JDI Barbell: Q&A with Founder Jesse Irizarry
Jesse Irizarry of JDI Barbell walks us through his journey as a competitive lifter, and how building a community at his gym inspired him to give back.
Jesse Irizarry is the head coach and owner of JDI Barbell in Long Island City. A former competitive Olympic-style weightlifter and powerlifter, he opened this gym to share his love and passion for weightlifting with the local community.
Keys to the Community: Could you start by telling us a little about how you came to found the Barbell club and your career as a weightlifter?
Jesse Irizarry: I got into lifting weights at a really young age. The next step for me was boxing — my father first took me to a boxing gym when I was 11. Through that hobby, I became interested in Olympic-style weightlifting, which I began training for when I was around 19. From there, I graduated to powerlifting, which I pursued competitively for about seven years.
My wife and I moved up to New York about three years ago. That’s when I left behind my life as a competitive weightlifter. I liked being a strength coach, and loved the idea of helping athletes pursue their goals.
I was running some programs out of a gym for about a year and a half, particularly associated with their CrossFit gym — but CrossFit wasn’t my background or what I wanted to be doing long-term. The owner of the gym liked the idea of having a barbell club in the gym, but we quickly outgrew the space he had available. That’s when I knew it was time to start my own thing.
So we opened JDI in April of last year. We offer something that I think was not really common until a few years back. Before, everyone was really concerned about how they look — now the focus is on strength training, in part because of CrossFit’s swell of popularity in the past decade.
K2C: So you run a gym alongside private coaching? What kind of services do you offer?
JI: We have a weightlifting team as well. We do a lot of organized group training for lifting. We have one group specifically dedicated to big weightlifting, and another focused on basic weight training (we do a lot of squats!). People don’t just come here to work out on their own: they know that they’ll have the support of staff who can help them with their form and generally encourage them to push themselves. It’s an awesome environment.
K2C: How did your connection to Jay and Keys to the Community get started?
JI: Jay heard about my gym and me as a coach, and sought me out because he wanted to get in shape again and specifically get back into jiu-jitsu. Along the way, he fell in love with lifting weights — not just to improve his athleticism, but also because he loved seeing the measurable progress he could make in a relatively short time. Jay is big into community, and he loved being a part of a group of people who shared a common goal of improving their lives.
When he founded Keys to the Community, Jay wanted to get me involved because he felt as if we had already built a great community. The idea was to build awareness around his mission in a different environment.
K2C: Tell us a little about the work you’re doing together.
JI: Jay and I are planning on hosting friendly competition fitness and strength events at JDI Barbell to increase awareness and raise money for the causes that Keys to the Community addresses. We want to gather a group of people, both from our gym and elsewhere, to compete for points in weightlifting events based on number of reps or weight lifted within a time limit. If the participants reach their goals, we raise money for the cause.