Women’s Only: Stephanie Sharp

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Stephanie Sharp is busy — as a mom, a wife, a CrossFitter, a coach, a box owner, and generally all-around awesome woman. Find out how she is building up Ross Valley CrossFit with her husband and why she aspires to make sure that every woman walks through life with confidence.

Getting to Know Ross Valley CrossFit

What is your athletic background? How did you find CrossFit, and what inspired you to open your own CrossFit box?
It took me a hellacious 18 minutes to finish my first Fran, but I LOVED it! I walked taller that day.
Stephanie: I began gymnastics at 5, and continued to train in that arena until I was about 13. Definitely had Olympic dreams, but multiple injuries kept setting me back. Fortunately, it was around that time that I discovered the weight room. I was the only girl bench pressing and squatting with the guys, which gave me confidence at a particularly challenging time.

I discovered CrossFit in 2006, when a personal trainer that I was working with starting bringing main site WODS to our sessions. All of a sudden, he had me doing kettle bell swings, thrusters, Turkish get ups — all this stuff that seemed crazy to me at the time. It took me a hellacious 18 minutes to finish my first Fran, but I LOVED it! I walked taller that day. So I fell in love with CrossFit, got certified in 2007, and began coaching at a local affiliate. Fortunately, I had access to a lot of experienced coaches, so I got to learn a lot from watching them coach, as well as through being coached by them.

The one thing that kept us sane through the fear and depression of the lifestyle change that unemployment brought was CrossFit.
In 2008, my fiance lost his job, so we started thinking about the next chapter… thenI got pregnant in 2009 (perfect timing, of course!), and it was around that time that foreclosing on our home, declaring bankruptcy, and moving in with his parents seemed imminent.

The one thing that kept us sane through the fear and depression of the lifestyle change that unemployment brought was CrossFit. We knew how much it brought to our lives, and just how effective it was. If we were going to go down in flames, we figured that we might as well go out fighting. Then, if we did have to lose everything, we’d know that we did everything we could. So one day we decided to take what little money we had left, in addition to a loan from a family member, and open our own box. Obviously, we didn’t have to move in with his parents.

How long has your box been open, and how many members do you have? Describe some of your initial challenges as a box.

You can’t get married to one way of doing things. This is true for business, and for babies.
Stephanie: We opened our doors October 2, 2010, with no members. We currently have 170 members, which is a little shy of our goal for 100 members a year. One of the obvious challenges for us was opening a new business with a 6-month-old. As new parents, you’re operating at a wicked sleep deprivation level, and you’re constantly wondering if you’re doing a good job. Opening a small, service-based business really isn’t any different: you’re taking what you think you know, based on past experiences, and throwing it against the wall to see what sticks. Then, when things inevitably change, you have to be willing to adjust what you’re doing. You can’t get married to one way of doing things. This is true for business, and for babies.

For example, when we opened, we offered all clients 3 private sessions before they could come to class. We felt that the one-on-one time was crucial to teach them everything that they needed to know, as well as to feel cared for enough by us to be motivated to sign up. This was great in theory, but it quickly became evident that this wasn’t time- or energy-efficient. By tweaking our programming for those sessions, as well as opening the sessions up to others, we were able to accomplish our goals in a fashion that made more sense.

How do you approach programming at your box/for your clients?
The other 20% of the time, we play around a bit more. We want the strength focus to be there, but we’ve got to provide GPP, or else it’s not CrossFit.
Stephanie: Our WODs always begin with a general warm up like running or rowing, then we follow up with a dynamic warm-up that is ever changing and always relevant to the WOD.

80% of the week, we are hitting a strength element at the beginning of the WOD, using a 5×5 or a 5-3-1+ loading sequence, for example. Then we like to hit a little met-con at the end, using the same lift at a lighter load. We might focus heavily on cleans one week, and then snatches the next, then bring those focuses back a few weeks later, pushing the loads and/or reps.

The other 20% of the time, we play around a bit more. We want the strength focus to be there, but we’ve got to provide GPP, or else it’s not CrossFit. So we might throw tire flips, 400 meter runs with chains, toes-to-bar, and handstand holds at them one day, and then work only static bodyweight WODs the next. If the athlete is training with us with the goal of getting in incredible shape, this programming is super effective. Obviously, if an athlete is Games focused, or sport specific, we look significantly deeper at the goals, strengths, and opportunities, and create a training cycle that’s programmed specifically for that athlete.

In the Bay Area, CrossFit boxes grow on trees. How are you working to make your box unique and/or “brand” your box?
We stay true to ourselves and focused on serving others — if your success requires much more than that, you might be in the wrong line of work.
Stephanie: Six years ago, there were 2 or 3 affiliates in Marin County…now there are 12! But I think that this is fantastic! CrossFit training changes lives on every level, and the more people utilizing it, the better the world will be.

CrossFit boxes are successful when they are owned and operated by people who truly, deeply love to be of service to others. And if you’ve visited different boxes, you can tell the difference between those that are there to serve, and those that aren’t.

To me as an owner and coach, serving means never ceasing to be a student myself, and administering business operations that support the value of what we provide our athletes.

Most importantly, it means keeping the athlete’s goal(s) as my number 1 priority. This is harder than it sounds, because every athlete is so different, and requires unique methods of coaching, communicating, and motivation. But our athletes recognize this dedication, and as such, they make our box unique, and they are our greatest marketing tool. We stay true to ourselves and focused on serving others — if your success requires much more than that, you might be in the wrong line of work.

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