooms of multiple Fortune 500 companies.

Every company that I’ve been a part of still exists in some form. Shockingly, they did not crumble upon my departure.

There are some prominent examples that support this ‘run over by a bus’ premise. For example, Steve Jobs has been lauded as the genius and driving force behind Apple’s meteoric rise. When Job’s passed away in October of 2011, Apple’s market capitalization was $376 billion. Did Apple falter? Not financially. Today, Apple’s market capitalization is $2.44 trillion.

People come and go, but entities persist. JFK was assassinated and LBJ took the oath for President. RBG passed away, but the Supreme Court continues to make rulings. The King of Rock & Roll, the King of Pop and the Queen of Soul are gone, but the music plays on.

It’s undeniable that businesses and institutions will persist, but are they the same when people who are at their heart and soul move along?


Recently, three long-time coaches at my former gym ended their time there. The business remains, but it’s undeniable that a big piece of the community’s heart has been lost.

Creating an exhaustive list of what these three coaches contributed to the gym community would be an impossible task, but I want to share some examples of their character, kindness and selflessness.

When I was a gym owner, it was the hardest work with the greatest rewards. Business ownership presented many challenges. Some were expected, but many were unforeseeable. For example, a global pandemic. Fortunately, I had some guardian angels to help me along the way.

Christina (a.k.a., CB), Crystal and Ashley began as members and later became coaches. Most of all, they became extraordinary contributors to the community.

Lakeside volleyball

Ashley became a member shortly after the gym opened. One of her first contributions to the community was to offer us her family’s lakeside cottage to hold a picnic. A gathering like this was an important milestone for a new business aspiring to build connections and relationships. Inviting a few dozen folks to trample around your place while eating and drinking is no small consideration, but Ashley is always focused on how she can help others.

Food trucks for the CrossFit Open

Each year, the gym would host a few weeks of CrossFit Open workouts. One year, Ashley offered to help me organize the events set for five consecutive Fridays. One of our ideas was to arrange for food trucks each week. I wrote the idea on the whiteboard, but it was Ashley who immediately grabbed my phone and began negotiating arrangements for the trucks to arrive. Ashley doesn’t just talk about doing things. She doesn’t just have ideas. She’s a doer. She takes accountability and gets things done.

Cherry’s birthday parade in May 2020

During the pandemic shutdown, many folks were stuck at home during their birthdays. My wife’s birthday was during the shutdown, but she was given a special birthday parade that included a big, decorated dump truck that Ashley provided to carry some of the birthday revelers. The pandemic shutdown was a time when people needed a smile and Ashley was there to provide it.

Ashley’s birthday truck

In the early days of the new gym, a trailer truck was due to arrive with tons of equipment. The equipment would need to be offloaded, unboxed and assembled. Since it was a big job, I posted a note on Facebook to see whether anyone might be able to assist. Amazingly, more than two dozen folks showed up throughout the day to help. Some I knew well, but others were new acquaintances. I didn’t know it at the time, but two of the volunteers would prove to be invaluable supporters for years to come.

Before the gym was even open, Crystal and Christina took time from their lives to help move the gym closer to existence. It was an early indication of how these two folks would become an integral part of the community’s foundation.

Unpacking day

Shortly after the gym opened, we supported a UConn sorority’s fundraising campaign by holding an outdoor, on-campus fitness competition. As they had done a couple months earlier, Christina and Crystal donated their time and energy to help with the event. They were not gym owners or coaches. They were simply there, out of the goodness of their hearts, to help the gym and ensure that the event was a success.

UConn charity event

Over the years, the gym built a reputation for being good travelers to local competitions. It wasn’t unusual for us to have the most athletes and spectators. Crystal and Christina were often the driving force behind encouraging folks to take part. Even if they weren’t competing, they would attend to coach and cheer on their friends. For them, it was about being together, testing oneself, supporting each other, cheering, crying, hugging, dancing and then eating some tacos.

The travel workout team

Over the years, our gym held many big workouts. CrossFit Open workouts, ‘12 Days of CrossFit’ events, ‘Murph’ on Memorial day, ‘1775’ on Independence Day, Pride workouts, hero workouts and much more. Without fail and without needing to ask for their help, Christina and Crystal were there with me. They helped corral the large groups, keep everyone safe and always brought the energy. The gym was always packed, the floor was electric, the music was blasting and sometimes there was almost as much dancing as there was exercising. They brought the coaching and the party with them.

CrossFit Open 2018 dancing

I recently heard a story from a long-time dog owner. He said, “Everytime I lose one of my dogs, they take a piece of my heart with them, but every new dog that comes into my life gives me a piece of their heart. My hope is to live long enough so that all the pieces of my heart are dog and I can be as loyal, as generous and as loving as my dogs are.”

Christina, Crystal and Ashley gave their heart and soul to their gym community. They cheered personal records, hugged away tears. Laughed at themselves and danced the night away.

They were selfless, hard working, honest and delivered the highest standards of coaching.

They made an impact. They left an imprint. They created friendships. They strengthened bodies and mended hearts. They helped make memories.

In the days after they were gone from the gym, the lights came on, the athletes filed in, the coaches coached and life went on, but the heart of the community had lost three irreplaceable pieces.

Christina, Crystal and Ashley were difference makers.

They still are and always will be. It’s their nature.

They have my respect.

They have my unending appreciation.

They have a bit of my heart as well.

Magic pants crew
Zumba night
The magic of the Open
Holiday cheer
Big workouts
Ashley and me
CB and Crystal



Trey Whitaker

Former CrossFit gym owner, corporate manager, paratrooper, youth sports coach and jujitsu black belt. Now a trail steward at Haleakala National Park on Maui.