As they say, sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear eats you. This is particularly true for now 32-year old Rachel Black Graves. Fortunately for her, it wasn’t a bear, but life as a corporate sales executive. After spending 7 years successfully building a career in sales, Rachel found herself depressed, physically ill, and so overwhelmed with stress that it eventually landed her in the hospital.
Struck with failing health issues and the realization that she was on a war-path to self-destruction, Rachel decided her time as a corporate-warrior had played itself out long enough and it was time for a change.
I initially met Rachel in Spring, 2010 after moving to New England to work in sales for an IT company. She was quickly moving up the ranks and was already well known and recognized as being one of the top sales reps in the company. From the very first moment we met, her friendly, outgoing personality coupled with her curly blonde hair and sweet southern drawl provided a nostalgic feeling of ‘home’ that I did not expect to find in the Northeast.
Five years later, Rachel has since found her calling, her purpose and has completely transformed her life from corporate warrior into a thriving fitness entrepreneur, business owner, and motivational speaker on a mission to bring freedom, community, connection, collaboration and empowerment to women across New England.
Since beginning her entrepreneurial journey in 2014, Rachel has helped transform the lives of hundreds of women through her gym, Bloomfield Fit Body Boot Camp. Her commitment and dedication to building community and creating a unique environment where each day, people of different beliefs, passions, and backgrounds can come together and sweat it out for 30 minutes, has and continues to raise the bar for gyms and gym communities across the nation.
Her story as a strong, independent woman, fitness entrepreneur, small business owner and community leader is just beginning….
Below is my full interview with Rachel:
Kyle: When you and I first met several years back, you were killin’ it in the corporate world. But, you decided to leave. What was it like to make this decision? Why did you ultimately decide to leave the corporate world and start your own business?
Rachel: I never dreamed that I would be doing what I’m doing now! I was an athlete all my life, but I went to school for Marketing and Sales. As you know, I was in the corporate world for 7 years. I was really good at sales, but it came with a not so healthy lifestyle, non-stop hours and a grueling travel schedule that eventually caught up to me. The more successful I became and the harder I worked, the more weight I gained. I started having terrible migraines and chest pains that my primary care physician couldn’t explain other than, “this is part of aging” – which I refused to take for an answer. He seemed to think that Xanax would cure all my worries :). I wasn’t interested in jumping into anti-anxiety and anti-depressants based on family history, so I “toughed it out” so to speak. Bad choice. These symptoms kept up, and at 27, after a particularly scary round of chest pains and shortness of breath, I found myself in the emergency room being told that I was having a heart attack…. Long story short, I wasn’t having a heart attack. As it turns out, I had a severe hormone imbalance (sky high cortisol levels from chronic stress) and it had the rest of my body completely out of whack. Sitting in the ER was my breaking point. I knew that it was time for a change and that I had to get my health back. So, I started working with a trainer, got my nutrition and supplementation game on point and dropped about 40 pounds. From there, I fell in love with fitness (more specifically sane, sustainable fitness) and wanted to help as many people (especially busy people) feel as a good as I did.
I got certified. I researched franchises and business models, and I found Fit Body Boot Camp. The rest is history
When I first got started, I didn’t look the part of the “perfect” personal trainer. I didn’t have the “perfect” background. It wasn’t the “perfect time”. That doesn’t exist. But, I certainly had the passion and the drive to gain the knowledge I needed in order to have a big impact. You have to be willing to take a risk if you want the reward, and more importantly the freedom to MAKE your life what you want it to be. That freedom was what I wanted.
Kyle: Shortly after escaping the corporate monotony, you started your own gym Bloomfield Fit Body Boot Camp. Other than the process of the decision in itself, what was your most difficult obstacle you had to overcome in the first few months prior to opening your gym/first business?
Rachel: I think initially the biggest struggle was fear, and almost an imposter mindset of, “Who am I to be doing this?” Fear that no one would want what I had. Fear that I wouldn’t be taken seriously. Fear that I had taken this risk and made this investment for nothing.
Kyle: And how did you get past this fear?
Rachel: I have had several mentors that helped me stay focused, to stay in that abundance mindset, and to trust that my messaging would resonate with the right people. But, I think the biggest key to overcoming that initial fear was the feedback and commitment of my very first clients. They’re willingness to trust me and the results that they saw kept me excited and willing to keep doing whatever it took to get the next potential client through my doors. When I had a client tell me that our gym and the community we’d built had literally saved her life, I had all the courage I needed. You NEVER know what baggage a client is walking through your doors with, and the extra pounds is always a side effect of a much bigger issue that person is working on. It’s about so much more than “fitness” or “prospective clients”. You are truly dealing with people’s quality of life. I knew that all too well from my own experiences and health challenges, but to hear someone else say that you were helping them fight their own demons – was everything.
Kyle: Since starting your gym, you’ve worked with and inspired hundreds of women. In what way have they had an impact/inspired you?
Rachel: Oh my goodness! They impact and inspire me every single day! They teach me so much and stretch me to new limits. I have so many stories. One of my very first clients came to us with fibromyalgia that was so bad she could barely move. Now she runs circles around my girls in their 20s. That same client has gone on to achieve amazing results and is a staple in our tribe.
Kyle: What has been the most difficult part in owning & running a gym?
Rachel: Being careful not to burn yourself out even though it’s your passion. STAFFING was HARRRRD. I interviewed trainers and admins for months with no luck. I have a super diverse group of clients and I needed people that could shift and move to accommodate them and it seemed like those people just didn’t exist for a long time which meant long hours for me.
Kyle: Well, one thing I can see for sure, is that your clients absolutely LOVE them some Rachel. And I can see why. You place a tremendous amount of focus on building community and fostering personal relationships with your clients. Now that you have hired a staff, how have you been able to scale yourself while maintaining this level of personal commitment to each of your clients?
Rachel: That part is WORK. Social media certainly helps me stay connected and up to date on what is going on with each of them, but I do try to personally reach out to each and every client in some way as often as possible. Knowing names is non-negotiable. We’re also BIG on birthdays. We try to catch each member’s birthday and have a little surprise ready for them when they come to the gym that day. We encourage monthly consults/check ins and this is a great way to stay engaged as well. It’s truly effort you must be willing to put forth as a leader. I rely heavily on my coaching staff as well. They’ve each been handpicked and are all a product of the product so to speak. They each have their own story and our members are able to relate to them more because of that. We check in and keep one another posted on anything we’ve noticed among our members. My coaches are as responsible as I am in fostering those relationships.
Kyle: What is the single most common muscle, body area, or goal you find your clients come to you for? What is your best exercise or workout to solve for this?
Rachel: Haha, ABS! Oh goodness, the fitness industry has made a killing off of misinformation for women specifically about their abs. Things like waist trainers and juice cleanses, etc. The good news is that you use your core for just about everything. The obvious choice is planks, BUT big complex movements like squats, lunges, push-ups, row variations, heavy carries and kettlebell swings (if you’re more advanced) are fantastic for your core.
Kyle: Speaking of, what is your biggest pet peeve/fitness misconception?
Rachel: How much time do you have? KIDDING. I think my biggest one is the idea that you have to spend hours and hours in the gym to achieve results. I’m talking fat loss as a goal of course because that’s what 99% of my clients come to me for initially. If you do it correctly, you can get an amazing workout in under 30 minutes and see more results faster than spending hours on a treadmill hating life.
Kyle: You have had tremendous success in building a strong, diverse community of individuals at your gym. What would you say has been the largest contributing factor in helping you build your tribe?
Rachel: They say your vibe attracts your tribe. Selfishly, when I opened these doors, I wanted just that. I wanted to find my people. From the very beginning, inclusion and empowerment have been of the utmost importance. From the language used in marketing, to the coaching cues given, to the staff hired – love and acceptance and a sense of belonging is what mattered most to me. The ONLY way you can help a person make lasting change is by earning their trust. That is my number one intention. Transparency about my own journey, and showing my clients that I’m a real person that has overcome real obstacles has been key in earning their trust as well. It isn’t about me though. They learn from one another each and every day. They support one another outside of my 4 walls, and THAT is what true community is all about.
Kyle: People talk about their why. This is often a reflection of what they’re the most passionate about and what they are motivated the most. Have you found your why and if so, what is it currently?
Rachel: I HAVE! I have a few. My WHY(s) are freedom, community, connection, collaboration and empowerment. It’s the reason I built my gym and the reason I built the blog, Grit and Gratitude.
Kyle: Since starting your gym, you have had the unique opportunity to work with, collaborate and train a very diverse group of people during some of the most turbulent, politically-divided times this country has ever seen. How has the recent political landscape impacted you and your tribe and what factors have you seen that have most helped you maintain harmony amongst those who share different beliefs?
Rachel: You aren’t lyin! When it comes to our clients, we’ve got it all – every color, every ethnicity, every economic background, every political party, every religion, every sexual orientation. We have several veterans, police officers, and correctional officers as well. What I’ve seen amongst our diverse group is the capacity for extreme empathy if we choose it. I’ll never forget the morning after the election. I had client after client walk through our doors sobbing. I was in no way prepared to speak to the level of emotion staring back at me as I kicked off our 6 am session. I reminded them all that regardless of the candidate they backed, I knew who they were and what they stood for. I reminded them that their reality outside of our walls could be very different than the reality of the person standing next to them. I reminded them that our gym is a safe space for them to work through whatever emotions and struggles they were facing that day and any day. And that I expected every person in the room to love and support one another through our 30 minutes together whether they understood that person’s pain and fear, or not. I started the clock and the workout was underway. I watched as tears streamed down certain faces as they slammed the battle ropes. I watched as others noticed. I watched as the intensity grew and grew and grew. I watched as people saw, actually saw the pain and fear that their sisters were fighting. And then I watched, as Trump supporters genuinely comforted and held space for those that were literally crushed by the announcement. I watched black women and white women holding each other while they cried. I watched young and old cheering each other on to finish a set. They cheered and clapped until every single person was done. And then they stayed. They chose to sit in the floor and chat about why they were feeling what they were feeling instead of rushing out the door and into their day. Some stayed for a few minutes and some stayed for a couple of hours. They stayed for each other. They stayed for love. They stayed because of empathy. They stayed because we’re a tribe.
Kyle: Entrepreneurship and running a business is tough as hell. Have you ever thought about giving up? If so, what have you done, continue to do for yourself to stay motivated, persevere when you need it the most?
Rachel: I’ve never thought about giving up, but I’ve certainly had VERY challenging days. First and foremost, I always go back to my WHY (or in my case WHYS). I’m a HUGE believer in gratitude journaling and mine is with me at all times. I keep a VERY solid support structure behind me in mentors and colleagues. I can always go to them for guidance or a quick reality check to remind who I am and why I’m here.
Kyle: Who or what has inspired you the most in life?
Rachel: WOW, that’s a hard one. I’m lucky to have so many inspirations in my life. I’d have to say my parents are at the top of the list though. They are the picture of dedication and resilience through good times and bad, and they’ve certainly always supported and encouraged me.
Kyle: You are now launching your blog, Grit and Gratitude. Tell us about Grit and Gratitude. What is Grit and Gratitude?
Rachel: Grit and Gratitude is a platform specifically designed to help women have the hard conversations. After working with hundreds of women, I’ve found that we all have one thing in common – shame. It comes up time and time again. It’s handed to each of us in different ways. We all have different stories, but those stories have led us to the same conclusion.
Most women come to me initially for help losing weight, or fat specifically. They’ve tried every diet and exercise program under the sun. They’re exhausted and they’re stuck in a cycle of trying to be everything to everyone. What I’ve found is that the extra weight we carry, is just an accessory of a much larger issue. That issue is almost always rooted in, you guessed it – shame.
I focus on helping my clients work through their shame via simple, sane and sustainable fitness, nutrition and mindset guidance because I believe that taking care of your body and your mind while being supported by a tribe of fellow warriors is the key to long-term empowerment.
Kyle: What advice would you give someone looking to get healthy, who has avoided exercise, practiced poor nutrition for a very long time?
Rachel: I could give you the typical answer of – just get moving and ditch the junk food – but I won’t. Ask for help. There are so many great resources available, and you just need to find the program or trainer that is the best fit for you. DO get help and accountability, whether in person or online. Don’t try to go at it alone.
Kyle: What’s next for Rachel Black Graves?
Rachel: Oh man! My biggest goal right now is to get really consistent with the blog portion of Grit and Gratitude so we can keep building our community online. I also have a few speaking engagements lined up. Speaking engagements have been so fun for me! I really didn’t think that would be much of a focus when I first started my business because I was spending all of my time in the gym. It’s been awesome meeting so many new people over the last few months via speaking opportunities. I was interviewed by Brittany Woodrum for Craig Ballantyne’s, Early To Rise podcast back in November. That was focused on my journey making the jump from corporate warrior to full time entrepreneur and inspiring other women to do the same. I’ve spoken to various youth groups, as well as the Hartford YWCA around empowerment for young girls and the importance of a strong mind, body and soul. I’ll be hosting an event in May called EmpowHERed 2017. I’m bringing in my friends and Krav Maga experts Jarrett Arthur and Jennie Trower, as well as special guest, author and activist Erin Brown for an all-day self-defense workshop for women. I’ll be sharing quite a bit that day around my own experience with assault and self-defense. I’ll also be speaking at the Connecticut Women’s Expo in June.
For more of Rachel and Bloomfield Fit Body Boot Camp, please visit the Bloomfield Fit Body Boot Camp Website.
To follow her journey, please head over to GritandGratitude.com.