The Phoenix Rise play tonight against the DC Brawlers. Jon Callahan, Phoenix’s owner, can’t wait.

“Everything is based on fan engagement,” said Callahan, a Winthrop native and Cony High School graduate.

The sport is Grid, and if this first season goes as Callahan and his partners expect you’ll be following it soon.

Grid is the National Pro Fitness League, and Callahan, his partners and the strong athletes involved have turned their intense training regimen into a spectator sport.

“It’s strategic team racing, with men and women competing together on a level playing field,” said Callahan.

Each Grid match consists of 11 races. The grid itself is a 94-foot by 50-foot court. Competitors work there way through quadrants by completing events that test speed, strength and agility.

What makes Grid unique, Callahan said, is men and women can compete against each other. For example, athletes may be asked to do a series of handstand pushups, ring exercises, or a rope climb in the L position (legs extended outward).

“In gymnastics events, we’ve seen the women are quite dominant,” Callahan said. “The sports viewing public isn’t used to that. Women beating men, that’s compelling to me. The women on our team, in our league, are strong, confident women. I think they’re role models for my daughter.”

Callahan played soccer and ice hockey at Cony. He transferred to the Kent School in Connecticut for his senior year before graduating from Amherst College in 1995. Callahan worked in Chicago as an options trader for 18 years.

“It was a great opportunity, and I learned a ton,” Callahan said. “The last couple of years, the business turned. Other things became more important to me.”

Callahan left the financial world and began to work as a strength and conditioning coach. He and his family now live in Austin, Texas.

Four years ago, Callahan began training with James FitzGerald, who won the CrossFit Games in 2007. When Callahan and FitzGerald were approached about developing the Grid League, both were eager.

“When this opportunity came up, it was a great opportunity for both of us,” Callahan said. “If you’re going to build a team, you want to do it with the best.”

Callahan is not involved with coaching the team — that responsibility falls on the FitzGerald’s broad shoulders. Instead, Callahan focuses on the day-to-day operations of the franchise.

FitzGerald is one of the 21 athletes on the Rise roster, 11 women and 10 men. This season, each of the eight teams in the league will compete in three regular season matches, with each making the playoffs. Teams are scattered across the country, in Phoenix, New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Boston, Philadelphia and Miami.

“Next season will be 12 matches, and we’d like to add four to eight new teams,” Callahan said.

Grid made its debut on Tuesday, when the New York Rhinos defeated the Los Angeles Reign, 20-15. Callahan watched the competition with a group of friends. They second guessed coaching strategy and applauded the athletes’ feats.

“We were totally arm chair quarterbacking,” Callahan said. “That’s what sports is all about, right? That’s why we love it. We can talk about it.”

NBC Sports Network will broadcast the Grid playoffs. All eight teams will make the playoffs, with quarterfinals in Charlotte, N.C. on Sept. 23 and 24. The semifinals and finals will be at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas on Oct. 1-3. The finals will be broadcast live Oct. 3 on NBC Sports Network, with an encore presentation on Oct. 5 on NBC.

“The guys we’re working with have done the Olympics. We’re over the moon to be working with them,” Callahan said.

Grid is new and unknown. Callahan is betting you’ll give it a chance and you’ll like it.

“We’ll have fans for life,” Callahan said. “It only has one speed, and it’s on.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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