Kate Rawlings is a former CrossFit Games athlete, a mom and the owner of Coca CrossFit in North Ridgeville, Ohio. In my chat with her today, we get into what led her to the fitness industry, the crazy balancing act that comes with being a woman in the so-called “sandwich generation,” and how getting through this past year has shaped her business.
1:15: Corporate world to gym ownership
3:55: COVID and the aftermath
6:22: Juggling responsibilities—the “sandwich generation”
11:45: Mindset and self-love
16:22: Working with women during pregnancy and postpartum
19:44: Lioness and I Am Stronger
24:13: Dealing with changes
I’m Tiffy Thompson and Women In Fitness Business is my deep dive into the industry from the female perspective. In each show, I talk with fitness entrepreneurs, coaches, and executives about why they got into the industry and what’s keeping them there. I ask about the unique challenges for women in fitness, the balancing act of career and family, and the different strategies for success in a tough field. I’ll present big wins, lessons from failure and real conversations with real women who are improving the health of their clients around the world. It’s a spotlight on the great work of the women who know working out. Kate Rowlings is a former CrossFit Games athlete, a mom and the owner of Coca CrossFit in North Ridgeville, Ohio. In my chat with her today, we get into what led her to the fitness industry, the crazy balancing act that comes with being a woman in the so-called sandwich generation and how getting through this past year has helped shape the direction she’s taken her business. I hope you enjoy it. Hi Kate, how are you?
I am fabulous today. I do apologize if I cough a little bit during this, the joys of having a toddler is inviting all those toddler germs into your home. So we’re kicking a little bug, not COVID, just a regular toddler bug.
No problem. I know it well. So Kate, with this podcast, we’re kind of going into what draws women into starting in the fitness business, what keeps them going throughout it? And I wanna talk a little bit to you today about what do you think made you make the leap from the corporate world to gym owner when only 31% of small businesses in the US are owned by women? What do you think it was about you in particular that made that leap?
I’ve always been a little bit of a, I don’t wanna say like a black sheep when it comes to society, in not functioning in the norms of, kind of tripping into success. Not really knowing how I got there. Really kind of devaluing, I guess, downplaying skillsets that I have. So in 2010, I went to the CrossFit Games as an individual, which was an incredible experience. And I somehow we managed to walk away with a professional contract with Reebok. And so I found myself at 27 loving the fitness industry. I had always been in sports and that was kind of always been in my background, but it was this opportunity at 27 years old. I didn’t own a home. I wasn’t married. You know, I went from a division one college soccer player to almost 200 pounds in the corporate world.
I tripped into CrossFit via a Google search in 2006, I think it was 2007, and managed to turn my life around using CrossFit, and was a level one coach and coaching at a local affiliate at the time. And so it just made sense to me to just take the leap and open up a gym. It was super low barrier of entry from a finance standpoint. And I think I just wasn’t scared enough that I shouldn’t do it right. Or like smart enough. Like I don’t know really kind of how you categorize that, but it was like, I don’t know, I was young and dumb and I took the leap. I never expected to own my own business yet alone my own gym. And it’s 12 years later and we’re still, we still got a heartbeat, so life is good. It worked out.
This last couple of years has been hard for everyone, but especially hard on gym owners. What’s been happening, in your life. And what’s been happening with the gym in general.
Well, that is a very loaded question for the last two years. It has been an interesting ride to say the least, I think Ohio, so we’re located in Ohio has been a little bit more lenient and progressive as far as shutdowns go worldwide. We got shut down. I wanna say it was about a four month period that we were completely shut down. luckily we have built such a strong tight-knit community and we invest so much into our individual members that I think when we shut down, of 112 members, we had at the time three said, please stop payment. The rest said, please continue to take it. We’re just working from home. We wanted a gym to come back to, luckily being part of, kind of Two-Brain Business and also just networking with other gyms in the area. We were able to come up with some creative ways to take it remote.
We were, able to rent out equipment and things like that to keep the business going. And we pretty much got flooded with all of our members the day that we were allowed to open again. So I think from like the worst case scenarios, we survived it pretty well, all things considered, and over the last year and a half or so, there’s been these kind of ebbs, ebbs and flows. Last January to March, I would say we had a huge influx of people. I think people were just excited to get out of their house. They just were so cooped up, something that I now see looking back, they were the wrong people, and we should have probably weeded them out. So we had a giant kind of influx of people that wanted quick results.
Not really the clientele we wanna work with. So, many of those have since fallen off. And I would say looking at our present day, we’re the lowest we’ve been in a while. A long while. It’s one of those, like as an entrepreneur, you go through these ebbs and flows and highs and lows. And we, I would say we’re in a low, but it’s also super exciting to be in a low, because you can make a lot of fundamental cultural changes when numbers are smaller. So that this year we’re really set up to bring in the right people with the right systems and build the culture that we wanna have taking into the next year.
What’s been happening with you personally that’s kind of shifted this perspective. Or shifting the like direction you wanna take the gym.
Sure. I think, a few things, right. Over the last few years, just seeing the value that we have put into members, and the fact that they stood by us and really kind of taught me the value of the little things that you don’t see. So, you know, you don’t see that every day that you check on Mary or tell her, you’re glad to see her that day, that that’s gonna keep her coming back and keep her life on track. And so being able to see what an impact we have on other people, in the last quarter or so September of 2021, COVID ran through our house personally. So I got it first. My soon to be ex, which is part of the chaos that has happened in the last quarter, got it as well.
Subsequently my parents ended up getting it. They are both in their seventies. They both ended up hospitalized. My dad was hospitalized for six, my mom for 11. Wow. Certainly in the beginning we were, kind of planning for the worst. I mean, I remember sitting kind of bedside and talking funerals with my parents. Luckily we didn’t have to do that with either one of them. But that, to me, one, it shut me down. I got fairly sick, not hospitalized, but certainly not functioning for, you know, a good two to three weeks. Right. And then I really didn’t have time to really recover myself because it was immediately into, you know, my mom got hospitalized first. So then it was my dad at home sick and trying to like, make sure somebody’s there to make sure he’s eating and breathing, trying to make sure that all of it stays off of my almost four year old son.
And like, he’s just happy and life is good. trying to keep the coaching staff informed of like what’s going on, trying to balance, unfortunately at that point, a marriage that I saw was not what I wanted from a life partner. And so making that decision to separate while all of this is all going on, certainly adds another layer into it. So, you know, I’m juggling my own sickness. I’m juggling a toddler I’m juggling a now eminent divorce, potentially dying parents. So it became straight survival mode, right. In making sure, you know, bills are paid, making sure coaching staff is paid, making sure, you know, members feel happy and loved programming is done. And like, other than that, like there’s basically been no work for the last four months on the gym. And it’s been really distracting, but also really forces you to look deep down kind of in your soul and like, who am I, what do I want, why did I start the gym 12 years ago? And being able to kind of have this like rebirth and reconnection to why I started, and what really drives me is super exciting because it’s a fire and a passion for living my life that I haven’t had in a long time for a wide variety of reasons.
When you were going through all that, like, I refer this our generation as kind of the sandwich generation where we’re managing dealing with aging parents and also young children in some cases. And at that time during, when you’re going through that period, what was the biggest struggle in all of it for you and what ways did you find to cope or did you find anything that helped you in particular?
It’s really interesting that you ask that cuz I have one of my members now is basically living what I was living, but four months ago. Dying already of chemo and now has COVID and is hospitalized. And she reached out to me and said, basically, how did you do it? And I think I have this innate ability to just go into autopilot. I think that I’m just starting to compartmentalize what I went through. And my parents had been home for two months now. So I think at the time I just really kind of go numb and go into autopilot and like, it just is work and it’s gotta get done and there’s no time for emotions. And I would find myself, you know, finding these little pockets of aloneness where I would cry and let it out because I don’t necessarily wanna hide emotion from my toddler, but I also don’t want him to have to deal with big adult emotions.
And then it also became this, you know, being able to walk into my potentially dying parent’s room and like we’re gonna play tic-tac toe day. Right. And so becoming this kind of rock that I just needed to be. And so looking back, I don’t know how I did it, I just did it. And I think that is one of my, probably better qualities and worse qualities. because now it’s leaving me with a lot of baggage to unpack, you know, it’s its own kind of posttraumatic stress disorder, in its own right. If that makes any sense.
Like when you think about where you want your business to head now in light of this like kind of realigned priorities and trying to get a clearer vision of what you want, what does that business look like? Like what does that gym look like?
Yeah, so the gym to me really looks like this place of inclusion. This place of love, this place of family, you know, one of the beautiful things that we have is we just have an open door policy to parents bringing kids to the gym. I know that that’s a rare, rare find, a lot of places. And so for me, I personally have been working a lot on unpacking my own mindset work and my own work with my therapist and debunking, you know, or getting out of this self-loathing and this shame cycle that I’ve been in, for a lot of reasons, just from a marriage standpoint, we don’t need to get into that baggage. But I’m seeing the value in self-worth. I’m seeing the value in self-love. And so being able to really bring that skillset to the table of both current clients, future clients and dusting of this whole, I am stronger and really building something specifically for women.
Because what I have found personally is that in the fitness industry, I thought, OK, you know, I’m a personal trainer. I’ve been in the fitness industry now for 15 years, going through my pregnancy would be super easy because I know all about the human body. The postpartum would be a total breeze, this transition into motherhood, I’d hit the ground running. and I found that all to be a complete and total utter lie that I had told myself, because I just figured that’s what you do, you bounce back and it’s no big deal. Right. And so there’s this giant void that happens. Not only just with women when it comes to moving the human body. Cause I think there’s a lot more resources, 2022 than were 2000. And I’m trying to think when I was pregnant 2018.
In understanding that women’s needs are different. But there’s this also like, and I hate to say it, but it just is the reality if you hadn’t been a pregnant mom and made that transition yourself, you’re just not gonna be able to truly connect and understand and empathize with somebody that is going through that. So not to dig on, you know, trainers that are super knowledgeable and women, like, it just is different once you’ve had a kid and I love men that are like trying to get out there and do stuff with postpartum women. But like, y’all just don’t, don’t even enter the game, like yeah. Hate to say it, but like just stay in your lane. And again, that’s just, I don’t know, maybe that’s rude, but that’s just kind of how I feel having gone through it myself.
Yeah. And for me, I think I bring a little bit of a different view because I’ve been through the gamut of pregnancies. So I’ve been pregnant four times. I have one surviving child, well, I had two early term losses. I had an early term labor at 22 weeks, where I had to go through the full like delivery process. And see this whole human baby, but just too small to do it on her own, to then having the rainbow baby that is a four year old. That is all boy, run, jump, kick, fight, all day. Doesn’t take naps, like just wild child. And I love that. Yeah. And so I think for me personally, I’m feeling drawn to really working with women in this pregnancy and postpartum period, because I’ve just lived through a lot of different avenues of it.
And there’s just, there’s no one there to hold your hand and tell you, like, what you’re feeling is OK. Regardless of what you’re feeling. Right. There’s all these books. And I thought, well, I’m gonna be a good parent cause I’m gonna read all these books. And they’re all garbage because at the end of the day, whatever your motherly intuition is, obviously other than like egregious abuse and like neglect. Is the right thing, like co sleep don’t co sleep breastfeed, don’t breastfeed, like pump don’t pump, like whatever it is, like, whatever you need to do as a mom to feel good in your own skin and what you’re doing for your child. Like, that’s what you need to do.
You mentioned like we get a lot of, you get a lot of advice as a young mom or a new mom, but not a lot of what you’re right. Like support and someone who understands and someone to listen to you and kind of, acknowledge how you’re feeling. When you’re dealing with your clients who are the pre and postpartum clients, what are their main, concerns that you, or what are their main issues that you sort of work with them on?
So I think with pregnant women, there’s kind of a twofold. So there’s the first time moms. And then there’s the second time moms, right? So, you know, first time moms, they expect it to have this like pregnancy glow and they’re gonna love being pregnant. And, that it’s just gonna be sunshine and rainbows. And the reality is sometimes it’s not. And like, for me, I hated every day of being pregnant. I hated it. Like, it was not my jam. I was sick every day. I threw up literally to the point where they’re like, OK, we’re ready to push. And it was like, no, we’re not gonna push, I’m gonna throw up first. And then we’ll push. Yeah. And just having somebody there that can say like, listen, it’s OK, you’re losing your body. And you hate that.
And again, it goes back to this whole mindset shift and having been through that process and understanding that it’s OK to not like the things that are happening while you’re pregnant, but still love the child and still love the process of pregnancy and still love the end result. But hate the process or say out loud, like, no, I don’t like that I’m in maternity pants or like, whatever that is. Yeah. So I find that more with first time moms that like, just really struggle with like who they are. They, you know, their energy levels are different and their diet is different. And why can’t I just, you know, eat the hummus with the carrots, like, because your your body just wants carbs, just eat the pizza. Like it’s fine. And absolving some of that, like guilt and shame of weight gain, or weight loss, or like whatever that is.
Second time moms are, I find, or like subsequent moms are a little bit easier to work with because they understand what’s gonna happen. Many of them have already been through a postpartum process. Where it with them is the postpartum. So maybe their postpartum experience is different from the first one than the second one. And, you know, I, wasn’t sad with the first one. Why am I sad with the second one? And it’s, you know, there’s, there’s bonding time that is different. So where you only have one, you have all the time to just sit and hold this loving child and just be, and then, you know, you add a second one in, you know, you think probably a year or older, you know, you’re dealing with their emotions of no longer being an only child. You’re dealing with the chaos of managing a second child while trying to bond with a first child. And so the answer is kind of twofold is it’s depending on each client and what their life circumstance looks like. But a lot of it is just having somebody by your side to tell you that you’re OK, that you’re doing a good job. And to help you see the decisions that you need to make without judgment, right.
What is I Am Stronger? And what did becoming a mom yourself have to do with this venture?
So I Am Stronger is actually a rebirth project as well. I started, I Am Stronger. It used to be a nonprofit, that specifically worked with teenage girls that were underprivileged and getting them moving and using fitness as a way to build confidence. So we did a lot with the boys and girls clubs locally doing an after school girls only, workout program. At the time I think I did that 2011 to 2014. And I just didn’t have the time to commit to it that I wanted to. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to run a nonprofit, there’s a lot of red tape with how money comes in and out and paying and flowing and like way more than I wanted to take on at the time, because that time period, I was also working for CrossFit HQ, helping run CrossFit Games, Regional, and the Games, from a marketing and branding standpoint.
So I was traveling a lot helping with those events. And so I just didn’t have the time to really commit to it, and it wasn’t the right time. So I ended up closing that all down. Thank God. I was smart enough to just keep ahold of the name, because there still is just something that resonates with me and has always with that. And the fact that I am stronger because I am stronger can be applied to literally anything. I am stronger than cancer. I am stronger than today’s stress. I am stronger than whatever you get to fill in that blank for yourself. Come to this kind of rebirth and realizing that moving forward, on my own and refinding myself, I am seeing how powerful women really are, and how we put the ceiling on ourselves.
And we like to say externally, like the ceiling is over there, or the limiting factor is this. And really, it’s just, it’s all BS. We put limiting thing on ourselves because, for me, like, a great example is I’m not taken seriously in the fitness world because I’m a woman and that’s not true. That’s a perceived story that I have told myself that in 2020 is no longer gonna apply to me, and reframing that story of myself. And so I am finding with doing my own mindset work and working with my own therapist, and really just digging into books about peacefulness and Buddhism and meditation and all of those things that I have always been told I should do, but I’ve always thought oh those are fluffy has really brought to light that there’s are just a void of strong women saying you can be a strong woman and still be feminine and delicate and still be a mom and still be all of these other things.
But how do you use this feminine energy that we all innately have to empower us and take us to the next level, instead of well know, I’m just really tired for one week of a month because I am on my period. Well, that’s true, but like, can we educate you as to why that’s happening and then understand that there’s other weeks that are gonna make you feel like super energized and you can take on the world, and that’s not a fluke, right. It’s gonna happen every 28 days. And so, you know, in reading some of these like female empowerment books and the postpartum course trainings that I’ve been taking, it’s a matter of kind of pulling a little bit from each section and saying, there’s a way to marry this all together. And for me, I’m leaning towards calling it and it already, I’ve already branded it, the lioness mindset.
And so a lioness is really the leader of the family, and nobody joins their pack, essentially until the lions dies, and the next lioness will then come in and take over that family and start their own. But they are just, they’re beautiful. They’re strong, they’re intelligent. They’re the, you know, they are what makes a lion pride a lion pride, and they stand and they do it standing alone, but they also have a family unit that supports them. And so there’s this world within which women can learn and understand the power that they have, and to use that to propel both their life, their family, their business, whatever that is, forward to the next life, we can just understand what it is every month that happens with us, with being aligned with the moon and using that creative power and that energy and understanding when you’re collaborative and understanding when you’re introverted. And that, those aren’t just flukes. but those are actually things that you can start to plan your life around to be able to take everything to the next level. Right. And like taking ownership of like, yeah, I am a woman and I am strong and it’s because I can create human life. It’s not this dirty secret thing that happens that I have to keep in a closet. And then I’ve learned how to not get pregnant. And that’s basically what we’re taught growing up.
There’s nothing about the sort of physiological changes that are happening at any given time of the month, let alone, like the span of a woman’s life as she goes through the different phases. So I think that education piece is huge. How does I Am Stronger work to kind of further that vision of the lioness?
So I am, currently building and my goal is to have it ready February of 2022 is a six-week course, literally called the Lioness Mindset. Where there are weekly essentially zoom calls, so that people can do it from wherever where we go through a lesson. So like, let me kind of be your teacher for the day, they’ll be some type of activity. So like, we’re all gonna work openly. And my goal is to try and keep ’em like small cohorts so that people feel a little bit safer, you know, maybe five to six people at a time. And then there’ll be some homework of like, OK, so we’ve learned this now let’s go apply it. So that there are these kind of smaller groups where women begin to feel safe.
Maybe they make some connections outside to other powerful women that just wanna build women up, because that’s one of the other things that I hear all the time is that the amount of women that say, like, I’m a powerful woman and I wanna empower women. And then like Mary walks out the door and they’re like, did you see what Mary had on today? I don’t understand what just happened. Like, yeah. I don’t have time for that. And we don’t have time for that and it should be like, listen, like, if you don’t like what Mary’s wearing, then tell her like, you know, not my thing, but like you do you boo boo, like, right. You can empower people and still not like what they’re doing. Yeah. And so that’s like one facet.
And then I also, you know, towards the end of 22, wanna be able to put together aspecific a program that would be geared towards preteens in that like 11 to 15, similar course, but really gets into meeting them where they are with their bodies and being embarrassed. And like, I don’t know, like I wish when I would’ve gone through health ed, that somebody explained to me that like, yes, this happens every 28 days, and this is physically what’s happening with your hormone so that you’re not embarrassed by it. And it’s not like a shameful thing to say, like, I’ve gotta go and like, you know, go to the bathroom. And like, I’m taking my whole book bag with me so that nobody knows, like everybody knows. Yeah. Like we all know.
And then additionally, having the pregnancy and the postpart training in there as well, but I really want to build I Am Stronger really pushing more of this kind of lioness mindset. Because I do think it’s just is like, I get amped and jazzed, just like thinking about the power of what it could do for the next person. And that trickle effect, is really what makes me get up in the morning is being able to know that if I affect one person that they could affect one person and that affects one person. An it’s not just, you know, you’re this small insignificant thing that doesn’t matter in the universe, but like, you have the power to do what you wanna do. If you decide you wanna do it.
If people wanna learn more about this or, if women wanna get into this program, where should they go, or where, like, is it a website that they should visit?
So there’s a website it’s called, iamstronger.org I’m still trying to figure out what I’m gonna do long term with that website. Cuz the .org obviously was when we were 501. Right. So I may keep the.org and have a, you know, a certain amount of profit go to a women’s something, but with a big disclaimer, unfortunately Iamstronger.com and like.net and all of those are all taken. Yeah. I think it’s like an anti-bullying campaign in Canada.
Well, that’s awesome. Kate, it’s been a real pleasure talking to you today, and final thoughts, if you could give your past self any advice when it comes to life in general or being an entrepreneur, what would it be?
God, I think it was Lisa Nichols that I heard speak recently about having this like imposter syndrome and the fact that you can have fear and self doubt and you can do it anyway. You kind of just invite them to join you on the ride. And I think that is probably the thing that I would’ve told myself even 12 years ago, when I opened the affiliate of like, you might not know it all, you might not be the best at it. You might, whatever those thoughts are that you have, like, you can have all of those and do it anyway. And that’s where I’m at now of like, if not me then who? Do it anyway.
That’s all for Women In Fitness Business today. I’m Tiffy Thompson. Thanks for listening.