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Former soldiers open CrossFit gym together in Iowa

The Factory CrossFit Ames gym in use, Feb. 6, 2014.

In 2010 and 2011, J. Winkowski and Aaron McNew served in Afghanistan with the Reconnaissance Platoon, 133rd Infantry Regiment, 34th Infantry Division. Neither one of them believes they should have made it back alive.

“We were outnumbered three times,” Winkowski said. “The way we made it out alive is that we were suppose to.”

Next week, the two are opening their new gym, The Factory CrossFit Ames, located at Kellogg Avenue and Lincoln Way, as a way of giving back and helping people improve their lives.

CrossFit is a fitness company with an exercise program that is licensed out to gyms across the country and practiced by individuals through the company’s website.

McNew, a Gladbrook-Reinbeck native, put on weight when he was in college. He was 300 pounds and joining the military meant he needed to get into shape.

He found CrossFit through some friends in his squad and began using its workout regimen. When he went overseas, CrossFit became a daily activity.

Winkowski, a Belle Plaine native, saw McNew and others exercising to CrossFit’s routine but still used the Army’s physical training for fitness.

Then they came back home, and Winkowski, who also served in Iraq, battled post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I struggled for about a year,” he said. “I did a lot of bad things during that time, but then Aaron and others introduced me to CrossFit.”

Winkowski embraced CrossFit’s routine, and his outlook on life greatly improved.

McNew, 24 and a certified CrossFit trainer, said CrossFit focuses doesn’t focus on the physical appearance and shedding pounds like so many other gyms do.

“We are focused on changing the way you can see life,” he said. “Here it’s changing your fitness and a training for the future. It will boost confidence and teach you about a healthy life. The pounds will fall later.”

The Factory has been in the works for the last several months. Winkowski and McNew knew they wanted their place to be accessible to everyone and that meant having easy access to CyRide routes. Downtown was the obvious choice.

“We decided to follow our dreams and give this place a shot,” said Winkowski, who is taking on the business side of The Factory. He is finishing up a business degree at Upper Iowa University.

Winkowski, who resides in Nevada, is passionate about wanting to help people improve their lives. He will soon be a father again.

“When I left, my daughter was 1, and I didn’t think I’d see here again,” he said. “But I did make it back. And CrossFit has done a lot for me and helping me be a better person. I want to give others the opportunity.”

McNew, who is still in the National Guard, wants people to know fitness shouldn’t be all about shedding the pounds.

“If you follow this program, the body comes with it,” McNew said.

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