CrossFit Couples: They Found Love In A Sweaty Place

For CrossFit couple, East Village is perfect fit

CrossFit Couples: They Found Love In A Sweaty Place

Take them to the river: CFER members push it on the running track in East River Park.

BY LISSA PHILLIPS  |  If you’re hanging around near E. Ninth St. and Avenue C, chances are you’ve seen them — a crowd of athletes dodging pedestrians at top speed, entering and leaving a garage boldly painted in black, red and white. The artwork on the otherwise quiet block loudly proclaims: CrossFit East River.

Entering the facility is a different kind of chaos.

There is the clanging of barbells echoing within the 2,500-square-foot “box” (CrossFit lingo for “gym”); a voice booming from the speakers instructing athletes to begin their workout in “3, 2, 1 — Go!”; the encouraging cheers of athletes to their last-standing counterparts; and then near silence as athletes collapse to the floor with no more than the sounds of heavy breathing.

A quick scan of the box yields little equipment that gyms typically feature: no treadmills, no ellipticals, no bikes and no lifting machines. Instead, barbells, weights, rowing machines, gymnastics rings and pull-up bars grace the box, sending a message as clear as day straight from CFER’s Web site: “We are the machines.”

In early 2013, what is now CFER was an abandoned garage sporting a “For Rent” sign. The door was cracked open just enough for Eric Leon to crawl under. The former warehouse with pink walls lined with cartons of wine certainly didn’t scream sweat and squats back then, but Leon knew it was just the spot they had been looking for.

“Eric looked in the space, ran back to the truck and said, ‘That’s going to be the gym. You have to go look,’ ” Melissa Leon said. “We ended up signing the lease in May 2013 and opened a month later in June.”

Melissa and Eric Leon are the owners and operators of CFER. They recently celebrated their two-year anniversary of converting the abandoned wine-storage unit into a fully integrated affiliate of CrossFit, a fitness program designed for athletes to perform functional movements that are constantly varied at high intensity.

The couple met in 2009 while Melissa was working as a reporter in New Jersey and Eric was entering his senior year at New York University. Before finding Melissa, Eric found CrossFit by perusing the Internet.

He began teaching himself the movements from the then-underground fitness program’s Web site to train for the U.S. Army Airborne School. Eric eventually joined official affiliate CrossFit 516, on Long Island, in 2010.

What became a natural workout fit for Eric took Melissa a bit of convincing to convert to.

“I always thought, ‘Eh, I don’t care for this CrossFit thing,’ ” Melissa said. “I didn’t even know what it was.”

She reluctantly surrendered to CrossFit in 2011 after her previous workouts failed to yield the results she was seeking for her approaching wedding.

“It was humbling to say the least,” Melissa said. “I’m a competitive person, so that brought out the competitive ‘me versus me’ factor and I just fell in love with it.”

As Melissa’s affinity for fitness and health intensified, Eric opened up the nonprofit CrossFit affiliate CrossFit Salerno at a NATO base in Khost, Afghanistan, while stationed in that country in 2012.

This ignited the idea of opening up a box with his newly CrossFit-converted wife.

After a few continents-spanning e-mail exchanges, the couple decided they would pursue opening their own affiliate when Eric returned stateside.

Eric’s research uncovered what they felt was a lackluster presence of fitness facilities in the East Village, fostering the Leons’ decision to set up shop in Alphabet City. The couple instantly felt that the neighborhood’s sense of community directly correlated with the goals they had for the box.

“The East Village feels a community and a neighborhood to us,” Melissa said. “Whereas you go to some other neighborhoods in the city where there’s definitely community there, but it’s not as apparent as when you come to the East Village.”

Toned team: The CrossFit East River members.

Two years and 250 members later, the couple have created their own community consisting of five CrossFit-certified coaches and classes exceeding the regular WOD’s (workouts of the day) that most affiliates solely adhere to.

These include SweatRiver (just as the name implies — an hour-long metabolic conditioning session designed to make you sweat), yoga, running classes, open gyms, the Beast River Weightlifting Club (BRWC), and required foundations sessions for beginners.

CFER has also started making more appearances at local weightlifting meets as a team, which Eric highlights as a wonderful means of connection to build CFER’s community outside of the garage’s confines. The East Village affiliate also hosts events such as “WOD and Wine” ladies’ nights and parties at local neighborhood hangouts, bringing members together beyond the barbell.

“We really pride ourselves on having a community,” Melissa said. “We’ve heard feedback from visitors and current members that it’s just a nice community vibe here, and that’s what we’ve always wanted. That’s the type of CrossFit we love and that affected us.”

Community continues to ring true as the Leons look to the future for the box. With two years under their belt, one goal remains constant for the couple in the next two years — ensuring outsiders that this CrossFit community can be anyone’s community.

“We want to make sure we keep CrossFit, as it was intended, accessible to anyone,” Eric said. “Even though CrossFit is an open-source model and everything is online for free, I think it’s invaluable to have a set of eyes watching you do the movements and being involved in a community that cares if you are doing them correctly.

“There’s not a price on that.”



CrossFit Couples: They Found Love In A Sweaty Place

  • Dropped in this last week when I was in town on travel. Walked through the door and was immediately approached by coach Mike. He asked about my background and gave me a quick rundown of the gym. I wasn’t able to make the CrossFit class but was able to join their Oly lifting class which was a huge help for me as I don’t get to spend as much time as I’d to on it. Really helpful coach and welcoming athletes. Excited to drop in again next time in town.Nicole Aldrete
  • This place is awesome!!! coaches are great and knowledgeable, work out is brutal but satisfying and the community is the best part. I never d sport but I fell in love with CrossFit thanks to Mike and his team. I'm 36 years old and in the best shape of my lifeBen R.
  • Excellent kids CrossFit classes on the weekends! Mike is patient and makes the class fun for the kids. My kids are sweaty and happy when they leave class. Both of my kids are not interested in sports so I'm happy that they found a physical activity they love. I think Mike is a big reason why my kids are enjoying their introduction to CrossFit. He's a great teacher! Does a good job explaining movements, and I'm impressed at how well he keeps the kids interest and focus!Mary S.
  • Crossfit Flood delivers the quintessential Crossfit experience – great programming that scales for all fitness levels, encouraging coaches, and a welcoming community. Flood is a judgment and ego-free zone that is perfect for entry-level and experienced crossfitters a. Stop thinking about it and join already! You won’t regret it.Brandon Welch
  • I had the pleasure of dropping in with CrossFit Flood when visiting family and loved my experience with this community. Mike was very welcoming and all the coaches were extremely friendly and attentive. Shout out to Coach Taylor who after watching me workout one day, wouldn't allow me to slack the next! Great coaching! The facility is large and clean with great resources/equipment. The members are friendly and welcoming. Would highly recommend to anyone visiting the area and I plan to come back whenever I'm in town! Thank you CrossFit Flood!Amy Suggs
  • I drive by at least 8 other CrossFit gyms to get to this one, because of the people. This isn’t one of those competitors only gyms, where if you’re not at the next CrossFit games, you aren’t a priority. Flood is far from that; the coaches want you to be the best you can be. If that means doing body weight work when the prescribed weight is 115, then that’s what you’re doing. The other members are just as encouraging, no matter what level you’re working at. Everyone is supportive and motivates you to do your very best. There are class times to fit everyone’s schedule and un other gyms; people plan to do things together on the weekends. Weekend volleyball games, hikes, or even a holiday party; you’re not just joining a gym, you’re joining the Flood family.Matt Clark
  • I’ve been coming here for about 2.5 – 3 years now. The coaches are great, the programming is excellent, and the community is very close. CrossFit Flood will have many community events throughout the year such as the summer competition day within the gym called “Flood, Sweat, and Beers”, the annual Christmas party, and more. These events help the community grow even closer and help members meet each other who otherwise would never have met. The members who usually go to the 4pm class will get to meet members they may not have met because they go to the 6:30am class. No one has ever been judgmental against me. Quite the opposite in fact, this gym is nothing but encouraging. I once finished a workout that took me much longer than everyone else, and everyone stuck around and encouraged me until I finished.Michael H.
  • I was once that girl that would hide in the corner of the gym and do my short cardio session super early so not one would see me because i didnt want to be made fun of.. BUT NOW I am unstoppable,committed, proud and motivated all thanks to my family at Crossfit Flood!! This place and my new love for CROSSFIT changed my LIFE COMPLETELY! I found more that what I expected here at flood! I found community,support, dedication and genuine coaches and people who really want to see each other meet our goals! I was so scared to join CrossFit with 0 experience and being overweight, however, that fear went away after the first day of coming here! It’s never too late to make positive changes in your life, whether you are ready or not, Flood will make you feel you have it all together!! •Joined July 5, 2017Veronica R


My Rhapsody: Rob Dacosta From CrossFit Stigma To On The Team

CrossFit Couples: They Found Love In A Sweaty Place

My Rhapsody: Rob Dacosta shares how Rhapsody debunked his negative CrossFit stigma and how he found the community to carry through the good, the bad and COVID-19.

What is your story? 

I was born in Crawley, England and lived in Madeira, Portugal until I was 10 before moving to Charleston, South Carolina. Sadly, I lost my British accent. 

I recently graduated from the College of Charleston in May of 2019 and was lucky enough to find a job right college in Downtown Charleston at SIB Fixed Cost Reduction.

Rob Dacosta at Rhapsody CrossFit in Charleston, SC. (Photo by Valerie and Ed Photography.)

When it comes to my fitness and health history, I have always been involved in multiple sports. Growing up with my twin brother and an older brother, we were very competitive. My parents would sign me and my twin brother up in every sport together, so, obviously, I had to be the better twin. 

I played competitive tennis most of my life as well in college. Once I graduated and started my 9-5 job, I missed being an athlete. I was eager to find something to do rather than sit eight hours a day staring at a computer screen. That’s when I looked into joining Rhapsody CrossFit – one of the best decisions I ever made.

What brought you to Rhapsody CrossFit? 

The first time I heard about CrossFit was when I started lifting in college. I had a couple of friends that went to another box here in Charleston. 

If you told me two years ago that I would be doing CrossFit I would have laughed. I had a negative perspective and approach to CrossFit from people saying it was an expensive and dangerous sport. Wow, how I was so wrong. 

I looked at a couple of CrossFit gyms in Charleston, but nothing could compare to Rhapsody. The coaches and the community are the biggest reason why I fell in love with this gym.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen Coach Alan sad, to be honest. He has the most positive personality and the most upbeat energy that I simply need to rally after a long workday. 

What have you gotten your experience with Rhapsody CrossFit? 

Where do I begin? I have changed both physically and mentally since I joined Rhapsody. It’s the only thing I look forward to most after work. I love the friendly and competitive atmosphere. 

Rhapsody really impressed me once again with how they quickly rose up to handle the COVID-19 pandemic. Team Rhapsody jumped on letting us borrow gym equipment and were fast to offer virtual classes on Zoom. The coaches keep up with me daily and make sure I am doing well. It means a lot to me during these bizarre times and is keeping me going. 

What has being a part of the Rhapsody CrossFit community meant to you? 

The Rhapsody community reminds me a lot about being on a team. Everyone is looking out for you and you are looking out for them. We all push each other and want everyone to succeed. 

The hard work that the coaches put into this community is what I appreciate the most! I just love these people!

Rhapsody CrossFit in Charleston, SC. (Photo by Valerie and Ed Photography)


Our Coaches

CrossFit Couples: They Found Love In A Sweaty Place

Devon “Mighty Mouse” Seal is always pushing herself and others to perform at their very best, making her a perfect fit for Dynamis’ coaching team. She grew up in Carlsbad and started playing soccer at age 5. “My competitive spirit was fueled from a young age, and I found the most joy from being outside and playing sports,” she says.

After college and bored with at-home workouts, Devon tried CrossFit at Dynamis in 2014 and hasn’t looked back. Two years later, she got her Level 1 and joined the coaching team.

“The community, competitive aspect, and continuous room for improvement got me hooked early on” she says.

“I’m so happy to be able to coach others, share what I have learned, and be inspired by each and every athlete that walks into our gym!”

PS. If you listen carefully, you can hear her “warrior cry” about 3/4 way through a WOD.

Ashley Iliff has been a CrossFit athlete and coach for over six years and lives in Carlsbad, Ca. She started her CrossFIt journey at CrossFit Oahu in 2010 with the intent of improving her strength and endurance for long-distance triathlons.

She moved back to her hometown in California to start her pursuit toward graduate school for physical therapy. She has studied Physiotherapy abroad in Australia and honed her Olympic lifting skills at a gym in Melbourne.

She returned to California once again where she worked in physical rehabilitation settings and eventually transitioned to a full-time CrossFit Level-II Head Coach position in Salinas, CA.

Ashley is now located in North County San Diego where she is currently enrolled in a Doctorate of Physical Therapy program at the University of St. Augustine, San Marcos. She is excited to contribute her energy, education, and experience to the Dynamis community. When she has “free-time,” Ashley enjoys traveling the world, singing, surfing, hiking, and wine & beer tasting!


  • CrossFit Level 2 Certified Trainer

Co-Founder and Coach, Marcus Dedina lives in Leucadia, Ca. He started his CrossFit journey in Hawaii in 2006, when there were less than 70 CrossFit Affiliates. “I was approached by a couple doing a workout in a park and they asked me to join.

After a couple weekends of working out with them, they invited me to their home to WOD in their garage and have dinner. This turned out to be the first location of the now massive CrossFit Oahu family in Honolulu Hawaii and the man that invited me to work out on that first day in the park happened to be a Chief Navy Seal.

” He spent many years working as a CrossFit Oahu coach and had the chance to work with and even train many members of the “badass” elite special forces.

Since then, Marcus has owned three CrossFit businesses, coached for nearly a decade, and competed at the CrossFit Regionals. “I owe a lot to CrossFit, as it has allowed me to be far healthier and more focused while also giving me an amazing community to be a part of that I consider family.”


  • CrossFit Level 2 Certified Trainer
  • Former CrossFit Gymnastics Certification Staff Coach
  • CrossFit Nutrition Certified Trainer w/ Robb Wolf
  • CrossFit Endurance Certified Trainer
  • CrossFit Football Certified Trainer
  • CrossFit Olympic Weightlifting Certified Coach
  • Former USA Weightlifting Club Coach Certified
  • 13 Years of CrossFit coaching experience 
  • Coached several CrossFit athletes at the Regionals and Games level
  • Coached 3 athletes at Nationals level in Olympic Weightlifting
  • Spent a year under to tutelage of Weightlifting expert Sean Waxman


Dan & Alyssia — Crossfit Enclave

CrossFit Couples: They Found Love In A Sweaty Place

A: After my first WOD, I was so excited that I actually finished! I loved how motivating and nice everyone was!

I thought I had done a pretty good job keeping up with some of the veterans and thought I was pretty well prepared (at least with my conditioning) for the workout.  Little did I know that the next day and for about a month after, I would barely be able to walk and would hurt in places that I never thought possible! 

D: I remember getting in my car after the workout and having to sit in the parking lot for a minute or two because I had to catch my breath so I could drive.

I was also wondering how I was going to get bed the next day. Even though I was exhausted and sore, I knew that was exactly the workout I was looking for.

I couldn’t ask for a better group of coaches and athletes that push me to be better, day in and day out!

What keeps you coming back to CrossFit Enclave?

A: There are so many reasons I keep coming back to Enclave. One reason I keep coming back is because of how close knit everyone is! Everyone is so supportive and kind! It’s a family. I also love how challenging and motivating the workouts are.

I always leave feeling so accomplished and motivated after having completed a really hard WOD that I killed! In addition, I always leave Enclave feeling so much better than before the workout.

A lot of times, I get really stressed at work and completing the WODS really helps me destress! 

D: Enclave is more than a gym, it is a community of people who genuinely want to see you succeed. I look forward to looking at the WOD the night before class and envisioning myself killing it the next day with the 4:30 crew.

How has your motivation changed since you started CrossFit?

A: Crossfit Enclave has pushed me into doing things I never thought I could do. I feel I can push myself so much harder during the workouts . Even on days when I’m not feeling 100%, I still to go to the gym because I always surprise myself when I’m there and I don’t want to miss out on opportunities to improve . 

D: Crossfit keeps me motivated to get better every single day. Not only do I want to get in better shape, but I also want to get better at all the movements!

How have your fitness goals evolved since starting CrossFit? Do you have a new goal you are working toward?

A: My fitness goals haven’t really evolved since I joined! I’ve always been really into health and fitness and that hasn’t changed.

However, a new goal that I’m working towards is double unders!!! I can’t seem to master that skill yet and I’d love to be able to string together multiple double unders.

I’m also trying to work on my attitude towards my own goals! I’m really hard on myself and if I don’t hit a PR or perform on a movement, up to my standards, I get really upset with myself! Any progress is progress no matter how small it is! 

D: I would to be able to RX every single workout. My main goal is to show up and give 100% every day and see where it takes me!

What results have you already seen inside and outside the gym

A: My overall fitness, cardio and strength, has improved significantly! Anytime I do a workout other than Crossfit, I feel the workout is easy! 

D: I just feel I am a better version of myself health wise. I not being winded when I am throwing the football around, or running around coaching my nephews’ baseball team!

What is your favorite CrossFit Movement?

A: My favorite crossfit movement is toes to bar! I love doing toes to bar and wearing grips because it reminds me of my days as a gymnast! I also feel I’m getting a killer ab workout.

D: My favorite movement is the snatch. I love how it takes your whole body to complete the lift.

What is your least favorite CrossFit Movement?

A: My least favorite crossfit movement, at least right now, is double unders! I can do single double unders or double under, single, double under, single, but if I try to string more together,  I always end up with red marks all over my arms and legs!

D: Burpees of any kind! They destroy me!

What is your favorite thing about CrossFit?

A: My favorite thing about crossfit is the new friendships that I’ve formed and the constant feedback I get from coaches about how to improve! I’m the type of person who loves getting feedback on how to improve and even when I feel I can’t lift anymore weight or push myself any harder, there’s always a coach or another crossfitter who tells me I can do it! 

D: The team atmosphere! It’s awesome when others are cheering you on when you have nothing left in the tank. It gives you strength to get the 1-2 extra reps you need to finish a workout.

What is the number one tip you would give someone just starting CrossFit?

A: My number one tip I would give someone is to never give up! There have been so many times when I get frustrated with myself during a WOD because I’m not performing to the best of my ability. However, I’ve learned to never give up and to push through the workout because by doing so, I’m getting stronger, even when it’s not my best day. 

D: Stick with it! You have to trust in the coaches and the other athletes to get you through the workouts when you don’t feel you are 100%, or you would rather be at home on the couch!

What’s it working out together as a couple?

A: I love doing crossfit with Dan! He’s always pushing me to be the best that I can be.

We’re very competitive with each other but it pushes us to be the best we can be! On days, when I’m feeling discouraged because I couldn’t do a movement or beat a PR, he’s constantly reassuring me that I’ll get it or pointing out the positive in what I was able to do…

except for the special occasion where he tells me I could’ve back squatted way more weight than what I was doing. In those instances, I just stare at him and tell him to add a little extra weight to his own back squatting weight. 

D: I have a blast doing crossfit with Alyssia. She gets mad at me for pushing her a little too hard sometimes, but it’s only because I know she can be great! It’s a blast looking at the workouts together and thinking that whoever wrote it up can’t seriously think we can complete it! We always make it though!

What is your best CrossFit achievement?

A: My favorite crossfit achievement was when I was able to deadlift 250 pounds! I never thought I’d be able to lift that much in my life! Still not sure how I even got to that weight but I’ll take it! 

D: My biggest achievement is how much progress I have made since I first started. I have gone from feeling I am going to die after workouts, to just feeling I need an oxygen tank after workouts now!

What is your favorite memory at CrossFit Enclave so far?

A & D: Our favorite memory so far was completing the Murph workout as a team! It was so much fun completing the WOD in honor of military veterans. Even with such a tough workout, everyone pushed through and there was so much comraderie!

Tell us something no one knows about you:

A: I’m a twin (he’s a boy) and my younger brother and sister are twins as well! 

D: I once won a talent show (Mr. Larkin High School) rapping Forgot About Dre- by Dr. Dre and Eminem.