Most Americans don’t know the true weight of these American flags — folded 13 times into a triangle and presented to a fallen service member or veteran’s next of kin, said Josie Buford. To better communicate the heavy burden they represent, she organized a physical challenge that’s uniting three Kansas City businesses.
The 13 Folds Challenge honors the sacrifices members of the military make, said Buford, director of the Young Professionals Board for Folds of Honor Kansas City, a non-profit organization that provides educational scholarships to the spouses or children of fallen or disabled veterans.
Entrants in the challenge are expected to complete 13 rounds of intense exercises — each symbolic of the folds in the burial flag.
“Every round, we’re challenging all participants to not only do the workout, but also walk away knowing what each meaning behind the fold is,” said Buford. “The weight that these families are carrying is so much more than just a workout that you’re doing.”
The challenge began Saturday, June 18, the final day of National Flag Week. Activities are spread across three locally-owned businesses: Mission Barbell Club in Mission; RoKC Olathe Climbing, Yoga, and Fitness Gym in Olathe; and the Wellness Warehouse in Kansas City’s West Bottoms.
Click here register for the 13 Folds Challenge.
Proceeds from the $40 entry fee go toward the Folds of Honor scholarship fund. The fundraising goal is $5,000 this year, Buford said, noting plans to host the event annually on the third week of June, which is a significant time for Folds of Honor.
In about June 2006, the organization’s founder, Lt. Col. Dan Rooney, was on a flight home from his second tour in Iraq when the pilot announced the remains of fallen Cpl. Brock Bucklin were on board. When the plane landed, the pilot asked for people to remain seated while Bucklin’s remains were unloaded, but most passengers got up and tried to exit the aircraft regardless. The situation propelled Rooney to start Folds of Honor in his Oklahoma garage.
“On day one, he wrote down, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do, we’re going to honor their sacrifice and educate their legacy’,” said Buford.
Respect earned on the job
The fundraiser’s main location, Mission Barbell Club, is a CrossFit gym that opened in early January of this year. Owner Jay Fleer was a police officer for 30 years when he decided to change the direction of his career. He’s passionate about fitness, and he’s been doing CrossFit for around eight years, he said.
When the pandemic hit, several coaches stopped coaching and one of his friends asked him to step in and help. Although Fleer did not have any experience, he decided to give it a go.
“I started doing it and then I found out that I really loved it. I loved doing it. And so then I went through the certification classes,” said Fleer.
Fleer said his tattoo artist gave him the idea of opening his own gym and he could not get the idea out of his head, so he retired from the Mission Police Department, found a location for the gym, and got to work. Mission Barbell Club now offers group CrossFit and HIIT workouts as well as personal training services.
A triangular flag faces the entrance of the gym’s lobby. The flag belongs to his grandfather, a veteran who served in World War II, Fleer said.
Throughout his career as a police officer, he said, he’s crossed paths with a lot of veterans — teaching him the importance of supporting the military through efforts like the 13 Folds Challenge.
“I actually had been a school resource officer at a few schools during my career, and I know of two of the students that I’ve worked with who had been killed during military deployments. And my stepson is actually in the United States Navy,” he said.
A space to ‘give them a little love’
The Wellness Warehouse, another host location for 13 Folds, opened just a couple weeks before Kansas City started shutting down in 2020 because of COVID-19. Jill Boland, the owner, opened the business because she wanted to create a safe, private space for female personal trainers to train clients, she said.
“I worked out of my house for seven years in Overland Park in a two-car garage,” said Boland. “Before then I worked at 24 Hour Fitness for a few years, and I just found that, well, female personal training is a little bit different in kind of a male dominated business.”
She compared the Wellness Warehouse to a co-op, noting all the personal trainers own their own businesses and bring their own clientele.
A year ago, the gym took over a space next door and expanded. The Wellness Warehouse now offers group fitness classes on on the building’s west side and classes with a personal trainer on its east side. Boland and her fellow trainers are excited to host 13 Folds, said.
“My dad is a veteran and my grandparents were as well, so I’m always up to support the veterans and just give them a little love,” Boland said.
Those who survive: live their best lives
RoKC, a well-known climbing gym with three locations across Kansas City, serves as the third host for the challenge. RoKC has three locations across the metro. Andrew Potter, CEO and co-owner, is a veteran and longtime supporter of Folds of Honor. He served three tours in Afghanistan, so when Buford approached him, asking if RoKC could help, Potter didn’t hesitate, he said.
“For me losing the friends that I lost overseas, you know, if I think of it like if I had been killed, what would I want my friends who were still living to be doing,” said Potter.
“I would want them to be crushing it, like I want them to be living hard every day, working out, living their best life and then using that to serve others,” Potter continued. “And so for us, something like this is a really easy decision to take part in just because of my friends and those that continue to make the ultimate sacrifice.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.