Peter Brasovan and Jared Byczko are teammates in every sense. They have been on teams together since they started playing sports when they were six years old.
The 2003 Merrillville graduates played soccer and ran track for the Pirates before going on to play soccer at IUPUI. Now, they live next to each other and own Naptown Fitness, a health and wellness company in Indianapolis with a focus on Crossfit.
They credit their time in purple as the foundation for current success.
“Those two guys (Merrillville soccer coach Brian Past and track coach Jim Johnston) were the first two people that really pushed into fitness as a way of living,” Brasovan said. “They believed in work ethic and they believed in teamwork, more than anything. One of the biggest reasons we’re successful today is because we still have that teamwork mentality.”
Crossfit is a branded form of exercise developed by Greg Glassman around 2000. A concise definition can be difficult to nail down, but the often unconventional workouts usually contain high-intensity interval training and calisthenics. Crossfitters run uphill carrying sandbags or lift large medicine balls from the ground onto shoulder-high platforms, in addition to Olympic weightlifting and plyometrics.
“I wake up every day excited and with a lot of passion about what I do,” Byczko said. “There are times when I have to wake up at 4 a.m. for a class, but 99 percent of the time it’s ‘I get to do this job' not ‘I have to do this job.’”
Byczko and Brasovan, like Crossfit “coaches” everywhere, developed “workouts of the day” designed to be varied and always changing. They do a lot less coaching these days, spending more of their time working on the business. But the root will always be fitness.
“When we found Crossfit, it was a no-brainer to us. This is what we’re passionate about,” Brasovan said. “Jared always had that entrepreneurial mindset. He was the guy that always, a few drinks deep in any conversation in college, said ‘We’re going to create the next big thing. We’re going to develop something and be our own bosses.’ We always thought we needed to create something until we found Crossfit.”
In high school, both Brasovan and Byczko were named first team all-district players by the Indiana Soccer Coaches Association. The pair were part of the Pirates’ back-to-back state championship semifinal runs in 2001 and 2002.
“I definitely expected both Jared and Peter to do well as adults. They were definitely mature for their age in that they saw the big picture ahead of high school,” Past said. “Both were fiercely competitive with each other in high school and I think in the end, that brought out the best in each of them.”
Brasovan and Byczko said Past and those high school years were important to their development not just as athletes but as people.
“(Past) said he always knew that he had something special in us as athletes and he was a great soccer coach, but he wasn’t really an athletic-development type of coach,” Brasovan said. “He was really smart and wise to team us up with Jim Johnston.”
It was with Johnston that the pair’s history with Crossfit actually began, even if they’d never heard of the workout regimen.
Those Merrillville soccer teams put in extra time outside of practice on Johnston’s property chopping wood, running through mud and moving rocks — unconventional exercises that, in a more structured environment, might be incorporated into a Crossfit routine.
Johnston said the workouts were originally developed by his father, Jim Johnston Sr., who coached track at Hobart.
“We always did these extreme things outside. It was nothing for us to cut 60 or 70 loads of firewood in a season,” Johnston said. “We dug out oak tree stumps by hand. I just incorporated that right into my athletes right away because I know what it did for me.”
Johnston now teaches auto shop at Merrillville but coaches track and football at Hobart. He coached Byczko and Brasovan in track at Merrillville.
He said some workouts knocked other kids out for a week but Brasovan and Byczko were back the next morning, asking when they could do it again.
“As a coach or teacher, you have a top 10 list (of former students) that you can instantly think of. Those two guys are both phenomenal,” Johnston said. “Jared and Peter, they would’ve medaled in multiple events if they would’ve known what they could’ve done in track.”
Both Brasovan and Byczko earned athletic and academic scholarships to IUPUI, where they spent four years on the pitch for the Jaguars. Brasovan, a goalie, is fifth in career wins and winning percentage at the school.
Brasovan was the first to officially get into the workout, working as a coach at Crossfit Chicago in 2010. It was one of the first one percent of Crossfit gyms in the country. Owner Rudy Tapalla is still a trusted mentor for the Naptown Fitness duo.
While Brasovan was getting into the exercise discipline, Byczko was on what he called a “reverse retirement” in the Virgin Islands training for triathlons.
“I was swimming, running, biking and whatnot and he came out there and kicked my butt with a few Crossfit workouts,” Byczko said. “That’s when I got the bug.”
Byczko spent nine months working in a logistics position in Chicago right out of college. Then, he got another job at McCormick Place but saw little chance for growth.
“Those two things allowed me to realize what I didn’t want to do in life. I realized ‘Well, what have we been doing all our lives,’” Byczko said. “It’s training, fitness, health, wellness. That’s what we’re passionate about.”
They looked into opening a gym in Chicago but the overhead costs were just too high. They talked about moving to the Carolinas or even further south but they didn’t have any support network in that area.
“We were in Indianapolis for four years for school and we had a lot of connections,” Byczko said. “There was no gym, no Crossfit specific gym, in downtown Indianapolis, surprisingly enough.”
They opened Crossfit Naptown in 2011 and have since expanded to three locations and rebranded as Naptown Fitness. The gyms offer not just Crossfit but yoga, barbell and corporate wellness.
They owned an 11,000-square-foot building in downtown Indianapolis before they were 30 years old, have seven full-time staff members — including high school soccer teammate Eric Nolan — and 30 part-time employees.
“We never really had any large hurdles to get over, besides finding the right space,” Brasovan said. “We just worked our tails off.”
“Financially, this was a big risk,” Byczko said. “We were prepared to fail and it was a risk at the time, but luckily it didn’t.”
Crossfit isn’t just exercise. Athletes compete in the Crossfit Games every year, as well. Byczko and Brasovan participated with a team for years, peaking with a 31st place finish in the worldwide competition in 2014. They’ve since left competition to focus on the business.
“As important as it was for us to be athletes and lead by example, now I look back and I laugh about how much better our business could’ve been and how much more we could’ve grown, how much further along we could be if we’d focused on the business rather than ourselves,” Byczko said.
The competition also left its physical markers. Byczko recently had surgery on his shoulder. He also had a partially-torn achilles tendon and back issues.
“We took the competitive side very seriously and were very fortunate that we made it to the pinnacle of our sport. The Crossfit Games is like the Super Bowl of our sport,” Brasovan said. “I still try to carve out at least an hour a day (to workout).”
As the company expands in the future, Byczko said he hopes to better educate people about fitness.
“Indiana always sits on the bottom five when it comes to states or cities with obesity issues,” he said. “A lot of it is just reaching people and helping them understand that something like substituting a water for a soda is going to change your life drastically. I don’t think enough people know.”