Life was good. Professionally, I was acclimating smoothly to my new role as General Manager of the SoHo Crunch Fitness branch, one of only 10 Manhattan-based facilities. I was now responsible for a staff of 55. Mentally, I was on point, by then nearly fluent in Spanish. And physically, I was in the best shape of my life, working out daily. Everything seemed to be going according to plan and I was growing at lightning speed.
Of course, this didn’t mean I wasn’t being confronted with challenges. Before being promoted, the fitness club had an electrical fire in the men’s locker room sauna. So as a part of accepting the position, I was tasked with overseeing the facility’s first ever renovation. To complicate matters even more, I had to let my sales manager go due to performance issues within the first months. That meant, I’d be both coaching my team on how to close sales while finding creative and resourceful ways to maintain momentum and member satisfaction during the renovation. Fortunately, complicated logistics and juggling priorities were my thing, because this is where I truly shined.
Now, to get into the first floor of our facility, you had to walk up a flight of stairs, making our point of entry the hardest of all the locations in NYC. Eager for solutions, I sought ways in which we could play to our strengths. One day when brainstorming, an idea came to mind: Why not take advantage of that amazing foot traffic outside the building's location? I engaged our personal trainers and front desk staff to go out on the sidewalk with stereos, pumping music and draw attention to the gym.
Photo: Briar as a Crunch Fitness Bunny Rabbit from an Event
While that locker room fire initially felt like a curse, it turned out to become the blessing that helped us discover this new sales approach. Sure, the renovation period was tough, but deploying this strategy helped our team hit our membership sales goals for three consecutive months!
This wasn’t the only major change I’d make during my first year. In addition to growing the gym, I also wanted to make some cultural changes. As only one of two female General Managers at the time, and soon to be turning 22, I wanted to overhaul the days of seduction in the gym. I was determined to have a predator free club.
As someone that believes culture starts at the top, I knew I was going to have to lead by example by setting clear standards with my staff. Now that I was GM, I realized being overly friendly could mean confusing expectations. So, even though I was young and I spent most of my time with the staff, some of the fun and games had to come to an end.
I remember one day a new trainer came over “to say hi” with a big, flirty smile and frisky body language. I looked at him, then looked around to insinuate I was confused if I was his intended audience. Finally, I answered with a slight edge in my voice, “Are you speaking to me like that? If you want to say ‘hi’, you can go say ‘hi’ to your manager,” pointing to his direct supervisor. His face turned an awful color of bright embarrassment and he shuffled away. The message was clear, not until they had made their 60-day mark, was I going to chat with new trainers outside of numbers or performance. This made such a difference in their manners and ultimately supported a new sense of loyalty and productivity across all departments.
But overall, despite a few necessary changes, things were going great. I quickly fell into a comfortable new routine as GM and couldn't be more excited about where my career was headed. I was working hard to promote a front desk worker into a manager on duty and onboarding more staff to support our growth. I loved working with them, pulling out their strengths and coaching against their weaknesses. All the while, being in a fluid environment where people were their most vulnerable selves. I even had the pleasure of signing up celebrities I had grown up watching from Saved by the Bell and Pretty in Pink – all while running a business unit and growing my staff!
However, all of this would change significantly for me one, dramatic day. At the time, I had been working really hard with my assistant manager, giving her ways to find patience, be calm in her approach, and show more discernment in member interactions. This was put to the test one morning in February 2006.
I was sitting at my computer near our front desk entrance, reviewing our numbers and setting the goal sheets up for the day when I heard a member’s voice escalate up an octave. I looked up immediately to see my Assistant manager facing a short, red haired woman, who barely made it over the podium of the front desk.
“I just want to cancel my membership!”
She shouted, abnormally loud and forcefully. My assistant manager remained calm and said, “Ma’am, as I mentioned, we cannot accept a medical cancellation at the club, you’ll have to mail it in.” This statement lit a fuse like a thousand firecrackers and the profanities started shooting off. I quickly walked around the desk and with correct body positioning, coaxed the woman to move away from the desk so we could discuss. I had a knack for calming escalations quickly and knew you never leave anyone at ear shot of other members, EVER. She calmed down, spouted a few closing sentiments and then started walking down the staircase to go outside.
I took one deep, steady breath to center myself. With her paperwork firmly gripped in my right hand, I walked toward the desk, ready to go ahead and call the corporate office and have them manually remove her membership after that outburst. But, I would never have to.
In a moment, I was horizontal. The woman had a change of heart, turned back up the stairs and into the club. She yanked my hair so fiercely from behind that my feet flew upwards like I’d slipped on a banana peel. As I fell, I clutched the papers hard in my right hand and sprawled my left arm to brace the fall. SMACK! It slammed hard against the ground.
Upon impact, I heard my assistant manager shout,
“Oh, no you didn’t.”
She bolted around the desk towards the woman, ready to attack. I turned and saw the short, red haired woman standing behind me in terror and frozen stiff from shock. Afraid of what my assistant manager was capable of, I quickly got up and ran in between her and the woman to absorb the impending attack. But it wasn’t just her. I also needed to fend off a front desk worker who had also been so compelled to come to my aide. Ultimately, I ended up defending my attacker while saving two members of my staff from assault charges. Once the situation had de-escalated, I asked them to call the police, who escorted the woman out after an intense interrogation.
Initially, I'd declined medical treatment, probably because I was still reeling from the adrenaline to feel any pain. But after a couple of hours passed, a burning sensation began to creep in, piercing through my entire left hand and wrist. Upon further inspection, I noticed that every capillary had been busted open. It looked as though I had hundreds of tiny scratches all over my skin. Still, I thought I’d be fine. Nothing a little rest couldn’t handle, right? I threw on a brace that night and continued with my life. Or tried to, at least.
After weeks of wearing the brace, I was feeling more pain. Realizing it wasn’t going to get better on its own, I finally went to an orthopedic specialist where I found out my scapholunate ligament had a slight tear and my cartilage was completely torn through. The pain stemmed from bone rubbing on bone. Surgery would be necessary and just like that, my world had been flipped upside down. One day, I thought everything was on track, the gym was growing, and so was I, but the next? I was preparing for surgery that would leave me in a brace for 4+ months.
Surgery took a toll. They had to shave part of my ligament to avoid a pin and sew the entire cartilage in my wrist back together. I was put in a full arm brace with a hinge at the elbow. It immobilized my thumb and forearm which meant no more working out and no more working. For the foreseeable future, I was out on disability and would be earning just enough to pay my rent. Within one month, the GM position I’d worked so hard to get to would be filled. And it turns out, I was only just beginning a long road to recovery that would have me reevaluating everything in my life.
After the brace came off, even while still in rehab, I was assigned to our largest location to support their sales team. Not only was I tasked with adapting to an entirely new role, but I was also having trouble typing as three fingers in my hand were constantly numb. Realizing that I had not fully recovered, I went back to the orthopedic surgeon. Well as they say: when it rains, it pours. After another scan, he told me everything had shifted in my wrist and my pisiform bone was now impinging on the nerves for my three fingers. The new strategy would be to reopen my wrist and shave the bone a bit to give my nerves more room. The implications of that horrible day in February would continue to haunt me.
When I woke up from the second surgery, I received even more bad news. The surgeon had been forced to remove the whole bone as it was too badly impinging the nerves. All thanks to that unfortunate episode, I’d gone from tasting the sweet success of being a 22 year old General Manager, to being totally incapacitated. The decline seemed much swifter than the climb.
Life sucked. Financially, I was a mess, swimming deeper and deeper in debt. Physically, I was even worse off, the skinniest I had ever been in my entire life. The message seemed loud and clear: managing a gym was not going to be my life’s trajectory. Throughout the traumatic experience, I had lost my love for the environment. My heart just wasn’t in it anymore. And if my heart wasn’t in it, it wasn’t going to be sustainable. I had to regroup, restart, and figure out what life would be like outside of a career in health and fitness.
I started asking myself questions:
What did I really want out of my career? What were my professional strengths? Weaknesses? What had I learned? How had I grown?
While I initially saw the event as something to hide from, I realized it was a make or break moment. How we respond to life’s challenges is one of the best ways to define one’s character. Upon this realization, I made the conscious decision not to turn this into a pity party. Sure, I’d gone through a lot, but bad stuff happens. I couldn’t control the accident but I could control how I grew from it. I felt it in my bones, I was going to take this trauma and reframe it into a new career move.
Photo: Briar at a Crunch Fitness Event | 2006
Looking back, I am now extremely grateful for what happened to me on that day as I know the exact role this event played in my life’s development. First of all, it helped me learn how to embrace my story and not try to explain it away. For months, I replayed how I turned my back on that woman over and over again, ashamed I had been so naive. But without it I may not have learned a lesson which gave me knowledge that would prove to be indispensable.
It also taught me how to find strength in vulnerable states of being, to create anew. Healing my mind from the experience gave me more strength, compassion and grace. Through it I solidified the notion that you can overcome any obstacle with the right tools and framing. A notion that became one of my core teachings as I coach professionals to move through roadblocks and create decisions from a place of strength rather than one of fear.