Breaking Free

June 28, 2019

Kari Merrill

Why wouldn’t I choose a career working in the County Jail?  Look at ALL the people I can help. The job is different every day.  I don’t have to dress up.  I get great benefits. But what I came to realize year after year and almost 13 years later, is that I didn't like what this type of job did to ME and who it was turning me into.

I remember thinking, “I am not this person. I want to LIKE people.” A job in Corrections makes it very tough to keep a happy disposition. You see, you hear, and you smell a lot of things you cannot even imagine. You start to lose faith in mankind. For me, it turned me very cynical, negative, and unhappy but I could do the job well. But deep down, I was not fulfilled. I was not meeting the need to really help people like I feel I was born to do. I needed an outlet. I needed to get out of my house and DO something besides work. I wanted to really bond with people again to trust in people again.

I found Group Fitness. I remember taking my first Group Fitness classes and crushing on my Cardio Kickboxing Instructor - thinking she was magic. How does she make the punches and kicks go along with the beat of the music? How is she making my day every day?  And finally - I WANT TO DO THAT FOR SOMEBODY TOO!

That Group Fitness Instructor was Janet Babe and she also ran Group Fitness at the gym where I found this fitness magic. I will never forget Janet coming up to me in class and asking if I was interested in teaching. Man...what a compliment!  My answer?  “Oh gosh, no, I couldn’t do a class like this.” But on the inside? This is ALL I wanted to do. I needed something positive because almost everything in my life at that moment was sad.

Of course, that night I went home and ordered music, starting busting out different ideas with multiple colored markers and thought "maybe I could do this?" Luckily for me, Janet didn’t take no for an answer and started working with me - teaching me the 32ct beat of the music,how and when to cue ‘4, 3, 2 CUE’, and how to mirror my participants so my left is your right and I remember thinking "Whoa, this is harder than it looks!"

One thing she did not have to teach me is to have fun and smile while I was up there because for the first time in a long time, I was having fun and smiling so much my cheeks hurt! Realizing how I can help people just by putting on a mic and giving them an outlet away from their lives just like I had needed was the best feeling in the world.

So now what? Group Fitness was all I could think about. I taught every chance I could, adding different modalities to my resume. During my free time, I was creating and programming, researching different movements and classes and fusions of classes. I started a Personal Training business where I came to the client's home. "Ding Dong Knock Knock, It’s Kario!" I loved everything about fitness and I was a sponge. I went to conferences, connected with fitness people around the world, read book after book, obtained certification after certification. But all of that didn’t matter as I started thinking about a change of career. My degree wasn’t in fitness so how could I get someone, anyone, to give me a chance? I mean, can my passion count for anything? I knew I could do this full-time!

Enter Western Racquet and Fitness Club. I went for a 7-day trial, just to work out and see a different style of facility. Enter Kat Vanfossen, who was quite persistent with a side order of stalkerish to get me to teach a class - which I finally did! Monday night Zumba every other week at 5:30pm. I remember teaching my first class at Western to 4 people and Kat saying "You have something - you made this 4 person class into a party." She told me a member said "I don’t know who that is, but can we keep her?"  I remember thinking...and I still I really ok up there? I am simply loving what I do...that’s it! It must show, eh?

Little did I know that behind the scenes Kat was working herself OUT of a job (she was the Group Fitness Director) to get me in the doors as a Part-Time Group Fitness Director. She told the GM that if she wanted to grow Group Fitness at Western that I was going to be her gal. I mean, I di have 5,672,893 ideas brewing in my head!

I remember sitting in front of the owners of Western and talking their ears off about everything fitness. That conversation was followed up by a job offer. My dream job….except….part time? In fitness? HOW? How can I leave a County Job that I have been at for 13 years with retirement, protective status, benefits, good pay?

I didn’t know how I would do it, but I knew my happiness counted on me trying. My boyfriend (turned husband that same year) simply said, “Baby, you are not happy. Go take that job and we will figure it out. I got you and we have each other”   It was a BIG change and it was HARD but we did it! AND I LOVE MY JOB.  I love every hour of every day that I am here. I still get goosebumps when I get to put the mic on. I still love that now I am Janet and Kat - and I am telling members "You have what it takes to teach Group Fitness" and then I can teach them the 32ct and how to find their passion in this industry. To pay it forward, over and over again, is one of the most rewarding parts of my job.

The last 9 years have flown by and Western has grown so much. We went from 21 classes per week to over 80 classes per week on the schedule. From 2 studios to 5 studios. We have brought in Water Rowers, TRX, Schwinn Bikes, Barre, Strong By Zumba and kept our original classes such as Step, Cardio Kickboxing, Strength, Core, and Yoga strong as ever. We more than doubled our instructors and with their love and passion for Group Fitness it has made Western a home and community for our members. We are providing the magic that I felt all those years ago and I am thrilled and excited by that every single day.

Nothing beats happiness.  So when I say "Follow Your Dreams" it isn’t just because it’s a cool phrase on the cover of a journal. You can be happy in your career but you must take that leap of faith and work your butt off! But, most importantly, FIND SOMETHING YOU LOVE.

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