Whatever Rocinha CrossFit lacks in physical space, it makes up for in heart. Head Coach Rogério Rodrigues runs the Rocinha CrossFit show—not out of a permanent box location—but wherever he can gather enough resources for a class.
Unable to find a physical address or schedule for Rocinha CrossFit, I connected with Rodrigues via e-mail to set-up a time to WOD. Initially hesitant about entering one of the most dangerous favelas (slums) in all of Brazil, I couldn’t have been happier with my decision to meet up with Rogério. It was one of the best experiences of my entire time abroad.
From my hostel in Lapa, I took a 55 minute bus ride to the base of the Gávea foothills, gazing up through the dirty windows at one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the magnificent Cristo Redento (Christ the Redeemer) statue atop Corcovado.
“Last stop!” the Portuguese bus driver bellowed as the bus jerked to a stop at the base of a significantly steep, winding road. I hopped out and started my ascent, sweating profusely as the tropical humidity pushed early morning temperatures into the high-80’s.
At the top of the hill, I met Rogério Rodrigues, a 32-year-old Rocinha native with an infectious smile and incredible perspective.
Rogério and I kept climbing, the views growing increasingly spectacular. Along the way, Rogério (in perfect english) asked me why I had decided to travel. When I answered with some version of, “to stay fit, learn more about CrossFit culture and meet interesting people along the way,” he nodded, smiled and deadpanned, “I am the most interesting people you will meet baby.”
We crested the hill and I was treated to a stunning panoramic view of the favela from above, nestled in between two huge rock faces with the beaches in the distance.
Rodrigues nodded for me to follow him and we descended into the outer edges of Rocinha. He navigated the crowded and narrow streets of Rio de Janeiro’s most notorious favela with ease. To call Rocinha overpopulated would be a drastic understatement. Bustling with 120,000 residents, Rocinha’s tin shanty houses are built right into the hillside in Rio’s South Zone between the districts of São Conrado and Gávea. Despite open sewer lines, crumbling walls and tangled nests of power lines, the Rocinha residents seem productive and happy.
Rogério greets many of the favelados (favela residents) by name and is recognized by many others. He’s clearly established a reputation here and it’s one of respect and admiration.
After a mini-tour of the favela, we come to the perfect location for first WOD, a playground. But first, Rogério and I stop to stretch and discuss how Rocinha CrossFit was born.
In 2008, Rogério met Chris Clark, a US marine teaching english abroad in Brazil, when they both worked with the non-profit Institute Dois Irmaos (Two Brothers), an organization aimed at promoting community and education.
Clark introduced Rogério, a volunteer coordinator and boxing instructor with 10+ years of Muay Thai experience, to the CrossFit methodology—and the idea for Rocinha CrossFit was born. The pair wrote to Founder/Coach Greg Glassman who, “replied instantly and enthusiastically,” and they were awarded the first and only non-profit CrossFit box status in all of South America.
Rocinha CrossFit’s biggest issue, besides lack of space, is shortage of equipment. Though plenty of supporters have pledged resources, delivery via boat is time-consuming and expensive. Rodrigues gets creative with his programming utilizing nearby playgrounds, benches, stairs, and minimal equipment like kettlebells, elastic bands, sandbags and stones.
After almost 30 minutes of warm-up with plyometrics, stretching and band work, Rogério revealed the WOD.
September 13th (10am), Rocinha Playground WOD:
5 Rounds of 3 min AMRAP:
5 burpee pull-ups
1 kettlebell complex
Tabata box-jump cash-out
Two days later we met up to WOD again, this time at the gorgeous São Conrado beach.
September 15th (9am), São Conrado Beach WOD:
15 min Partner AMRAP:
10 sandbag cleans
10 tiger push-ups
50 yards overhead lunging
10 yard swim/sprint
10 sandbag swings
15 air squats
25 yard forward sprint
25 yard backward sprint
10 yard swim
15 minute gratitude meditation
Rogério is eager to teach paleo nutritional fundamentals to Rocinha residents, who have plentiful access to processed, packaged foods but lack the awareness to prepare and consume real foods. “People are still starving,” he says. “They eat the cheap, deep-fried, sugary treat and then wonder why they’re hungry 5 minutes later.”
Rodrigues plans to offer interactive nutritional classes (“Not just seminars!”) and have his members get their hands dirty in a community garden.
At the heart of Rogério’s quest: the favela children. A favela native, he knows how limiting the walls of the favela can be for its inhabitants.
Rogério’s first goal is education, from which he plans to build a culture of excellence. He’s frustrated with the one-sided media portrayal of favelas—the culture of violence, gangs, drug and alcohol abuse. “99% of Rocinha residents are good, happy people,” Rogério says, gesturing around.
“My vision is so BIG. I see my clients being proud of being from a place like this, of inspiring the thousands of other favela residents to say, ‘Okay, we can do this.’ I want to change the victim mentality, the lazy mentality.”
Classes are free for Rocinha youth, especially aimed at creating a healthy structure and environment for those who have dropped out of school.
This monumental effort, though, can be fatiguing. Rogério has often thought of giving up, of pursuing another career, but he’s too committed to changing lives. It’s a discipline he brings to his CrossFit training.
“I get stronger every time I try. You just have to work with it. Some days you don’t want to WOD, but you get up and you’re always glad you made the effort.”
At the time of my visit, Rogério averaged roughly 5 visitors every two months from locations worldwide. Plans for a permanent location are in the works—he has identified the perfect space, in all places, an abandoned church. Rogério believes that once a physical space has been established, this box will flourish.
Rogério is the ideal box owner. Generous with his time, resources, and knowledge. Passionate about his community, fitness and nutrition. Willing to risk it all for what he loves. A huge heart and an even bigger vision to match.
Favela Fitness CrossFit Journal Article by Chris Clark
Interview with Rogério
Foundation for Human Performance: A non-profit foundation that wants to take Rocinha CrossFit to the point of self-sustainability, and then continue efforts to help other boxes do so, as well. The foundation can be reached through Chris Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org.