Meet the CrossFit Coaches

Our Team

Nebraska’s Fittest Gym also has Nebraska’s most marvelous coaches! When you’re ready to relentlessly pursue excellence, these are the men and women that will help make that happen. With an abundance of experience and a deficit of ego, our coaches know just how to push you past your limitations (which you’ll be pleased to discover are mostly in your mind) and into your personal success zone.

  • Phil Kniep

    Director of Operations, Head Coach and Owner

    Director of Operations, Head Coach and Owner Phil Kniep has been CrossFitting for nearly a DECADE – a number that’s almost unheard of in a CrossFit coach! He first got interested in strength and conditioning when he was in middle school. He was lifting “weights” – a broom stick and 1-gallon milk jugs filled with sand – in fifth grade. “It made sense to me at an early age that if your workout didn’t ‘hurt’ a little bit, you probably weren’t doing much good for yourself,” he says.

    He and fellow firefighters from the Lincoln Fire Department founded CrossFit Lincoln in 2009, and Phil calls coaching his “creative outlet.” Phil is madly in love with the community at CFL. “They are the most selfless and giving people I know,” he says. “I get teary-eyed at every community event we hold as I think on how blessed we are, and I’m very passionate about fostering that community.”

    Phil has a ridiculously long list of athletic accomplishments to his name, including being a 2-time State Powerlifting Champion, playing for the Nebraska Cornhuskers football team in college, playing one year of professional football with the National Indoor Football League, and competing in CrossFit Regionals for 7 years, CrossFit Games for 2 years, and coaching CFL’s team at Regionals for 5 years.


    • CrossFit Level 2
    • CrossFit Movement & Mobility
    • Endurance
    • Rowing
  • Paul Canarsky

    Assistant Head Coach Paul Canarsky is an expert in kinesiology and helping people learn to move safely and efficiently. “It is very rewarding to see people progress,” he says. “It’s also inspiring to see people give their best on a daily basis.”

    Paul practiced taekwondo as a youngster and played flag football through his high school years before discovering CrossFit. After a year, the opportunity to coach was brought up to him, and he saved up for his Level 1 certification and went to Kansas to take the test. Today, Paul loves giving CFL members all the personal attention, instruction, and encouragement they need to succeed.


    • CrossFit Level 2
  • Tanya Gifford


    Tanya specializes in gymnastic movements and coaching the kids program. She is passionate about being a positive role model for the gym community as well as mentoring young athletes.

    If anyone knows the importance of having positive role models as a young athlete, it’s Tanya! She became a competing gymnast at the age of 9. She competed on a regional, national, and international level. Coming out of high school, Tanya was one of the top recruits in the nation and received a full athletic scholarship at the University of Oklahoma where she competed all four years.

    Today, you will find Tanya investing in the next generation of athletes! When Tanya isn’t working with the kids of CrossFit Lincoln, she is hanging out with her triplet girls.


    • CrossFit Level 2
    • CrossFit Kids
    • CrossFit Rowing
  • Mark Geist

    CF Kids Coach

    Coach Mark Geist was never very athletic, but he says that’s what’s so great about CrossFit. “It meets you where you’re at, regardless of athletic background or skill level.” His biggest athletic accomplishment is once winning a pie-eating contest.

    That being said, Mark has dabbled a bit athletically: Brazilian jiu-jitsu, tennis, half marathons, baseball, softball, tug-of-war, dodgeball, power lifting, thumb wars, Dance Dance Revolution, Army training, red-rover, soccer, football, quidditch, taekwondo, and volleyball.

    He discovered CrossFit five years ago when he was in a wedding with Cole Henn and Phil Kniep. “We did a wedding day workout with the groom, and it almost killed me,” he says. “I decided that it shouldn’t have almost killed me, so I needed to get in shape. Now here I am, CrossFitting to keep from dying when I do any physical activity.”


    • CrossFit Level 2
    • CrossFit Kids
  • Troy Ficke

    Coach Troy Ficke has been CrossFitting for six years and specializes in adapting workouts that push members at their own level. “I focus on making sure the veteran and the rookie can get a great workout in a setting where they don’t have to worry about pushing it to the point of a possible injury,” he says.

    He’s a fanatic when it comes to helping people find the healthiest version of themselves. “For some, that may be competing. For others, it may be losing a few pounds and feeling more comfortable in their own body,” he says. “I want to help people meet their own goals and build that confidence in themselves.”


    • CrossFit Level 2
  • BJ Hanger

    Coach BJ Hanger was introduced to CrossFit by her husband, who encouraged her to join as a way to meet new friends when they moved to a new town. “I reluctantly did it and loved it all- from the workouts to the community,” she says.

    She’s played many different sports in her life, including volleyball, softball, basketball, track, adventure races and CrossFit competitions. Today, BJ loves helping CFL members lead a healthier lifestyle through exercise and diet. “Whether it’s refining technique, mastering a skill, or getting stronger and gaining those PR’s – it’s all exciting to watch,” she says. “Seeing an athlete gain confidence in their own ability is rewarding as a coach.”


    • CrossFit Level 2
  • Ted Hanger

    Coach Ted Hanger has been CrossFitting for five years and specializes in improving Olympic lifts. Because he was a qualifier for the 2015 Masters World Cup Weightlifting (77K), he’s got special insight into what it takes to be a truly phenomenal weightlifter.

    His favorite part of coaching CrossFit is seeing the potential in every athlete and helping them achieve goals that exceed their belief in their own capabilities. Ted went from athlete to coach after being awarded a scholarship to receive his Level 1 at the US Army Command and General Staff College. His favorite quote is “Success is never purchased. It’s rented, and the rent is due every day.”


    • CrossFit Level 2
    • USA Weightlifting Sports Performance Coach
  • Emily Brede


    Coach Emily Brede is over 5 years into her CrossFit journey, and found her passion for the sport after a collegiate basketball and tennis career.  Emily recalls that her life had put her in many leadership positions naturaly, with her friends and family often commenting that she’d make a great coach. After spending 5 years at CrossFit Lincoln, she finally found something she was passionate for. “I was approached about becoming a coach, and I couldn’t be happier!” she says.

    Through coaching, Emily loves to help improve “the health and well being of others,” she says. “I am especially passionate for helping others become physically and nutritionally healthier.” When asked what she wants people to know about her, she says, “You are defined by the people you surround yourself with and I get to be surrounded by the community at CFL, which is awesome! Thank you!


    • CrossFit Level 1 Certification
  • Aaron Purkeypile

    Director of Marketing, Coach

    Coach Aaron Purkeypile has been a CrossFitter since 2015, and it was CrossFit Lincoln that started his love for the sport. His passion for coaching stems from a deeper sense of community. He says, “I want to see our community of members grow. I love to see people support each other as they pursue excellence in health.”

    An avid baseball player in his youth, and with a collegiate basketball career behind him, Aaron’s experiences have fostered a desire to help members become better versions of themselves. “I really like to see the faces of people change through the class. You can start a class and people are quiet and subdued, but by the end of the class they have accomplished something. They put in effort. They tried. And some days that’s the reward. Other days the reward is a PR or a new skills acquired. Either way, our members leave knowing they are better than yesterday because they put in the work today.”


    • CrossFit Level 1


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