This week, I had the pleasure of sitting down with entrepreneur and business woman Sheri McDonald. She’s been a great driving force in growing Orangetheory Fitness to what it is today, but has since switched her focus to KidStrong, a childhood development training center. I hope you enjoy our conversation about Sheri’s background, growing a business, the power of fitness, tips for goal setting, and so much more.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the full conversation by tuning into this week’s podcast.
Terry Blachek: Good morning, Sheri, and thanks for coming in. Sheri and I have known each other for about 7 or 8 years, and if you want to know anything about trying to start your own business, this is the lady to talk to. So, Sheri, can you give us a quick overview of your background?
Sheri McDonald: I always want to start my story by saying I’m really lucky and blessed. But when I was 14 and got my first gym membership, I had no idea what I was doing. I had never been on a team or played an organized sport. There was a personal trainer who actually took the time to teach me how to do abs and use the treadmill, and then my grades started getting better as I grew stronger.
My confidence went up with physical activity well before my body even changed. And then, when I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would say, “I want to own a gym someday.”
And where did you grow up?
I grew up in California in a little town called Point Reyes out on the coast. After spending years using the small gym they had in town, I found a place that was opening up called Fusion Fitness.
Kathy Palio, who was Miss Universe in 1982, happened to be the one opening it up. She was the
first mentor I ever had. She was a ripped Italian woman who would curse you out if you did something wrong. All the passion, all the energy. My first job was working with her at the front desk and in the juice bar – because you can’t have a gym without a juice bar, right? Especially back in 2003.
When I was working at the front desk, I would always give tours, showing people around and answering their questions. After Kathy said, “You know, you’re really good at this,” my sales career officially began. I grew the sales team to five people over two years. After leaving, I worked for the University of Sports, a 65,000 square foot facility that hosted kids camps and leagues and such.
And then one day, I decided to seek out a new adventure. So I moved to Florida. One day, I was sitting in a coffee shop listening to a man and a woman dressed in orange T-shirts talking about a client who had lost 40 pounds in 6 weeks. I couldn’t help myself – I just had to ask what was going on.
And that’s what led me to Orangetheory Fitness. I already had a job, but I gave them my resume just in case. I ended up assisting with a new location opening up in Sarasota with the guy from the coffee shop – the very same guy that’s right across from me right now. Over time, we moved to other cities in Texas, gained hundreds of new members, and grew to 27 total locations in the Austin and San Antonio area.
So I had a great time at Orangetheory with Terry Blachek as my mentor.
I remember sitting in a room with you and Troy writing down our plans for growing Orangetheory to $40 million. We put all the pieces and parts up on the wall into a huge vision board. Just a reminder, folks, to be writing down your goals. Visualization is key.
Now, a lot of people want to start a business. Tell me what goes through your mind when you’re thinking about taking a risk.
I actually pride myself a little bit in being willing to take risks. Part of that is my mindset – I fully understand I’m never going to be ready. It wouldn’t be a risk if I was. But I can still be prepared. I say to myself, “Here’s an opportunity. I’m not ready, but I’m prepared. Let’s jump into this. Let’s do it.” And then I go for it, all in, full commitment.
When you’re resourceful, you always find a solution. There were some big obstacles we had in our path, but there was also a huge payoff in overcoming them. Can you speak a little bit about perseverance and getting through the tough days?
It all starts with grit. And you know, Terry, I’ve been spending the last few days thinking hard about this question. I don’t think I ever have it in my mind that I want to quit. It’s just not an option. I think what happens is I get a little frustrated, flip it to fascinated, and then I get obsessed with solving the problem.
So what are you doing now? Tell us a little bit about the transition you had.
After my second child was born, I decided I wanted to focus on work-life integration. A question you get asked a lot as a woman is, “How do you balance it all?” Well, you’re never really going to have a balance. You’re going to spend more time at work than with your kids or spouse. But KidStrong came to me with an opportunity to integrate my work and life.
What exactly is KidStrong?
It’s awesome. We help kids win at life. KidStrong is a private child development training program that focuses on mental, physical, and character development for kids. So opposed to a singular sports activity, we’re getting kids involved in physical work that helps them with gross motor skills, like riding a bike, tying their shoes, and brain exercises that will help them academically. We focus on leadership, confidence, and independence.
Every workout starts with a positive affirmation. We teach them proper social greetings, like how to make eye contact, introduce themselves, and shake hands. Throughout the entire 45-minute class, we’re asking them to take safe risks, whether it’s stepping on a balance beam or something more verbal. But that confidence builds, and it gives them what they need to accept the opportunities they’re presented with in the future.
Sounds so cool. So tell us a little bit more about how you balance that, Sheri, oh wise one.
First of all, I think you’ve gotta get the word balance out of your head. The concept of work-life integration changed my mental state. I started bringing my kids with me to work, even though my job was to be a trainer and a mentor. But the ability to have my children around with me while I’m doing that, I think that’s really powerful for them and where they’re going to go.
You’ve just gotta focus on being comfortable with how things are going and the amount of time you spend between your family and at work. And any time you can have those things merged together, I think that’s a really good thing.
So tell us a little bit about how you set goals for yourself.
I actually just did something like this with my team. We just had our vision board meeting where we sat down, went through hundreds of magazines, found images that were inspiring to us, and put them all together into a visual idea of what makes us happy. Then we wrote down three to five goals we want to accomplish this year and added it to the board.
What are you trying to accomplish today?
Right now, one of the words on there is impact. There’s also simplicity, as my goals are pretty simple. Make my home feel like a staycation, spend more time with my family, grow KidStrong to new heights, and get back involved with my church a little more heavily than I am today.
If you have advice, maybe two or three things that you think have really worked for you and helped your success grow, what would those things be?
First thing is to have a schedule, be organized, plan, create your rituals, and stick to it. Schedule yourself some time to breathe too. Second thing is to have the right people in your life. It can be a mentor, a counselor, or a friend, but be sure to consider other third-parties and opinions outside your headspace. Number three is to focus on relationships and connections. You don’t know who you’re going to meet or where they’ll take you.
Thanks for taking the time to sit with us today and share all this wonderful advice, Sheri. Be sure to tune into next week’s Tuesday with Terry for more.