Our next Athlete Series contributor is Alex Shabo (@alshabes), current Coach and Studio Manager at Orangetheory Fitness in Clarendon, VA. Alex made a total career switch from a life in the corporate world to pursuing her passion in the world of fitness, and hasn’t looked back!
Alex was interviewed by Love Squad writer Marissa Brock in June.
You have had such an interesting career path! Tell me about your relationship to sports and fitness growing up, and where you were before ending up at Orangetheory.
I grew up in Hingham, MA, right outside of Boston. I actually grew up dancing and did ballet for 15+ years. I also played soccer so when I entered high school I let got of ballet and instead played soccer during the fall. I remember we had a 2 mile trial time and that was the first time I had to actually focus on my aerobic abilities. Who would have guessed that by the end of high school I was captain of my Cross Country team and dropped soccer to do Winter and Spring track (which meant three seasons of running!) I ended up going to Washington and Lee University after meeting with the cross country coach there. I only spent one season doing cross country and instead ran a lot on my own. I graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business and Psychology, went on to get a job with a non-profit and then eventually landed at a healthcare technology and consulting company in Washington, DC.
You are now a Coach and Studio Manager at Orangetheory Fitness in Clarendon, VA. When you were a kid, what did you think you wanted to be when you grew up? Did you ever envision a career in fitness?
I had no idea what I wanted to do when I was a kid… I always said I wanted to be a teacher but that was when I was super young. I actually stressed so much about college because I had no idea what I wanted out of a college or what career path I was looking for. Luckily, in college I found a bit more direction and thought I wanted to go towards marketing. That is a super hard field to go into without experience so I ended up landing the Elrod Fellowship and doing that instead. Long story short, I had no idea and still have no idea what I want to do when I grow up. Luckily through my diverse background I have found what I love about types of jobs and what I need in order to grow professionally. Whether that is fitness or not, I at least know I want to work with people, in a job that is on-the-go and allowing me to manage.
Prior to your career switch, you worked in the corporate world. Talk a little bit about your experience there, and what made you want to make a total career change. Had this been something you had been thinking of for a long time, or was it an impulsive decision that you decided to just go with?
I actually didn’t think I wanted a career change. When I worked at ABC, I also taught Body Pump. I loved it, I would have 15+ hour days because after my workout, work I would go teach an hour class almost 3+ times a week. But it gave me purpose and made my days end on such a high note. I didn’t hate my corporate job in DC, not at all, but I was feeling a little stuck with my professional growth there and not fully enjoying the motions I was going through. The tough part was, I loved the people and did like the company. For those reason, I started looking at similar consulting jobs just in different field, hoping a field change would give me that new spice to my career. At the same time, I was a die hard member of the Rosslyn Orangetheory, going every morning at 6 am and walking from Adams Morgan at 430 am just to get there. So yes, they knew me there and always laughed that I was that crazy runner girl. In my final interviews with the other companies, the studio manager at Rosslyn asked if I had ever considered being a studio manager of a gym. Honestly it had never crossed my mind but several conversations later I was seriously considering it. The wrench was, I was just offered a very cushy job at another job. I ended up declining Orangetheory and going to get my finger prints done at the other job. I vividly remember getting in the elevator to get my fingerprints done, walking in and walking out freaking out. I knew I had made the wrong call. I called the owner of OTF and asked for him to take me back. Best decision I have made. So I would say impulsive and totally out of character for me. Now, I can’t imagine my career without it. I have grown more as a professional, as a person and as a manager in 8 months here than I have at any other job. Being Studio Manager has given me the independence to make this place what I wanted it to be and building such a strong community.
What fears, if any, did you have when you were transitioning out of the corporate world? Were there ever moments where you doubted your decision?
Honestly a ton of fears came from judgement. I had a friend group and family that all were in that traditional corporate world. Heck, I was telling all my superiors at ABC like hey I going to be Studio Manager of a gym that isn’t open yet, helping build it from the ground and leaving all I know for it. It wasn’t like it was a gym that was already established. I was hired while it hadn’t been build and I helped in those presales, in building a staff and coaching crew and getting it going. The pressure to stay on the path everyone knows was so strong. I am lucky now my social circle has a more unique background and I have built such a network here that has opened my eyes to greater opportunities outside of the corporate world. I put in serious hours here, so yes, sometimes the 40 hour work week is enticing but I honestly don’t look back. I feel more stable than I ever have and also so supported by the team the owner has created.
Talk about Orangetheory Fitness. Its such a specific type of workout and unique type of gym. What drew you to want to teach their brand of workout?
Classic sales pitch… Orangetheory or OTF is an hour interval workout lead by a Coach and guiding you through a workout that is half cardio and endurance, and half strength and power. Your performance is tracked live because we work you into five heart rate zones so that you not only burn calories during class but more importantly hours after class. Everyone always asks me how I got into OTF because I am a very self motivated workout person, a super disciplined about my workouts. As you read, I was a runner my whole life – running cross country and track in high school then going to college for cross country. I actually stopped running competitively there and just continued to run on my own. Running was all I did, I spent over four years running about 70+ miles a week, running about 10-12 half marathons a year. I loved that but also did not feel myself improving. I discovered Body Pump when I moved to DC in 2012 which is the first time I started seeing changes in my body and my running. I was reluctantly pushed to be an instructor, I have to admit I never thought I could get on a mic and coach. But once I became an instructor in 2014, I started teaching about 3 -4 classes a week on top of my full time job in sales. OTF was more of a funny story. It took me foreverrrrr to actually take my first class because I didn’t think a class could push me, and I hated the treadmill. Well as you can see, I was sooooo wrong. OTF pushed me past my fitness plateaus and actually helped me balance my fitness way more than I ever had before – incorporating more lifting, more efficient cardio and an awesome environment to be pushed. Right now, I am in the best shape I have been in – lifting heavier than I thought I ever could and running so much faster than I ever have in my past. It is something about working out with people that want to kick their own butt that gives me that extra kick in my own workout.
Many people aspire to a career in fitness, but feel apprehensive about the process. Talk a little bit about the certifications and programs you had to go through before beginning your career switch.
Body Pump was on the easier side – I went to a weekend intensive training, each day about 8 hours long that ended in a final sign off and then a submission of a video. In order to Coach OTF, I needed a Personal Training Certification so I ended up studying and passing my ACE Personal Training certification. I am currently studying for CSCS in hopes to continue to broaden my fitness knowledge. The career switch started as Studio manager so it wasn’t any programs or training, it was more proving that I could do the job that was required.
Do you have any advice for women or men looking to make a total career change into the fitness world?
Sometimes you have to take that chance. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and take that chance on yourself, especially if you have that passion for it. Things won’t work out but that is never a closed door. If you show the passion that you feel for whatever you aspire to do, then that is what will shine through to those around you. It is not that I needed fitness in my life or career, but that I could finally have a career that I got to help people in a way a lot of careers don’t allow. Day in and day out I work with individuals that are starting or improving their fitness journey and it is so amazing to see growth that you have helped with. There is a time to be calculated and a time to throw all that out the window. Your gut is going to guide you where your head may not. Leaving corporate world doesn’t put a closed door on it for your future, know there is always a back up and always another path when one just doesn’t work.
Our Love Squad Athlete Series aims to celebrate the elite athlete in all of us by telling the stories of women for whom elite sports and fitness have played a defining role in their lives. Whether they are former college ballers, professional athletes, or career fitness instructors, sports and fitness helped shape who they are today.
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