We are so excited to share with you to our next #WomenWhoLead spotlight: Sami Sweeney. A PNW native who found her way back to Seattle after family, love and her education took her across the country, she's one inspiring entrepreneur and the driving force behind the Pure Barre community coming to Washington.
Sami's story of loving her body is steeped in a lifetime of movement. From competitive gymnastics to running, yoga to Pure Barre, she's navigated life through using her physical facility and a knowing that being strong from the inside out—literally and figuratively—is how she would and could succeed.
We are thrilled to have had the chance to sit down and chat love, life and big time business with this budding leader, and cannot wait for you to get a glimpse into this multi-threat powerhouse of an entrepreneur. Welcome to the SoulPowered community, Sami.
Where does your drive to contribute to your work originate from?
Wanting to work with people and help them physically comes from growing up as a competitive gymnast and having a lot of gymnastic injuries coupled with scoliosis. I’ve seen a lot of Physical Therapists and Chiropractors to rehab a lot of issues – and it resonated with me that I could do some kind of work to help other people feel better.
I benefited so much from doing basic physical therapy exercises and started teaching fitness right away in college at the rec center in our college gym. Everything built from there.
Did you know right away that this was a calling or purpose?
No, I didn't know teaching fitness or owning fitness studios was my calling but I knew I loved it. I went to school for finance and economics and was on that path because I was good at it; I was a good student, got good feedback, landed good internships. I figured finance was a good, healthy way to take on my career and in the end I would open some kind of fitness studio. I had it in my head that it would be a yoga studio or something because it was really helping me at the time, but thought about it more as a capstone to my career and not what my career would entail.
Is there a defining moment of your understanding or a realization that you had found your purpose?
Teaching in college was fun classes with a young demographic. After that I taught classes in Nashville, TN while working an 8am-5pm job in finance – I taught early mornings and weekends at the Pure Barre studio – and it was amazing. I totally loved it and I started hearing positive feedback that my clients were giving me.
At the time, Pure Barre wasn't a franchise, just a concept. The owner/founder hired me to travel and train other Pure Barre teachers – the whole experience was super empowering: to teach other teachers how to give the Pure Barre love to their clients. I was sharing a gift and something I was really passionate about.
You currently have six Pure Barre studios in the Seattle area – is there a plan or goal to grow?
Not right now! In 2014, we doubled our size in response to a lot of demand from our clients to open in more locations. And, in this business, if you don't take the opportunity, someone else will. Because I am an entrepreneur at heart, and when I wrapped my mind around the fact that I couldn't let someone else do it, we had to kick it up in full gear.
At this point were taking a breath, slowing down, looking at what we’re doing and getting into quality control across all our businesses. My mind gets really excited about what’s next though.
Why do you lead?
My answer is two-fold. First, to help people directly. I really deeply enjoy being in front of a group, teaching them how to move their bodies to become stronger and more flexible.
I also love business and love that I have my own team – the management of a staff is so empowering! We have a team of 46 teachers, 26 front desk employees and 3 managers – and I thrive off working with them. My managers are so inspiring: they want to learn and grow with me in Pure Barre as a business and in life as a whole. It’s so fun and satisfying to get to incorporate their goals into this business.
This month we’re focusing on the body—you chose your stomach—tell us why.
I have a bad back and have done a lot of work to strengthen it. Most of the work as been focused on my core – and PT has helped me create a strong midsection. I’ll compensate for things with my core; a strong midsection alleviates back issues that I have had and supports functional movement I need for my work too (lifting, moving, adjusting bodies, etc.). I am happy that I have taken the time to strengthen that area for myself.
What does having a strong core give you? What’s the gift?
Having a strong core gives you confidence in my body for the long run. If you start to lose core strength, something as easy as standing up can be a challenge.
How it exists for me is that I feel stronger from within because I know that I have a strong spine physically and metaphorically.
How has your relationship with your body evolved over time?
I am a huge advocate of taking care of yourself. It takes work to keep your body strong, capable and functional.
I think a lot of people let themselves go in a way where their body doesn't function. If you’re not taking care of it daily you’re missing the boat on having a functional life for as long as you can.
Working at it isn’t comfortable and it requires patience and time but it is so worth it. It will give you the option to live a happier life for a longer period of time.
What other movements—in your community or across the country—inspire you?
I do get really excited by Soul Cycle and how they have done something so well. They take a holistic approach to teaching fitness and they've inspired me to incorporate that into my business. They provide tools to take on challenges outside of the studio and get excited about collaborative concepts that make people fully happy; by taking care of themselves, eating the right things, etc. I love the idea of offering a place where people can get multiple levels of benefits for themselves for their own personal growth and wellness.
Because we’re focusing on the Pacific North West with the #LoveYourBody series, tell us what got you to Seattle.
I lived on Vashon Island until I was 10. When my parents divorced, my mom moved my three siblings and I to Boise, Idaho and my dad stayed in Seattle. I would spend summers with my dad so Seattle was my second home growing up and I was drawn back here.
What’s your vision?
My vision is to continue to merge my love for working with people and my entrepreneurial interests. I've had a lot of hardships and learning experiences over the years that I know will pay dividends in the future.I get excited thinking about what's next, but I don't know yet what that looks like.
What is one of the most valuable lessons that have you learned?
Our first studio totally flopped. We opened in West Seattle and I was young and naïve, pushing forward with no idea of what I was doing. l didn't do the due diligence of looking at it with a business lens: if it was the right market, what the access to the studio was like plus parking, visibility, etc.
What I learned was that failing made me tough skinned and able to push forward. I could have thrown in the towel and gone another direction – but I let myself be shaped and grown by it.
There’s an education piece in it as well. There’s things that people push through life without seeking out – and I want to give people that advice that they might not seek out independently.
What do you do to continue to develop yourself?
I really enjoy reading a lot. I also married my high school sweetheart; we’re extremely close and have grown a lot together. We are on the same page of wanting to develop and grow, and we’re very communicative around areas that we can work on. We also just took an eight-week meditation course together – experiences like that are always helpful. It’s hard to carve out time when you run your own business; we’re ON 7 days a week takes and it takes so much effort.
Physical fitness is super important to me: running, taking class, taking yoga classes and being inspired by other leaders in the fitness industry matters a lot to me and my ability to develop.
There’s something so important as women we need to hear from fellow women; what do you want to share with women? What’s the thing you would most want women to know?
There is no mold that we should aspire to; that we are genetically built to be different. It’s all about becoming your own best self physically and emotionally. When I teach classes, I know that everyone is at a different spot in their day and their life - I consciously teach to all those different stages.
The key is to maximize on our own strengths. Too often we’re influenced by media and other outlets to think that there’s a formula to follow that would make us look or be one certain way.
What’s more important is to create a vision for yourself and follow that.
What’s your take on living and leading with soul?
I think that we have so much opportunity to make a mark on life on all fronts – and by not leading with soul you’re cutting yourself short.
Soul is what matters to you and what you’re passionate about. And with that we can make a much bigger impact on others and ourselves when living from that place. The alternative is so limiting – so why wouldn’t you lead and live with soul?
Raised in the Northwest, Sami has been around fitness and the outdoors her entire life. Sami currently owns and operates the six studios that make up Pure Barre Washington and is an active community member in the Seattle area, specifically in the neighborhoods where her studios operate.
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