This Writer Created A Body-Positive, Inclusive Gym for Those Who Are Left Out of the Fitness World

Kristen Pizzo
Jun 10 · 9 min read

PIVOT is a series of interviews with inspiring individuals who made major career shifts and decided to start LIVING instead of just making a living. We’re talking to engineers who became comedians, lawyers who became entrepreneurs, and everyone in between. These career chameleons are proof that your wildest job aspirations are possible- and that there is never just one path that will take you there. For a weekly dose of inspiration in your inbox, subscribe to our mailing list:


Photo by Jesse Amesmith

Lore McSpadden (they/them/theirs) studied English and Creative Writing and worked as a freelancer before co-founding , a gym that caters to individuals who are usually left out of the fitness industry, such as LGBTQ+ folks, fat and larger-bodied folks, people of color, people who are facing economic challenges, folks who are 65+, people with disabilities, and individuals on the autism spectrum.

Did you receive any formal business training?

I didn’t receive formal business training, no. I have benefited greatly from the experience of my family members; entrepreneurship and small-business ownership has definitely been a common thread through the paternal side of my family. My great-grandfather founded an insurance company in 1927, and my grandfather joined the business in 1947 after he returned from his service in the Navy during World War II. My father ended up joining the business too, and served as their Senior Vice President up until his current semi-retirement. I am so grateful to have trusted people I can go to when I have questions about the pragmatics of owning and operating a small business.

I also received a great deal of on-the-job training and mentorship when I worked as the Office Manager of the Gay Alliance of the Genesee Valley (now known as the Out Alliance) for several years in between receiving my bachelor’s degree and entering grad school.

Why did you decide to make the switch into entrepreneurship?

First, I have to explain why I decided to make the switch into working as a personal trainer instead of continuing as a freelance writer and editor.

I am a trans person and trauma survivor with a history of disordered eating. I had throughout much of my life only related to my body from a perspective of disgust, rejection, fear, and shame. Any time I spent exercising was motivated by trying to make myself shrink or by bullying myself to do what I “should” be doing with my body.

Then, a little under a decade ago, I committed myself to a path of healing that included (among other changes) my commitment to finding a way of moving that I liked enough to continue doing… not for the sake of shrinking, not for the sake of doing what I “should” be doing with my body, but because I wanted to finally, at long last, figure out what it meant to be at home in my body in a way that felt kind and enjoyable.

Several years later, after having worked with some truly exceptional strength coaches, I had done exactly that: I had developed a safe and sustainable relationship to movement that was empowering and fun, and I had maintained it with consistency that was free from guilt and obligation. Through doing so, I had begun to uncover and heal from my internalized sizeism and disordered relationship to food, to be more celebratory and open about my gender identity, and to develop skills that enabled me to navigate life as a trauma survivor with confidence and gentleness. That was when it occurred to me: the one thing I wanted to do most in my career was to help other people discover the gift of kindness and empowerment for themselves — particularly people who faced the discrimination and body shame that permeate the fitness world.

I then poured just about everything I had towards my goal of becoming a top-notch personal trainer. I did not intend to own my own gym, nor did I particularly want to do anything except coaching.

However, the sad truth of the matter is that most gyms operate from a paradigm that is contrary to my values. I interned at an elite kettlebell studio, and I even went back in the closet about both my gender and orientation while working there due to the discomfort I felt from the environment. In the several gyms that I worked at after the internship, my students were subjected to overhearing body shaming comments, disordered messages about eating, and homophobic/ableist/racist/transphobic/sizeist statements from gym attendees and staff members. Furthermore, none of them had all-gender changing areas that would be safe and accessible for myself or other non-binary individuals.

The immensity of what I was up against was daunting, but the simple truth of the matter was that I couldn’t guarantee my students that they would have a safe and celebratory experience in any of the gyms that were available for me to work at.

I made the transition to entrepreneurship gradually. I started training people out of my (insured and very well equipped) home garage gym before and after my shifts at the gym where I was employed. For a while, I hoped that this would be enough: continue to work at someone else’s facility, and simply augment that with the training that I did from home. However, the relentlessness of the transphobia and sizeism of the other gym became prohibitive of my ability to work there comfortably as a trans person, let alone to encourage other trans people and larger-bodied folks to come there to train with me.

So, I made the leap towards full independence by focusing solely on training people in my garage gym. I transitioned my DBA to an LLC, and dove boldly forward towards entrepreneurship.

That was approximately 11 months ago, and already so much has grown and changed. I filled up my scheduled completely with clients, to the point where I had a waiting list for anyone who was interested in training with me. Due to the limitations of both the size of my garage and the zoning laws in my neighborhood, I couldn’t expand towards offering small group training or group exercise classes, so I was completely at capacity.

Add to this fact that my partner Christine was moving in with me, and she is also a personal trainer who was training clients independently out of her home: we were either going to have to train fewer people each so as to be able to share the space, or search for a place to lease so that we could keep growing.

As a result, we began the search for a space we could lease, with several accessibility requirements in mind: any place we selected would need to be accessible to wheelchair users, either already have all-gender restrooms or be willing to allow us to change the signs on gendered restrooms to make them all-gender, have sufficient parking options, be on well-traveled public transportation routes, et cetera. After much searching, we found our current location, and we moved into the new space in late March. We’ve since already brought on additional coaches onto the team and begun developing a group exercise schedule: it’s a lot of work, but such a deep source of joy to see my dream of a truly welcoming movement space become a reality!

What was your greatest fear when starting your business?

When I read this question to Christine, we looked at each other and said (completely in unison), “Everything!”

But seriously: the effects impostor syndrome is no small thing, particularly for folks who aren’t cis men. Christine and I are both fat and queer, she’s a cis woman and I’m a trans-masculine non-binary person, and we work in a field that is steeped in gender essentialism as well as faulty assumptions such as “Your body is your business card!” Even though we are both highly credentialed coaches with full training schedules, those messages absolutely have an impact on anyone who works in the fitness field. Furthermore, even though we each have experience with the business side of the field, it is all too easy to project ahead into fears regarding the uncertainty of the future.

Which ultimately boil down to the fear that we will face circumstances and challenges that will interfere with our ability to help others and to fulfill our mission. The nature of those circumstances and challenges may take the form of the financial requirements of building a business; or of the sizeism, cissexism, and ableism that steeps our society; or something that could not have been predicted. But the fear that connects them all is that we will face situations that interfere with our ability to be of service to our students and our community.

What skills from your college education and/or former career, if any, do you use now when managing your business?

So many! The ability to communicate skillfully — whether orally, in signs/ASL, or in writing — to a wide range of individuals is essential for effective coaching and business management. My formal education in creative writing also relied upon my ability to organize complicated, seemingly disparate bits of information into a coherent whole, which is also a fairly significant portion of the work life of an entrepreneur! And, of course, the creativity that is inherently a part of a creative writing program is incredibly helpful in regards to developing innovative responses to day-to-day challenges as well as memorable cues for safe movement that I can use when coaching my students.

Do you ever feel like you “wasted” your education?

Not at all! My time as a student helped me develop perseverance and commitment toward the pursuit of a long-term goal: that is never a waste!

What advice do you have for others looking to make a major career change?

All major changes are accompanied by fear.

All of them.

Some fears are worth the risks involved, and others may not be. There isn’t an absolute right or wrong answer to be found regarding the right timing or circumstances in which a major change should be made, which of course just adds to the nervousness involved.

So, here’s the thing: the existence of fear is not in and of itself the determinant of whether or not it is the right time to make the change, and it doesn’t do anyone any good to pretend that fear doesn’t exist when it, in fact, does. But here’s the advice: don’t let fear be what makes your decisions for it. Let it exist, let yourself feel it, but don’t let it be your guide. Instead, as Rumi wrote, “Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.” It may require some very long days, but it won’t lead you astray.

Do you currently do any freelancing or writing-related work on the side?

I do not currently do any freelancing. However, I am currently working on writing the manuscript and book proposal for my own book, which will be focused on helping people develop a sustainable, empowering, and affirming movement practice that fits their lives and bodies.

What is your favorite thing about owning your own business?

Being able to do what I love alongside the woman who is my partner in love and in life in a way that never requires that we step outside of our values is the most amazing experience that I ever could have hoped for.

Why is it important to you to do work that is meaningful to you?

To quote the great American storyteller Utah Philips, “I learned when I was young that the only true life I had was the life of my brain. But if it’s true that the only real life I had was the life of my brain, what sense does it make to hand that brain to someone for eight hours a day, for their particular use, on the presumption that at the end of the day they will give it back in an unmutilated condition? Fat chance!”

Twenty-first century America is a time and place that requires a lot of each individual to meet the basic requirements of survival, let alone to have a chance at flourishing. It’s hard, and can be downright exhausting. In the midst of the very real challenges that come from just existing in today’s world, it is essential that each person have a touchstone that keeps them focused on the worthwhile and meaningful aspects of their unique and tender life. For some people, this won’t be within their career, and that’s valid — but if you can find it within your work, that is such an amazingly enriching gift that you can give to yourself.


Our favorite nugget of career wisdom:

Too many to choose from, so we bolded some sentences throughout. But this Utah Phillips quote sums things up nicely:

“I learned when I was young that the only true life I had was the life of my brain. But if it’s true that the only real life I had was the life of my brain, what sense does it make to hand that brain to someone for eight hours a day, for their particular use, on the presumption that at the end of the day they will give it back in an unmutilated condition? Fat chance!”

Vienna

A lifestyle publication for those who refuse to settle. Meet the side hustlers, full-time hustlers, lawyers-turned-bakers & everyone in between, and get the inspiration you need for even the most unconventional career journey. No college degree necessary. https://mailchi.mp/83e53

Kristen Pizzo

Written by

Multi-passionate iced coffee guzzler & future pig mom. Writing Instagram: @chameleononthepage

Vienna

Vienna

A lifestyle publication for those who refuse to settle. Meet the side hustlers, full-time hustlers, lawyers-turned-bakers & everyone in between, and get the inspiration you need for even the most unconventional career journey. No college degree necessary. https://mailchi.mp/83e53