Strive and Uplift, a Seattle-based, womxn-owned-and-operated strength gym, has been in operation for three years. Owner Ren Caldwell, with the support of her team and community, opened shortly after Donald Trump was elected.
How it All Started
I questioned whether or not I wanted to pursue opening a gym after Trump was elected because I knew there would be so many devastating things happening as a result of his election that would need more support than a gym. I wondered how I could put so much time and energy into a gym when other people and causes would need me, and how could I ask for others to support the effort!
However, my partner and colleagues convinced me to pursue opening the gym because people would need a safe and supportive space to work out. While we don’t consider ourselves a gym exclusively for queer people or POC, we’re passionate about creating and maintaining a space where everyone feels comfortable. We do that by having setting baseline expectations for our gym, requiring respect and compassion from all of our members and only hiring coaches who are dedicated to our mission. We have inclusive signage in the gym and our values are outlined our our website. We call ourselves a strength and conditioning community, and we are social justice focused at our core.
I’ve been a trainer for about 20 years. I was a preschool teacher for a year or two after college and a dance instructor. I grew up a dancer and in martial arts and danced professionally in Seattle for a couple of years. I couldn’t make ends meet as a preschool teacher and teaching dance so I thought maybe I could possibly be one of the people who taught people how to lift weights! Personal training was just starting at that time – I got certified as a trainer and was working at a gym, but I ended up leaving the company after 9 months because I was dealing with sexual harassment. Additionally, they wanted me to lie to my clients, and I didn’t feel comfortable with that. I figured I could probably figure out how to do personal training on my own. I started training people and teaching classes under the name “RenFitness” and did that for about 10 to 12 years. I eventually got burned out because I was working with people who didn’t have a lot of real goals as it pertained to their fitness – I wasn’t making much progress with my clients, nor did I feel like I was helping them accomplish anything.
I started working more with athletes, which encouraged me to learn more about people’s bodies and functional movement to see how I could actually affect change in people’s bodies and how to make them work better. I started working with the ultimate frisbee community from a movement perspective specializing in soft tissue work and mobility. I was one of only 3 people doing strength and conditioning work in the sport, and as such, I became a subject matter expert and started writing articles and getting invited to speak at conferences to train and lecture about it. I developed a strong reputation within the community.
I enjoyed working with teams but found it difficult to do at small studios so I decided I needed to open my own space where I could control the flow and the energy. I created strong connections with other coaches and highly creative individuals who became the first team I’d ever been a part of – Kira Morin and Bert Abbott. When we originally opened up this gym it was going to be a space for ultimate frisbee — the only one in the world. But over the past couple of years, it’s really shifted to be a space that is for everyone. It’s grown in that direction because of our passions, and because there was a need for a gym with our values.
A Place for All to Thrive
We expect everyone to treat each other with respect. We ensure that happens by having open feedback channels with our members. We start classes by having participants share their pronouns to ensure comfortability and to normalize it. We’ve done educational sessions with Health at Every Size (HAES) practitioners as well as doing our own work to ensure we are operating in a way that’s body positive and accessible.
We only hire coaches with a high degree of competency and experience to ensure they feel comfortable talking about everything from injuries to emotional entanglements so that people have the support they need to be healthy, beyond just their physical health.
I feel like it’s so important to create a safe space because we can’t reach our potential when we feel threatened. We work with a whole array of people from youth to the geriatic population to the ultimate frisbee community. We share our space with a martial arts collective (Renzo Gracie Seattle and Muaythai Iyarin), and we also have independent contractors who come in to train their clients and lead classes.
One of the things that makes us unique is our coaches are really invested in making sure that everyone feels centered and special. We don’t have a front desk person, there’s always one of us there and available to help. It really sets the tone that we are here to interact with each other. It’s an opportunity to open up, connect, and build community. People feel safe to come here and really engage with one another.
It’s super important to us to make healthy movement accessible, so we have work trade and scholarship options available. We have people who can’t afford to pay for a membership so they help with cleaning or administrative work in exchange for a membership or training.
We also have a scholarship program for youth. We work to get scholarships from Disc Northwest which has a youth development fund and we partner with them to host free clinics.
We just started a program with an organization called Mary’s Place, a homeless shelter and day center in Seattle for women and children. We are setting up a program where we go into the location once a month and do a movement class, discuss injuries, aches and pains, and provide them with some tools to help them manage chronic or acute problems.
Lastly, we do full programming online for as low as $10 a month so even if individuals don’t have a ton of money to put towards training, they can still access programming at a low cost.
I’ve always been passionate about movement. I’ve been involved in everything from dance, gymnastics, martial arts, and BMX biking since I was a child. I eventually got into choreography and teaching others movement. I enjoy trying new things and moving my bodies in different ways – at the moment I’m performing in dance shows again, and learning aerial! My body has changed a lot after having two children, and it’s been a long road back to finding joy in movement, but now I’m constantly asking my own body to try new things, and I find comfort in what my body can do.
As such, it’s so rewarding for me to help other people do the same. How movement changes people’s lives is really incredible. Movement has such a power to open us up to other areas of our lives and for greater exploration. I love helping people reconnect and find themselves in their bodies again. The thing that has been so rewarding for me about opening a space is that I feel like I have coaches who have the same passion about education and exploration as I do. When I walk out the door of the gym, I know that energy and connection is continuing without me there.
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