Why We Started PUSH511

It seems fitting after celebrating our 10-year anniversary to write down PUSH511’s origin story and shed some light on how it all came to be. Before diving in, a massive and heartfelt thank you to everyone who is part of the team, to current members, to former members and coaches, to those who recommended PUSH511 to a friend, to my family and close friends for their encouragement, and to all the great small businesses in our community as we support each other, especially now.  We are Stronger Together.

Two sidebars before the story begins…

1. A shout-out to two KICK-ASS women

First, Anne-Marie Wood. She told me in September 2009 that I needed to knock on the door of a local woman at 7am (who might not be fully awake) and request to do a CrossFit workout. At that moment I was introduced to the Hurt Locker and the practice that would change my life. For several months Anne-Marie and I happily tackled the workouts. Fast-forward to December. As we enjoyed a big post-workout breakfast at Miss Shirley’s Café (no apologies; the two of us like to eat) we decided to start a gym. Nothing too ambitious, just something larger than the Hurt Locker, allowing more of our friends to do this crazy thing called CrossFit.

Second, Jill Collier. Thank you for answering the door when I knocked, for being my first CrossFit coach, and for introducing me to the Hurt Locker.  My first WOD was a 10-minute version of Cindy (I think it was push-ups, sit-ups, and squats). The end result was me lying in a pool of sweat, wondering what just happened. I had done Ironman triathlons, marathons, 200-mile one-day bike tours, but damn, what is this thing?  I was hooked from day one. I loved every minute of our Hurt Locker workouts—the wall balls slamming on the sides of homes and telephone poles, inhaling the early morning smell of passing garbage trucks, and (carefully) lunging around dead rats.  

2. My why and what keeps me going

My why is to inspire and motivate others to believe in themselves so they can live their best lives.

I believe in positivity and an abundance mindset. If you ask me if the glass is half-full or half-empty I will look at you with a WTF expression because it is ALWAYS full--duh! Whether with air or fluid, it is full. 

I believe our vulnerabilities are our fire, if we share our vulnerabilities we become stronger together and build and strengthen community.

Oh! One more sidebar…

Indulge me for a minute as I present Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (it’s important!).

Level 1: Survive physically—We all need a job and dependable income

Level 2: Safety—Ditto. We need a roof over our heads and food on the table

Level 3: Relationships—We’re all enriched by having friends, romance and a tribe

Level 4: A greater psychological, physiological something that gives us a sense of meaning.

We all focus on levels 1 and 2 and many of us have reached Level 3, but most people stop there. To my mind, that’s not enough.  We all need to get to Level 4 to be our best. And to get there we need to be selfish, not in the traditional sense of the word but by realizing that in order to serve others you must first take care of yourself. As one of my favorite authors, Lisbeth Darsh, writes, “Create joy, one person at a time. Start with yourself. That sounds selfish, doesn't it? Start with yourself? Isn't life about service to others? It is, but in order to serve others, you must first take care of yourself."

 Enough with the sidebars. Here’s the story I promised.

Growing up my parents embedded in me that if you truly work hard and be true to yourself and others, good things will happen. I lost my mother when I was 34; she was struck by a car while walking. She was bipolar and back then treatment options were limited. There also was a social stigma attached to a mental illness diagnosis. As a kid I wasn’t told why mom went away sometimes.  As an Enneagram 7 my childhood wound is the absence of nurturing. My mother was a wonderful parent but because of her illness couldn’t always be there for me. For better or for worse I realized early that if I wanted to survive I needed to be the one to make it happen.

I was always physically active but when my mother died I coped by becoming as competitive about running and endurance races as I was about my career.  5K races and sprint triathlons eventually turned into marathons and Ironman triathlons.

There are tipping points and signs in our lives and big ones for me seem to happen in 10-year increments. I was 34 when my mother was killed and at 44 another sea-change happened. I quit my job and walked away from a successful career in finance.

Worker Bee

I worked in the real estate industry for many years in banking and pension fund real estate investments, a male-dominated world.  When I changed companies switching from banking to investments, I was promoted to senior vice president, a natural progression in my career. A colleague remarked that I was the only female SVP at the company not working in human resources, that sounded very odd to me, why not more women?  Jumping ahead 10 years, in 2006 I was promoted to managing director, which in the real estate investment world is very respected and, in a male-dominated industry, a bit rare.  I was proud of this--I worked hard and deserved it.

Holidays and historic dates also seem to dovetail with changes in my life. On Columbus Day 2006, our business unit moved to Washington, DC.  Our company was purchased that same day.  On Valentine’s Day in February 2007 my boss took me out to lunch to thank me for helping with the buyout transition, gave me a very nice bonus, and then informed me he was stripping me of my managing director title. The reason?  “It would not look right if a MD reports to another MD.” The remaining two MDs just happened to be men.  I was not upset at the title but the act of disrespect was astonishing and my belief that hard work and staying true to myself and others would make good things happen was being tested.

When you are not valued as a person or woman you need to make changes.

On March 15, the ides of March, I asked myself, what if I just quit? The thought didn’t make me nervous. I had just received a good bonus, I had been saving money since I started working, hoping to start a family, but at age 44 I knew children weren’t in my future. It was time to invest in myself. It was time to be selfish. It was time to be vulnerable and create fire.

Nowhere Land

On June 30, 2007 I quit my job and started a new chapter, going all-in on making myself vulnerable.  I had accomplished levels 1-3 of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs but I was determined to get to Level 4.

I started by taking a 39-day road trip, visiting 11 US states, five Canadian provinces, four Great Lakes, and three time zones, for a total of 6,302 miles. I painted most of the rooms in my house. I wrote a book and I did some consulting as an expert witness to pay the bills.

After a year I felt lost. I thought figuring out what I wanted to do when I grew up would be easy. It wasn’t. I realized I was depressed and began therapy. I was concerned about my family’s history of mental illness and alcoholism and I feared falling into a dark hole.

But I persisted and kept trying new things. I did the work necessary to clear my mind. I committed to next steps that aligned with my values. And I refused to go back to my former life.

The Lightbulb

After all my post-finance-career travels, DIY projects, writing, freelance work and therapy, it was that first 10-minute workout in Jill and Dave’s Hurt Locker that changed my life. It gave me the meaning I’d been craving. My mojo was back. 

The final tipping point – My sister had a heart attack on January 28, 2010 she was 52, her heart stopped two times that night, but still beats today. I then realized CrossFit can change people’s lives, physically and mentally.  More importantly I saw that CrossFit allowed for vulnerability. When you share punishing workouts with others you become vulnerable to each other. You build bonds, trust, and friendships that go beyond the walls of the gym and that help keep you accountable for your well-being.

After my sister’s heart attack Anne Marie and I decided to open a full-time gym. We snuck into a CrossFit affiliates gathering in late February, meeting other owners to see if this business was for us. We then rolled up our sleeves, put the plan into action, and opened the doors of PUSH511 on November 15, 2010.

To PUSHing into the Future

I am so proud of the impact PUSH511 has had on our members’ lives.  You all have committed to good health and fitness and are incredible role models for the next generation. You affect significant change with your positive actions.

I quit my job at the same time the “Great Recession” started, not a good time to be unemployed and dependent on savings. But if I hadn’t decided to be vulnerable and go through that fire, PUSH511 wouldn’t have happened and this fantastic community wouldn’t exist. And yes, that family I was saving for did occur just not in the traditional way. PUSH511 is my family, my sisters, my brothers, and the “kids,” all those who found their passion and left the family to open their own gyms.

In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic began and the government forced PUSH511 to close its doors. The thought of PUSH511 closing down permanently was not an option I even considered. I needed to rethink how to keep the glass full. I needed to work as hard as possible to make sure PUSH511 survives. The business got knocked down, but as any good endurance athlete or CrossFitter will tell you, that means you stand back up and say, “Is that all you got?” The challenges are formidable and there is a long way to go but together we will survive and flourish. I know if we work as one we will Be Stronger Together and thrive for another 10 years.  This is the next tipping point.

Embrace your vulnerability, it is your fire and your strength

Believe in yourself, so you live your best life

Book a Free Intro

3700 O’donnell St
Suite 240
Baltimore, Md 21224