Vekter Games use fitness to test athletes, encourage donations

Gary and Alea Helmick recently experienced the feeling of being in the spotlight in their sport, placing fifth in their respective divisions in the Atlantic Regional to qualify for the Reebok CrossFit Games next month in Carson, Calif.

Now, by hosting the second annual Vekter Games this weekend, the husband and wife team want to help others around them feel the same way.

The Helmicks, who opened CrossFit ReVamped in Columbia, Md., in 2012, have made major changes to the event, which last year drew more than 300 spectators and nearly 200 athletes to their facility.

The Vekter Games will again pit two-person teams against each other in a test of fitness, but this time the competition will last two days rather than one. Additionally, this year’s event will benefit Soles4Souls, which distributes shoes around the world to people in need. The Helmicks encourage athletes, judges and volunteers to bring a pair of gently worn shoes to donate.

CrossFit ReVamped’s charity initiative started with its Faith RX class, which consists of a 30-minute workout followed by Bible study every other Tuesday.

“We were just looking for another way to give,” Alea Helmick said. “We’re a Christian gym, and we’re looking to help and better the community. We thought, ‘What’s something that we can do that can help people either in our local community or around the world to better their lives?’ ”

Seeking a cause related to fitness, the Helmicks settled on donating shoes. That led them to Soles4Souls, and after this year’s event, they will load the shoes into Gary’s truck and drive them to New Jersey.

Soles4Souls has provided 26 million pairs of shoes to people in 127 countries since 2006. The organization both donates shoes directly and sells them to “micro-entrepreneurs” who then create small businesses to sell them.

CrossFit blends elements from gymnastics, weightlifting and running to create a test of fitness. It has found a niche with athletes who prefer to exercise in a group.

“I enjoy coming here for the workout,” ReVamped member TJ Kozakiewicz said, “but then it’s everyone else around you that is going through it with you and cheering you on. If they finish before you, they stick around.”

Added Alea Helmick: “There’s a ton of people that start CrossFit, I’d say 100 percent of people, that have these insecurities — it could be physical insecurities, mental, it could just be some kind of burden or obstacle that they’re trying to overcome. CrossFit somehow finds a way to overcome those things through community.”

The Helmicks are trying to foster that environment for the Vekter Games athletes.

They’ve enlisted Kiki Dickson, the announcer for the international CrossFit Games, to work the microphone. Athletes can attend a mixer Saturday night at the nearby SpringHill Suites, and the Helmicks have created individualized social-media posts for every athlete who signs up.

“It’s a weekend for them to feel a little extra special,” Alea Helmick said. “They may not get that kind of special treatment somewhere else.”