An Interview with Jeremy McDonnell of Rocky Top Crossfit

Jeremy McDonnell of Rocky Top Crossfit and South Charlotte Crossfit.

Jeremy McDonnell of Rocky Top Crossfit and South Charlotte Crossfit.

As I reported last week, Rocky Top Crossfit is coming to 309 North Central Street just outside the Old City. At the time I reported it I had not been able to catch up with co-owner and crossfit coach Jeremy McDonnell. Subsequently, I spoke to him and I wanted to pass on what I learned while the story was still fresh.

Jeremy and Abby McDonnell are set for a big year. They anticipate opening Rocky Top Crossfit sometime around March or April, depending on how the renovation goes. From the outset they will shuttle between the two cities, but they are bringing some of their very best trainers, two of whom will also move to Knoxville. Most likely the couple will make their own permanent move to Knoxville later this year. It’s enough to make your head spin, right? Well how about they have a first child in March, just to make things interesting? Some people really know how to make a big year even bigger.

Abby McDonnell of Rocky Top Crossfit and South Charlotte Crossfit.

Abby McDonnell of Rocky Top Crossfit and South Charlotte Crossfit.

The website for their new gym isn’t up and running just yet, but a spin around the web site for their South Charlotte Crossfit gym gives you a feel for what we have in store. The workouts are intense and the staff knows what they are doing – yet they retain a sense of humor and a positive approach to the people with whom they work.

I asked him how they came to choose Knoxville and the story began with his time at UT. Originally from Texas, when his recruitment began and he visited, he loved the mountains and the tradition of the University of Tennessee. He swam for the Vols from 1998 to 2002, moved to Austin and back, enlisted in the military from 2005 to 2010 and ultimately joined friends in Charlotte.

It was his preparation for his military training that first introduced him to crossfit. He continued to use it as training during his time in the military and once he returned to civilian life he began coaching. After starting the successful crossfit gym in Charlotte, he never forgot the time he enjoyed in Knoxville and particularly in the Old City, saying he, “loves the preservation of the older buildings” he sees downtown.

The McNutt-Burks Building, Central Street, Knoxville, December 2013

The McNutt-Burks Building, Central Street, Knoxville, December 2013

The pieces started to fall into place when his brother moved to Knoxville. He realized that, while Knoxville has a couple of crossfit gyms, there were none downtown. Through the “super helpful” Daniel Odle of Conversion Properties, he ultimately connected with David Dewhirst and fell in love with the McNutt Burks building. Its 6400 square feet and bare bones structure was just the sort of place he’d imagined. He said the experience feels “like a sort of homecoming.

The crossfit programs grew out of the garage gym movement and the new location fits that motif. Jeremy likes to keep the method close to its roots even though it increasingly is becoming a popular, well-known work out method having garnered sponsorship from Reebok, for example.

Crossfit workouts.

Crossfit Workouts

He anticipates the gym will draw clients from nearby areas such as the ring neighborhoods to the north, as well as downtown, but he also anticipates interest from downtown workers who would like an intense workout at the end of their work day. The clients at the Charlotte gym represent a wide range of ages and motives for choosing the workout method and he anticipates the same will be true in Knoxville. Watch for the work to continue just a half block from the new residences at the White Lily Building and welcome our new neighbors.


  1. “…Knoxville has a couple of crossfit gyms, there were none downtown. ”

    Congrats for a -non-booze -non-food -new health and fitness business in an old building in the city center. However in fact there is an existing Corssfit gym located in an old building in downtown Knoxville. It is tucked away in “the Attic” of the Lyndsay Young Downtown YMCA. Personal trainers are welcome or are available on staff.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      Thanks for the information, Kevin. The YMCA is a jewel that we are fortunate to have downtown. I didn’t know about the program you mention.

      • Very cool! The downtown YMCA is not listed as an official CrossFit affiliate, meaning coaches may or may not be certified. Rocky Top CrossFit coaches appear to have some of the most highly regarded coaching certifications in the industry.
        The coaches experience, knowledge base, programming and instruction of proper lifting mechanics will be quite different at these two locations.

        • I have said that forever. If there is just ONE thing this town needs, it’s someone with some credentials. Finally! YaY!

  2. Excellent news!

    Just a little correction, though.

    Isn’t this on N. Central as opposed to S. Central?

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      That’s an interesting question. This is the address I was given by the agent who brokered the deal, but Google maps seem to suggest north Central starts at Jackson and this is a block and a half north of that, so you may be right. Thanks for bringing it up.

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