Grid: New sport on fire

Local team to compete at fairgrounds Aug. 29

Ashley Beaver readied herself, her face focused, and lifted a 140-pound barbell over her head. She set the weights down for the slightest second and did it again, five times in all.

And that was just a warm-up.

Beaver, a former Pleasanton CrossFit trainer, is part of a new professional sport that combines high-intensity workouts with the competitive atmosphere of a team sport. Called Grid, the co-ed sport launched in 2014.

Beaver and 13 other athletes are part of the San Francisco Fire team that trains out of a Pleasanton gym. The SF Fire will compete on Aug. 29 at the Alameda County Fairgrounds against the Los Angeles Reign.

Recent years have seen an advent of events that test athletes' speed, strength and creativity. Nationwide events like Mud Runs, Spartan Races and CrossFit competitions are just a few of the ways functional fitness has permeated the athletic world, SF Fire chief operating officer Paul Southern said.

"Millions are participating in these types of events, races and throw-downs," he said. "But functional fitness can be a drag to watch. There are not many people that want to spend three days, or a day or even an hour, watching people work out unless they are supporting friends or family."

NBC Sports Network broadcast last year's season and the first four Grid matches in this season. While the channel won't show the match in Pleasanton, it will broadcast the semifinals and finals this fall and winter.

The sport is still in its infancy, so athletes are paid for the few weeks they compete. The average salary for about seven weeks of work is $10,000, with a combined team salary cap of $200,000, Southern said. The total budget for SF Fire is $750,000, including travel.

Each Grid team is made up of 14 team members -- seven men and seven women -- including one man and one woman who are 40 years or older. Coaches pick team members from a draft and often look for gymnasts, weightlifters and athletes who can do a bit of everything, Southern said.

He said he looks for "team players and good people that happen to be extraordinary athletes" when selecting SF Fire members.

Each of the 11 races are completed on a 50-foot-by-100-foot grid, and athletes move to different squares on the grid after each heat. Just one of the increasingly difficult heats requires athletes to lift weights, but each succession of reps uses heavier weights.

If Grid seems familiar, it's because it uses many of the same weightlifting exercises as CrossFit -- lots of cleans and jerks. But don't be mistaken, the two sports are very different, Southern said.

Southern said CrossFit is meant to train athletes for "the unknown and unknowable challenges in life through constantly varied tests of fitness. Grid is known and knowable, and the time domains are predictable."

That is to say Grid has the same 11 races in each match, each race has set rules and the point of Grid is to use your team to its best ability collectively, rather than trying to be a one-man exercise band.

Intrinsically, CrossFit exists as a competition to find the fittest athletes in the world. Grid's purpose is to be an exciting sport for fans to watch, but the sport just so happens to include people testing their physical limits by lifting large weights, running very fast and doing gymnastic feats.

One of the key differences between Grid and other functional fitness sports is that Grid is designed to be an exciting spectator sport, especially for children.

The sport also offers competitive athletes the chance to earn a partial income. Many SF Fire team members have full- or part-time jobs -- one is a firefighter and some coach or run gyms -- but some are full-time athletes.

"If you are an Olympic level athlete in gymnastics or weightlifting, can you make a living competing in your sport after 18? Probably not. But you can express your talents in front of the world and get paid travel, housing and a salary if you are good enough to be drafted into the GRID league," Southern said.

Since the sport includes women and men competing against each other, it shows young girls that working out isn't just for boys, SF Fire team member Alessandra Pichelli said.

"I've had little girls comment on how they wanted to be strong like us," said Pichelli, who's from Orinda. "It was so cool to tell them there's no limit to what they can do."

For tickets and other information about next weekend's event, visit

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Like this comment
Posted by Kirawang
a resident of Apperson Ridge
on Oct 26, 2015 at 10:51 am

Getting to know the new sport of Grid through it's Florida National Pro League tryouts- Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Ed
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Oct 26, 2015 at 1:04 pm

I guess I gotta see it to understand what this is.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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