OUTWOD’s Will Lanier gives new meaning to fitness benefits

Scott Huffman | Contributing Writer
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The one thing that struck fitness enthusiast Will Lanier most on his initial visit to a CrossFit gym in Dallas was the tremendous support he felt from its members. Without knowing much about Lanier, experienced CrossFit athletes shouted encouraging words as the newbie struggled to finish his first hour-long workout. It was a group in which he immediately felt included.

“I’m this little gay dude prancing around in probably short shorts and a tank top doing this workout, [with] people totally cheering me on.” Lanier, 31, says. “I did team sports growing up, so it’s also that team aspect. But it’s that supportive community. I never felt as supported as a gay man or as an athlete as I have when I go into a CrossFit gym. Everyone is so … they are all on your side no matter what.”

When Lanier later left his hometown of Dallas and headed to New York City to become a CrossFit coach, he naturally looked to the gym crowd to expand his social circle. Lanier decided to start a gay workout group, and he posted an invitation for others to join. He called the group GAYWOD, combining the word gay with WOD, the CrossFit acronym for workout of the day.

The name was cheeky, and the act of taking back the pejorative term gaywad empowered Lanier.

“I was one of like five gay guys out of the whole crew of 150 — which is probably not true, but it’s what my gaydar was telling me,” Lanier says, estimating the number of gay members at his gym.

“I put together a little event on our whiteboard called GAYWOD. Literally, there were six of us who showed up. We just did a workout and had brunch after. It was a social thing. I had just moved to New York and was trying to meet people.”

Over the next couple of years, Lanier hosted several GAYWOD workouts at various NYC CrossFit locations. As the number of participants grew, Lanier realized that he was onto something. He also saw potential to create a niche fitness brand with a mission of giving back to the community.

“That’s when the charity aspect began, and we started to charge people to come,” Lanier explains. “We were doing [events] monthly in New York with 120 people coming and raising money for smaller charities that no one has ever heard of like the Anti-Violence Project. We weren’t raising a lot of money, maybe $1,500 bucks, but it makes all the difference to the charities that need the money.”

Today, GAYWOD has grown into OUTWOD, an inclusive for-profit fitness enterprise with an LGBT focus and a mission to connect fundraising to local beneficiaries in host cities across the country. OUTWOD events — like the inaugural Dallas workout on Sept. 15 benefitting the Resource Center — are less CrossFit-oriented and more functional fitness and high-intensity training. Lanier promises that workouts are open to anyone regardless of gender, age, or athletic proficiency.

“The idea is to get [people] out of their comfort zone and out of their social circles and to create a bond around fitness and around health that they normally wouldn’t find elsewhere,” Lanier says. “We are super-open to beginners, but it’s an event for a skilled athlete also.

“We want everyone to come and have fun, and we want everyone to get a good workout. All the workouts we do are scalable up and down based on skill level.”

From a wellness perspective, many might consider a strapping young athlete like Lanier invincible. He, though, knows differently. Lanier, who battled ulcerative colitis, was caught off guard in June 2014 by a colon cancer diagnosis.

Within a couple of months, a surgeon removed his colon and gave him a “super-sexy colostomy bag.” Although doctors weren’t sure of the outcome at the time, the colostomy turned out to be temporary.

“I think the hardest part of that was being so young and thinking, one, ‘Oh my God, am I gonna die?’” Lanier recalls. “And, two, I was 28. I [knew I might] have to live with this shit bag attached to me for the rest of my life, and I work in fitness where your image is your billboard.”

Lanier, though, managed to turn adversity into purpose by helping to create #BLANKCANCER, a social media selfie campaign. In it, Lanier bared all — including the colostomy bag — as a poster boy for cancer awareness. The media exposure was another coming out of sorts for Lanier, and the project helped to shape a desire to ensure that his future undertakings, including OUTWOD, would positively affect the lives of others.

“I’m proud of what OUTWOD has become even though that was never really the goal,” he says. “It’s what it is now. I’m so grateful and honored for it to be what it is. I bust my ass, but it’s because I love it and because I see what we are doing for the people who are coming to the events and for the charities.”

OUTWOD. $30. Social Mechanics, 2010 Greenville Ave., Sept. 15, 6:30 p.m., Register at outwod.com/events.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 8, 2017.