Caren Magill: Flexing Her Muscle with the Perfect Protein Pancake

Caren MagillIt began, perhaps, with a fitness competition, which Caren Magill did not win. She finished, she says, “in the middle of the pack”.

Or maybe it began further back, when Magill was a teenager. “Growing up, healthy living was not a part of our general household conversation. I sustained myself on canned soup, white Kaiser buns, and processed cheese. From the time I got home from school until the time I went to bed, I was on the couch eating. By the time I left high school, I weighed over 200 pounds.

“I realized in my early 20’s that not only was being overweight uncomfortable, but it was going to limit me in all sorts of ways. When I finally lost the weight it made me realize I could do anything I set my mind to. It raised my level of self-efficacy, my pride in myself. It really did change the course of my life.”

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Sandy Slade: Basketball-Spinning Queen Turns Game Entrepreneur

4 x 6Sandy Slade has lived a colorful life. The former basketball handler has rubbed elbows with the likes of Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, and Kareem Abdul Jabaar and even sparred on the court with Hollywood star Benjamin Bratt as Halle Berry’s stunt double in Cat Woman (yes, really). She can spin up to eight basketballs at one time, and dribble four basketballs at once and has appeared on national TV many times including a Nintendo Game Boy commercial during primetime over the holiday season.

But Slade’s real achievement has been her success in breaking down any sport and making it easy for children to enjoy. Her oversize board game business, Skillastics, has gotten school children moving and now she’s aiming to get you and your kids off the couch.

“To be able to do something so unique and make a living at it, it’s something I will never forget. But in a way, doing my performances and all the things I did with basketball has been the training ground for bigger ventures. I’ve redefined myself now three times, from entertainment to education and now to the consumer-based market. I just feel like I have a bigger purpose … to make a shift in the way we view physical activity as a society. In my own small way, I am trying to ignite that change.” (more…)

Ferrall Dietrich: Road-tripping Her Way to the Core of Her Passion

IMG_2544Ferrall Dietrich has fond memories of growing up the daughter of a US Naval officer in Europe, moving every two years, and being home schooled alongside her younger brother by her mother, for whom adventure and family time was the priority. While her father commanded a US Navy ship that patrolled the coastal waterways, her mother commanded the family’s Series Land Rover that toured the windy coastal roads waiting for the ship to dock so the family could reunite.

“She would load us in the car and we would study in the backseat as she drove all over Europe,” recalls Dietrich. “We drove from port to port around the Mediterranean as well as up into England and Scotland.”

The car was old. There was no defrost, no AC, a heater that warmed only the driver’s right leg, and the windshield wipers were manual at best, but it didn’t matter. “It was such an adventure – driving all over Europe, staying in pensiones, exploring new towns, doing things a bit different,” Dietrich laughs.

In between trips, the family was stationed in Southern Italy, but, for Dietrich, the road trips were the most memorable times. Her mother — long before the days of cell phones and satellite navigational systems — managed to track the ship, route a path to the next docking station, and teach the children at the same time. For her mother, the hard work was a love story. “She couldn’t bear to be without my Father,” recalls Dietrich. But for her daughter, the lesson was “You learn a lot on the road, you take risks, life is an adventure.”

When Dietrich was in ninth grade, the family moved back to Washington, D.C. for good.  Although now settled, Dietrich was left with a permanent sense of adventure. After high school, she attended Colby College in Maine where she majored in Russian and Soviet Studies, motivated in part by a desire to enter the clandestine world.

“Hands down, all I wanted to do was be a spy,” says Dietrich, who envisioned the career would come with a built-in travel and adventure schedule similar to the way in which she grew up.

But when she went down the path – from being interviewed to taking polygraphs – a realization seeped in that she hadn’t expected. Being a spy may come with adventure, but it also came with a structure and lack of freedom that was not appealing. “There’s a lot of control over your life that I wasn’t willing to give up. When it came down to it. I wanted freedom.”

So Dietrich settled on what she called a “very D.C.” career path — meaning she worked on Capitol Hill as a legislative correspondent and an assistant on the staffs of both a U.S. Congressman and Senator. From there she moved to the Japanese Embassy as a political consultant, the only woman at that time in a non-administrative role. Finally, she left the political world for small business, joining her father, who had built a financial engineering company after he retired from the Navy as an Admiral.

In 1999, now bitten by the business and entrepreneurial bug, the then-32-year-old decided to pursue a full-time MBA program at the University of Maryland to strengthen her business management and financial skills. Upon graduation, Dietrich decided to give a more traditional career path one last go, and accepted a position with Arthur Andersen in the Office of Government Consulting: “Amazing people and experience, but I knew within a year that the job was not for me, and I started to search for that next step, for inspiration for that next chapter.”

She and her husband, who had a similar upbringing of living overseas and traveling decided to hit the road. Amazingly, both of their employers agreed to give them one-year sabbaticals. “We put together a bucket list of places we’d always wanted to see and took off, spending a full year traveling the world. We spent a lot of time in Western China, climbing in the Karakorams and to the base camp of K2 from the Chinese side, and explored New Zealand, Bhutan, and Australia for months. We climbed and trekked and camped our way around the world and loved every minute of it.”

When the year was over, Dietrich returned to an Enron-scandal-plagued Arthur Andersen, and the company dissolved, relieving her of the decision to return or not.  The adventures of the past year had solidified Dietrich’s resolve to move away from corporate life and seek a more entrepreneurial path. As such, she moved to the National Historic Trust for Preservation to run their start-up Corporate Good Neighbor Program. In the next couple years, she also became a mother to two boys, moved with her family to Boulder, Colorado, and then back to D.C. Throughout these years, she stayed rooted to the adventure of the outdoors through adventure racing, endurance riding, and trail running.

Dietrich always wanted to give her boys a taste of the kind of upbringing she and her husband had experienced. Starting when the boys wereIMG_2522 5 and 7, every summer after school ended, she put them in the car with the dogs, threw a tent on top and hit the road. They camped their way across the country, with the West being the perennial favorite, and racked up 10,000 miles each summer. “I wanted to try and recreate my own childhood experiences as best I could for the boys. And selfishly, nothing made me happier than the freedom of no schedule, being outside, exploring and seeking adventure at every turn. It is so amazing and for the boys, such a wonderful way to grow up.”

All those miles on the road proved an invaluable incubator for entrepreneurial inspiration. As she drove (and drove), an idea started brewing. She knew she wanted to go back to work, but the idea of an office job in a big company was no longer appealing. She kept wondering  “How do I bring a little bit of what I love about the West — the outdoors the energy, the laid back feeling of it — how do I bring that home?”  One thing that always struck her upon returning to D.C. after a summer on the road was the lack of diversity in the women’s activewear and lifestyle market.  Her road trips, her time in small towns and cities across the country, and her love of the outdoors exposed her to so many unique women’s brands, none of which could she ever find in Washington. As a result, Dietrich started toying with the idea of opening her own women’s activewear store. Initially, the idea seemed daunting – mostly from a financial perspective.  However, after significant time spent researching the industry, its trends and the marketplace, combined with a deep personal understanding, she decided that if there was ever a time to do it, it was now. She decided to go for it.

And so began core72, a local, women’s boutique that not only features all the activewear and lifestyle brands Dietrich discovered and loved over the years, but also encourages local women to get out and be active through sponsored in-store and community events promoted via core72 social media.

Launching the business was a team effort as Dietrich’s husband took a year off to help her put the business together. “We both needed to be 100% behind it so we worked together on the financial and business plan and all the marketing research,” she explains. To fund the business, Dietrich and her husband used their own savings structured as a personal loan to themselves. They backed that up with a SBA small business loan for unforeseen needs.

Years later, Dietrich cre2012_LaPlata_way_down_rest (2)dits her MBA as being critical to her success in terms of helping structure the business and understanding the financials. Another key to her success? Research, research and more research.  Dietrich talked to as many other small business owners and local retailers as possible and tapped into the experience of brand representatives at the Outdoor Retailer trade show in Utah.  She also read every book available on opening a store (Retail Business for Dummies anyone?) and planned as much as possible in advance to understand the flow of inventory.

But Dietrich stresses that even if you have the idea, the desire and the start-up capital, a solid business plan is absolutely critical to credibility for potential landlords and suppliers. “Every vendor we work with – and even the landlord of our store – required a solid understanding of why core72 should represent their company. People want to know you’re positioned for success, that you’re going to do a great job representing their product and be a viable, successful storefront.”

Dietrich credits LivePlan, a business plan software program, as well as available data from industry associations, with helping her establish benchmarks for the business, although she admits that none of it truly makes sense until you’re in the thick of it: “Every month is a lesson learned,” she says “For example, I’ve never paid as much attention to the weather as I do now — literally the city shuts down when it starts to rain or there is any inclement weather.”

Despite a slow March, thanks to late in the season freezing temps, the store, now entering its second year is exceeding planned expectations, and doing well enough that she is considering opening a second location. It turns out, as Dietrich had hoped, that people in DC do want to get out and look great while doing it. And she’s the perfect adventurer to inspire them.

Dietrich’s Tip on Launching a Retail Store

  • Be passionate about what you are selling. I am intimately familiar with our brands and have personally “tested” many of them.  I really believe in these companies, many of them women-owned and “Made in the USA”, I believe this knowledge translates into an authenticity that customers appreciate. While it is important that core72 is successful, it is also important to me to support these brands and introduce them to a new marketplace that I know will be as excited about them as I am.
  • Know your customer base. Throughout our business plan, we tied in the theme of “They are Us”.  I specifically opened a store in an area with which I was intimately familiar and could service a demographic I understood and knew very well. This familiarity made the initial buying process a bit less daunting and somewhat less risky. We build on this foundation of customer knowledge every day, tweaking our inventory buys, and delivering, hopefully, a more tailored, personal shopping experience.
  • Prepare for rainy days. We opened the store in March, 2013 and met/exceeded planned financial projections every month that first year. We were confident in our business model, in the inventory we needed and our steady stream of customers. Then, in March, 2014, we met the winter that would never end. D.C. came to a screeching stop, and no one was in the mood to shop. People were done with the weather and either got out of town or stayed home. We had shipments of inventory coming in, bills that had to be paid and half the income we expected.  It was a huge wake-up call. We made it through, but it was tight financially, very scary and I never slept.  It was a reminder to keep the expenses down, rein in the big inventory buys (we can always reorder), and squirrel away as much as possible every month for that rainy day – because it WILL come.

Dr Shami Feinglass: The Doctor of BMX

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Photo courtesy of Kay Ohta

Shamiram “Shami” Feinglass loves a challenge, and God help you if you think she’s not up to it. The five-foot-tall, mother-of-two medical doctor has, in the past year, added nationally ranked BMX racer to her resume, the perfect accompaniment to policy-maker, med tech executive, and public speaker.

“Frankly it all started as a lark, but by challenging myself I realized I can do it. And in doing the unexpected, I can be a role model for women and girls and an inspiration for others to take risk and own their choices. I can use myself as an example of attaining the seemingly unattainable. If Shami can do it, so can you!”

A native of San Francisco, Feinglass graduated from Smith College with an AB in Biochemistry. She was certain she would go on to study molecular biology but after one summer as an intern at Genentech, Inc, quickly realized that “I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life talking to rats.” After some soul-searching during that summer, she switched to health policy and became a lobbyist for a non-profit education association in DC.

Feinglass spent two years as a lobbyist working on health, education and computer technology issues. Attending many discussions on health policy, she found herself surrounded by lawyers. “I knew I had to go to medical school. If I was going to do a decent job in the field, I would have to become a physician policy-maker. There were just so many lawyers at the health table, but not a single doctor.”

So off she went to grad school at Emory University, getting a Masters in Public Health and continuing on to medical school. Throughout her grad school career, she stayed close to the policy community in DC, working with the Carter Center on the inclusion of mental health care in the Clinton healthcare reform package and with US Medical during the Olympic games in Atlanta. She moved to Portland, Oregon, to do her residency in internal medicine while simultaneously doing public health policy work at the state level, with a focus on teen health and prenatal care for pregnant migrant farm workers (yes, you read correctly, interning as a doctor and doing public policy work). From there, she moved to Seattle as part of the prestigious Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program to study access to mental health services for teens. “Most of my clinical time was spent in homeless teen clinics. It’s a population that has real promise if they can access the right services. I really felt I could affect more people in need if I helped the underserved and didn’t have to charge for my services or rely on the income.” Feinglass’ path became clearer to her after Seattle. From there, she entered the U.S. Public Health Service (the Surgeon General’s Corps) and then headed to Medicare where she felt she would make a difference as a physician policy-maker in government.

For the next seven years, she was responsible for making decisions on what Medicare would cover for seniors and the disabled across the US. It was during this time that she had her two children, and, just to keep things interesting, did a second residency in preventive medicine at Emory University. “So it’s not always the best of attributes that I strive for constant stimulation and fear boredom. I’ve always been interested in the learning curve and the challenge. Once I’ve mastered something, I’m interested in learning new things while I continue to focus on whatever that job is at that time.”

From Medicare, Feinglass moved to Zimmer, a large medical device company, as their VP Global Medical and Regulatory Affairs. “I went there because I was really attracted to the international business exposure and the opportunity to learn about non-US health systems,” she explains. Managing a large team on many continents and multiple time zones for 4.5 years was highly challenging but something was missing, “While I was senior enough to make decisions and help move the culture around, I wasn’t taking as much risk I wanted to,” Feinglass says, “so I took a pause. It was a bit scary but I wanted to take a self-imposed ‘time out’.”

The pause gave her time to explore something even the energetic doctor never imagined she’d take up.

While attending her 7-year-old son’s BMX event, Feinglass’ enthusiasm impressed a woman at the track who joked, “Why don’t you train to race BMX during your break from work? If you start now, you could compete next year.” Feinglass did a double-take and answered, “Are you crazy? I’m too old for crashing to a fiery ball of broken bones on a bike with no gears. And besides, I am super competitive so if I am going to do this, I need to be ready this summer.” The more she tried to convince the woman she wasn’t interested, the more she realized she was. The dearth of women in the sport made the challenge even more compelling.

In case, dear reader, you are not aware, Google defines BMX as “organized bicycle racing on a dirt track, especially for youngsters.” A “dead sailor” in BMX jargon is a jump gone wrong that might land you in the “melisha” but if you “kill” a “quarter pipe” and “shred” the competition you just might end up on the “X-Games” or nowadays even the Olympics. Got it?

With no time to lose, Feinglass started looking into how many races she would have to do to make sure she would place at the state and national level. It was doable. As a 45-year old woman, Feinglass got a kick out of the reaction from the competition when her name started appearing on boards before the race. “I loved the look on the boys’ faces when they would ask ‘Feinglass, who’s that guy?’ and I’d answer ‘Don’t worry, you’ll probably beat me but I’m still going to come up the track on your heels so watch out!’”

It was never quite a fair race for Feinglass but she has become a poster child of what is possible for women in their forties if they are willing to take a risk: “Whether they are boys or girls, the 17-year olds will lap you all the time! For me, it was all about showing that I could do it as an ‘old lady’ when I frankly had no right to be starting this sport at all. At least as a doctor, I can diagnose my own broken bones. It was a personal challenge and something I could do with my husband and son. But my daughter remains thus far unconvinced.”

And now Feinglass has made it her personal mission to get as many girls and women interested in the sport as possible. She approaches the mothers and sisters of the competitors at any track she races on asking if they want to give it a try and helps host girls-only days at her local track. Some of the moms have been inspired to give it a go. “Last week, a woman said to me ‘you know, Dr. Feinglass, I watched you on the track and I think you’re totally nuts but if you can do it, so can I.’ That has been the best part of all this. After only one year, we’ve seen more than double the number of females participating at our local track.”

Feinglass is currently ranked number 2 in her class in the state of Indiana. She competes nationally (and in Canada) and ranks in the top 30 of all female BMX racers in her category. “I haven’t heard from Go-Pro yet but I’m sure the call is coming,” she laughs.

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Photo courtesy of Kay Ohta

Although she raked in a whopping $24 in Pro-Am official winnings in her first year, surpassing the career earnings of her son and husband, Feinglass is not likely to make money from BMX racing. But the experience has been transformative and made her rethink what she wants to do next. “I will admit, it is amusing to me to be a middle-aged mom doing my children’s sports but it’s also the role model piece. I want my legacy to be that there are more women in leadership positions, not just in medicine and the corporate world but also in sport. If I can inspire women and girls just by seeing me on the track – and not always doing that well – to get out there and maybe even lead on that track one day…well that’s fabulous.  And I bet they will be leaders in other areas of their life too. I loved ballet as a child but with a little inspiration, maybe I would have loved judo!”

So, after a little personal research into what other non-traditional sports she could affect, she decided to start Tae Kwon Doe with her daughter. “I literally decided on a Friday to start and competed one week later, I won my group!” OK, full disclosure, all three white belts – Feinglass, an 8-year old boy, and a 10-year-old girl – got medals.

As she considers her next career move, at the very least Feinglass has great fodder for her public-speaking events. Regardless of where she lands, she’s committed to pushing boundaries for women. She tells you straight up, “Hey, this totally middle-aged, not-very-athletic doctor took up BMX racing one year ago and now she’s a state champ. What do you want to do today?”

Tips from Dr Shami Feinglass:

  • Try to widen your comfort zone. Be ready to take on more risk.  Be comfortable with some level of chaos and uncertainty.
  • Don’t rush to take the first job that comes your way. Try to understand how the job fits into your legacy versus how your legacy fits with job.
  • Thinking and transformation come from taking a pause.

Do you have some suggestions for the next Feinglass sports challenge? Leave your comments below.

Lisa Allen and Trish Drennan: Friends, Partners, and Sweat Gurus

BBF co-ownersFor Lisa and Allen and Trish Drennan, it took a dramatic life event to make them recognize it was time for a change in their personal and professional lives. For both, the death of a mutual friend was a wake-up call that brought them together to support each other in becoming healthy and strong and to make it their lives’ work to help others to do the same.

A graduate of the University of Delaware, Lisa Allen had had a long-term career in communications, representing various trade associations in D.C. The work was interesting – everything from issues management to crisis communications – but when she had her first child at age 31, she decided it was time to work for herself and “own” her time a bit more. For years after she hung her own PR shingle, she found herself being able to devote more time to working out, something that had played an important role in her life since graduating from college.

Allen remembers herself as a chubby kid, who put on even more weight in college. “I had an “a-ha” moment soon after I graduated and realized I needed to do something different. I started running a lot and lost the college weight and was actually pretty proud of the fact that I got and stayed fit. Ever since then, exercise has become a real passion of mine.”

But Allen never really intended to make a career out of her love of health and fitness until she met Trish Drennan.

Drennan also worked in the field of communications after an unexpected detour as an engineer. After graduating from Wittenberg University with a degree in international relations, she thought she would pursue a career on Capitol Hill.  But when she found herself jobless between election cycles, a temporary job launched her into a new career as a wireless technology expert.

“I got placed at this technical engineering company, and it was at the time when wireless was really booming. It was a brand new trade so the company invested in training us. Within a year, I went from being a liberal arts girl to a wireless engineer trainee at George Washington University.”

Soon, Drennan was shipped off to Germany and found herself designing wireless networks for LCC International. She stayed there for almost five years but when the company decided to go public, they looked internally for people who understood good communications in addition to the technical side of the business. Drennan found herself tapping into those liberal arts skills in the sales and marketing department and later in investor relations.

In all, she spent nearly 22 years at LCC, eventually managing a team of 300 communications professionals around the world.

But with each promotion, the former college athlete found her commitment to fitness woefully waning.

“Once I started working, I went hard and heavy into my career. Unlike Lisa, I never had a weight problem until I had kids. By the time my third child was a year old, I was 45–50 pounds overweight. I was travelling internationally, juggling the needs of three kids and had a husband who also had a big job. It was a crazy time in my life and I was really soul-searching.’”

Although she was coaxed into contracting with the company to help them through another transition, Drennan, like Allen, decided to go out on her own. Now that she too owned her time, she started working out on a regular basis with her new friend.

In the Fall of 2009, for Drennan’s 40th birthday, the two decided to train for a marathon.  With loads of time to chat during long training runs, the “what if” conversations intensified as the pair discussed how they might make a go of it in the fitness industry.

During that time, a friend who ran a local boot camp in Ashburn invited Allen and Drennan to help her run the boot camp a couple mornings a week.  This was the opportunity they had been looking for – running an already established fitness class and seeing how it went.  At this point, the two friends had become such health and fitness junkies that they not only ran marathons but also competed in triathalons and spent the rest of their spare time reading up on the latest health, nutrition, and fitness trends. Drennan had lost forty pounds and was feeling fabulous, and Allen was determined to continue to help other people meet their fitness goals.

So donning their marketing hats again, the pair branded their own boot camp, Motiv8Me, and launched a new program.

“My husband joked that I went from an expensive clothing habit to an expensive equipment habit,” said Drennan.

In March of 2010, they launched the business with eight clients, each of whom had to commit to an eight-week session. It was important to them that their customers follow through with their commitment to the program and their own personal goals. The closer they worked with their clients and researched what was out there, they more realized they had hit on an idea that added value in the fitness world. “As students in lots of fitness classes ourselves, we were really frustrated with the fact that you could be doing moves wrong to the point of hurting yourself, but no one would tell you because the group fitness instructor was incentivized to come in and teach, not to take care of the people.”

Allen and Drennan took their plan a step further and became certified fitness instructors, quickly realizing what they really wanted was not just a boot camp, but a full-service gym that was different from any of the other fitness offerings available. Something that would offer everything they had learned and believed was critical to a lifetime of fitness – high intensity interval training, core work, strength training, and yoga. On top of that, they wanted a gym that didn’t sell shakes or powders or any hint that weight could fall off easily with short cuts. “Although we are not certified nutritionists, we wanted a gym where we could talk with clients about the importance of long-term good nutrition habits, and where we would commit to them if they would commit to the program,” explains Drennan.

With those goals, the pair came up with a tagline that would be the centerpiece of their gym:  Sweat. Nourish. Commit.

Again, the fitness junkies found themselves leaning on the skills they honed in their former lives to ensure their new venture was a success. “We really come into this industry from a very different perspective. Most people who want to open gyms are former trainers, but we take a business perspective. We wrote a business plan, we did a competitive analysis, we knew how much money we had to raise to make it work.”

They opted to turn to their own families to borrow the money rather than taking out a small business loan.  Each side put in equal amounts, and Allen and Drennan have opted not to take a salary until the loans are mostly paid back. They also decided to rebrand the company to something stronger and came up with BlackBench Fit, in reference to the eight black workout benches they purchased during their earlier outdoor bootcamp days.

Three years later, and BlackBench Fit is humming along and the two are ahead of schedule based on the original projections in their business plan.  “We were able to make a small dent into loan repayment this year, AND put a little bit of money each into our 401ks.”

But more than feeling satisfied at their business savvy, Allen and Drennan count it a blessing that they’ve been able to launch careers in a field that is so meaningful to them.

“One of the most rewarding parts of our job is also the most surprising,” shares Trish. “I had no idea I had a teacher or a therapist in me, but I love that part of the job.”

“I feel like what we’re doing now is a real calling for me,” adds Lisa. “It’s so gratifying to help people reclaim their bodies because I’ve been there and know what it’s like.”

Have questions for the owners of BlackBench Fit on their success to date? Write a comment and we’ll be sure they see it.