TOPSHAM — When Shawn Thiboutot started his gym in 2008, he had lofty goals for his business, but even he couldn’t have imagined what would happen.

CrossFit 321, on Park Drive in Topsham, has more than 200 active members who work out in the warehouse-sized facility seven days a week starting at 5 a.m. Thiboutot, the founder and owner, is also a coach and personal trainer, and he—with nearly a dozen others — help people of all ages and fitness backgrounds achieve their fitness and exercise goals.

Steph Malcom joined the gym in 2009 when it was located in a small space on Pleasant Street in Brunswick. There were no class schedules and basically every CrossFit movement was self-taught.

“We had no idea what we were doing, and it was awesome. The process was truly organic and we all just learned trial-by-fire together,” Malcom said.

According to its official website, www.crossfit.com, CrossFit is a lifestyle characterized by safe, effective exercise and sound nutrition. And that is what the coaches at CrossFit 321 preach. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been lifting weights for 30 years or you’ve never lifted a weight in your life. Everyone is treated as an equal, and a community within a community formed over time.

Malcom said she has met so many amazing people over the last 10 years. Members have met their spouses, friends, business partners, medical providers and more within the CrossFit 321 doors.

“The network of people at 321 is incredible, and people are genuinely interested in helping out fellow members. Some of our members have experienced tragedies, and the community immediately rallied together. Whether it’s raising money for a charity event or making a meal for new parents, 321 has that always-got-your-back feel,” she said.

For Jen Fox and her husband, Tim, the CrossFit community did more than just have their back. In February 2017, Tim Fox, an emergency room physician and longtime CrossFit 321 member, suffered a traumatic brain stem stroke resulting from a car accident. He spent four weeks in a rehab facility re-learning how to walk and swallow. His top physical shape helped in his recovery, Jen Fox said, but it was the support from the CrossFit 321 community that really made a difference.

“The best was all the cards, food, snow shoveling and more from the 321 community. We could not have done it without them,” she said.

For outsiders, CrossFit can be intimidating, especially with hulking and sculpted men and women carrying 80-pound dumbbells like they were feathers after doing the kind of pull up that you’d think would pull – if not tear – several muscles. It was said to have a cult-like following, and Malcom said over the years, the CrossFit community has worked to become more inclusive of people from all levels of physical fitness.

CrossFit 321 members come from a wide range of ages, abilities and backgrounds. There are educators, veterans, doctors, machinist, students, parents, grandparents – and everything in between. Malcom said CrossFit’s head organization took a pretty obvious step away from emphasizing only the top 0.000001 percent of athletes and is instead looking at the scientific health benefits of an active lifestyle.

“I have been encouraging people for years to try CrossFit as a means of finding a fun and enjoyable way to bring health back into one’s life. At its core, CrossFit tells us that movements can and should be modified to each individual person,” Malcom said. 

“My workouts changed throughout my pregnancies, but I was on the same clock as everyone else. Here, you’re no different from the person next to you. That goes for the athlete in their 70s, the athlete who’s had 10 knee surgeries and the athlete who just came to lose a few pounds. We are all in this together,” Malcom said.

Olivia Plaisted played collegiate field hockey and always enjoyed training to get in shape for her season. But since finishing four years as a college athlete, Plaisted said she’s struggled to balance a full-time career and exercising. She couldn’t lift as much, running wasn’t easy or enjoyable anymore and she couldn’t find the time, the motivation or the right gym.

Until she discovered CrossFit and the people at CrossFit 321.

She said it didn’t take long before she was again excited about going to the gym. Plaisted said CrossFit makes her feel like she’s back in college athletics.

“There’s a similar team atmosphere with a coach, partner lifts, dynamic stretching, being told to run, but pushing yourself because you want to prove yourself. I love not having to think about what I should be doing because it’s all spelled out in the Workout of the Day,” Plaisted said.

Heather Blanchard had a different experience when she joined the CrossFit gym. Blanchard, who is the principal at Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School in Brunswick, said she was terrified to join Topsham’s CrossFit gym because the women she knew there were so strong and confident. But the sense of community within the facility’s walls drew her in and she has been a mainstay ever since.

“I think the very best part of 321 is how all want to see each other succeed,” Blanchard said. “I’ve had friends be more excited for me about a success than I was for myself and vice versa. We come together.”

Mary Cronin has been a CrossFitter for more than five years and has fallen so in love with the sport that when CrossFit 321 has competitions, she’s either participating or volunteering as a judge. She figured she’d enjoy the exercise, but  Cronin didn’t think she’d enjoy the camaraderie so much.

“I did not anticipate how much I would love the community aspect of 321 and the broader CrossFit community as a whole,” Cronin said.

“Ultimately, 321 provides me accountability and a place to belong, and it helps me achieve my goals while giving me goals to strive toward achieving.”

Thiboutot and everyone involved in CrossFit 321’s success hope there continues to be a building community and a bright future for the gym. No matter what happens, CrossFit 321 will be filled with athletes of every kind working out and clanging and banging beginning at 5 a.m. each morning.

CrossFit 321 in Topsham opened more than a decade ago and has grown into one of the premier CrossFit gyms in Maine.