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Sponsored Athlete #3

Fitness Protection is launching a Sponsored Athlete Program. The first athlete has been announced on our Facebook page, the second was introduced in the Three Days at the Fair webinar on Friday, and the third will be introduced next Sunday, Jan 26th. Athlete #3 is close to Coach MK's heart, and we thought it best to explain why before you meet him. The video below was livestreamed in the ReBuild, Maintain, and Runner, Interrupted Facebook pages so the video is more direct and personal than the other videos on our YouTube channel.

Coach MK, Mary-Katherine Fleming, sponsored athlete, transgender athlete

In 2011, I was broken. Hurting. I’d done everything right my whole life. I’d played by the rules, kept my mouth shut when asked to be a team player, took the hits, made good choices (and a lot of bad ones, to be fair), had a career that looked amazing on paper and had every mark of credibility a professional could possess. Yet, interview after interview I heard I was “too risky to hire”. I was laid off on my way to my wedding and found out I was pregnant after cashing my first unemployment check. We moved first to the Houston suburbs, which was a disaster, and knew I was DEEPLY depressed before the idea that my kids would be better off without their loser of a mother crossed my mind.

I tell you this so you understand where my head was at when I moved to Denver. It is very important that you understand this, that I barely survived this transition- a transition no one in their right mind would have asked for.

When we moved to Denver, I was pretty sure my marriage wasn’t going to work. So after my second child was born, I started looking for jobs. Nothing was a good or natural fit for my education or experience, and I had been home with kids for 2 once again I was told I was too risky to hire, that my experience and credentials weren't enough. That I was not enough. I was trapped. Powerless. I never asked for the transition into this place and was terrified I’d never have control over my life again.

This was my lowest point.

I wish I could take credit for ‘turning things around’, but honestly it was a lot of coincidence, serendipity, and lucky breaks that happened moment by moment. There’s no roadmap or blueprint I would draw from this for anyone else to follow. There was no master plan. This is how a career expatriate, equities sales-trader, Wharton MBA, and marathon runner became...a mom of 4 and run coach in Denver, CO.

The person who hired me into my first coaching job never saw me as risky, even though I had zero experience and one weekend certification under my belt, none of the marks of credibility people look for when evaluating run coaches and none of the status the other people with my job had (unlike, basically, EVERY OTHER JOB I had ever applied for). I got the job because I was the first to respond, the person who hired me never thought twice about it. This moment that changed my life, that would help me pull myself and my family out of the darkness, wasn’t even an afterthought, which is CRAZY to me. That was in 2014.

Two years later, I would be approached by an agent who had heard me on a podcast and wanted to help me build out my personal brand. I said, “no way. I'm good. If I decide to build something, it has to be bigger than me and reach past me.” After years of jumping at every opportunity that would have me, in 2016 I said no to something I would have killed for in 2011. It struck me then how far I had come, how in two short years this job had helped me pull myself together so my husband could in turn pull HIMSELF together, how our children did NOT think their mommy was a loser. More importantly, she didn’t think she was a loser, either. That job saved me. It changed my life.

Anyone who asked me about my new career would get an earful about my manager. This person was fantastic at their job, I was continually in awe: how they managed the crappy clients, how they managed corporate leadership, how they talked people they had never met into believing in me fully, how they walked into every room and just OWNED IT, you know what I mean- when someone walks into a room and people stop talking and turn as though they’ve been waiting for them to arrive? That was my manager.

This person really was everything I wished I could be. This person was larger than life, personality-plus. Describing this person in traditional terms failed them, their personality, the things they were REALLY GOOD AT just didn’t fit on a resume. If ever I owned a company of my own, I would want to hire twenty people just like my manager IMMEDIATELY and I had no idea how I would find them. I still don’t.

So here we are. Once again, putting my company’s money where my mouth is. It is important that you understand my heart is there, too.

Fitness Protection needs to be bigger than me. It needs faces that don’t look like mine, stories that don’t sound like mine, voices that resonate with people who will never identify with me. It needs to reach past me to every person who is running through a life transition they never asked for. This is EXACTLY what I want to do with Fitness Protection and why our best next step is a sponsored athlete program.

I have been advised that this is risky, associating our corporate brand with non-normative faces and “niche” voices could turn people off, or worse- feel like we are pandering. It is important you know that I’m proudly sponsoring the person who saved me, the person I still want to be when I grow up, and making sure he knows is he coached and loved and winning at life. I will never stop advocating for and protecting a safe space for him in this sport. especially since, no offense, he’s not winning the races he enters! So, as far as I’m concerned, there’s no conflict or controversy. Everything is better when he shows up.

The third sponsored athlete of The Fitness Protection Program is Kade Schuldt, but when he hired me I knew him as Kristen. Yes, that Kristen, the Kristen I talk about constantly, the person in all my stories from all the old podcasts. As you will see his photo in Coach Sarah’s newsletter this afternoon, he is #winningatlife.

Neurologists say that all the people you love live in a literal inner circle in your brain. This is why parents will look at one child and say their brother or sister’s or even their dog’s name. The more love you have for a person, the harder it is, the longer it takes to change the patterns in your brain. Bear with me, sometimes I use the wrong name and the wrong pronoun. It is never intentional, but when I slip please do call me out if I don’t catch my error immediately.

Kade’s transition may not resonate with you, and that’s fine it doesn't need to. His story of triumph over personal pain, just might. His story of not feeling at home in his body, just might. his story of not being able to love his body or himself for awhile, just might. How running kept him moving through unbearable pain, that connects him to all of us.

If you can look at me and see something more than a run coach, more than a depressed unfulfilled stay-at-home-mom or a failed banker or a loser or anything more than the ugliest possible narrative you could write while remembering it’s a transition I never wanted and barely survived, I’m confident you’ll be able to see Kade as something more than "niche" and connect to some part of his experience. Remember though, you don’t have to look at Kade at all. This company is 100% Guided DIY, you don’t even have to look at me! Sponsoring athletes is a small part of what we do, and to be very clear: what we am here to do is coach and love everyone, especially YOU.

I wanted to tell you this now and give you a chance to process it before it becomes public, and remind you that part of what drew you to me in the first place was that I preach what I practice. If you want to talk about this, please reach out to me personally as this program and its first three participants were executive decisions.

It’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to feel what you feel. It is NOT okay to put complicated feelings on Kade, put them on me. You will get to meet Kade next Sunday night (unless you decide to skip the first part of the livestream); This Sunday you will meet Sponsored Athlete #2, who was a HIT in our zoom meeting for three days at the fair earlier today.

I’m proud of what we are building, I’m proud of what we are doing, and I’m grateful for you, no matter what. Have a great weekend.

You will learn more about our Sponsored Athletes in the coming months. The Program will open for applications in the fall. Be sure you join our mailing list so you don't miss out!

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