March 8, 2018
Written by: Monica Hilton, KAHA Fit & Together We Rise CrossFit Owner
To an outsider, KAHA FITNESS and Together We Rise CrossFit might appear to be an unusual duo. Why did a group fitness studio owner decide to add CrossFit? How did a girl from Wisconsin with a PR & Marketing degree decide that her calling was to help others through fitness? And how is this place different than all the other fitness options out there?
KAHA FITNESS opened in the fall of 2014. If I’m being completely honest, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. They say entrepreneurship is like jumping off a cliff and building a plane on the way down. Pretty damn accurate.
Having worked in several gyms and been a member at several others at least gave me an idea about policies and procedures: what not to do, what members expect, etc. My customer service guide was pretty simple: Be a good human.
When KAHA first opened, we offered three programs (BodyPump, BodyCombat and CXWORX) from Les Mills, a New Zealand-based company and the worldwide leader in group fitness. Our lineup also included a variety of Beachbody programs (P90X, Insanity, PiYo) and Zumba, but I learned quickly that once our members discovered Les Mills classes, they didn’t want to do anything else. So we grew from three Les Mills programs to six, then later to ten.
We’re currently the largest Les Mills studio in Indianapolis.
When I was naming the gym, I wanted to pay tribute to Les Mills and the Maori culture in New Zealand. I chose the word KAHA, a Kiwi word for “strong.” To me, there’s no other word to represent what we’re aiming for: strength, in all of its forms.
On the day we opened, I set a goal of selling 50 memberships, although in my head, I knew I’d be happy with 30. We had a packed house of people coming to try us out. I made announcements about membership specials and all the great things we had planned, and the energy was through the roof. Then everyone left and not one person signed up. NOT ONE.
I sat down at the front desk and cried… ugly cried… for about an hour. Maybe two. Did I do something wrong? How am I going to pay rent? What have I done?!
The following day, one person came in and joined. She’s still a member to this day. From that point forward, it was one membership… one person, one story… at a time. Slower than I thought we’d grow? Yes. But the perfect speed to show me the importance of every single person? Absolutely. I believe that was part of the plan.
For the first two and a half years, I also had a full-time career in IndyCar racing, traveling all over the country for races to earn the paycheck that would keep the doors open at KAHA. I can remember nights where my flight would land at 11pm and I’d head to the gym to clean until 2 or 3am.
Vacuuming at 3am is exactly as exhilarating as you’d imagine.
I’d be completely out of line if I didn’t mention the incredible team of instructors at KAHA and how if it weren’t for them, this place would never have made it. They continue to amaze me every day… energy, enthusiasm, humor, selfless acts, the list goes on and on. During those first two really rough years, on more than one occasion, I’ve had instructors offer to teach for free to get us through the rough patches. There aren’t enough positive words in the dictionary to describe this team.
Late in 2016, I lost my racing job. I had to teach BodyAttack one hour after getting the news so despite feeling like someone had kicked my dog, I got up on that stage determined to not let anyone see the fear and stress I was carrying. I’ll never forget that one of the members approached me after class and commented that I had tons of energy that day. I confided the news with her. All she said was, “Here’s my number. Call me later.” She would later become my business coach and more importantly, a great friend.
In January 2017, through coaching, I finally discovered the vision of KAHA: Building strong people (physically, mentally, emotionally) and then paying that strength forward into the Indianapolis community. Simply put, I wanted to build a community of strong people who would “be the ripple” to make others’ lives better too.
Ultimately, I want people to know that KAHA FITNESS is a welcoming, non-judgemental space that offers a great variety of fitness classes, and modifiers for every fitness level. Also, we take our results seriously. Ourselves? Not so much. Our community is what makes it different and I strive every day to keep asking the members what they want, in the hopes of making it THEIR gym, not mine.
When that vision was clear, KAHA thrived. Our membership doubled in six months and I would constantly hear things like, “This place changed my life” or “There’s just something special here.”
We started outgrowing our old space. It had one bathroom, parking was always an adventure and let’s just say that the people in our cycling classes got to be really cozy: “Is that my sweat or yours?”
When I began to explore expansion, something in the back of my mind kept presenting itself: Over the years at KAHA, we had so many women coming to class and mentioning that they wanted their fill-in-the-blank guy (husband, boyfriend, friend, etc.) to come to class with them but… “he won’t try group fitness.” It’s like a weird stigma in the United States. When guys think group fitness, the first images that pop into their heads are somewhere between Jazzercize and Richard Simmons. So for most guys, it’s a hard no.
That played a factor in exploring options for the new space. Someone mentioned CrossFit and I quickly dismissed it at first. Have you ever heard the saying, “People have the most to say about things they know the least about?” That was me with CrossFit. I had a million reasons why I wasn’t interested without ever having done any research on it.
Reluctantly, I decided to explore it a bit further. I watched videos, read articles and talked to coaches who actually knew what they were doing. I’m willing to admit when I’m wrong and wow, was I wrong about what I thought CrossFit was. To make a long story short, through learning, doing and seeing people’s results in our own gym, I drank the Kool-Aid. I believe in CrossFit.
When I initially applied to be a CrossFit affiliate, the name I requested was CrossFit KAHA. Turns out, there’s a CrossFit KAHA already in existence in Brazil. Just to clarify, Brazilians have nice booties AND the name CrossFit KAHA. Slow golf clap for Brazil.
So our incredible team of CrossFit coaches got together and brainstormed. We knew that there were two things we wanted our name to convey: 1) The idea of community, and 2) the idea of bettering ourselves, both in health/fitness and in life. And so, Together We Rise CrossFit opened its doors in August of 2017.
I did a lot of brand identity exploration with TWR CrossFit because the vision didn’t come quite as clearly as KAHA’s did. Ultimately, what I want people to know about Together We Rise CrossFit is that we are here to do work and we are unapologetically fun. We use the phrase, “Train hard, life hard”because we believe in balance. When it is time to train, get your head in the game, be disciplined and push your limits. Outside of the gym, enjoy all the amazing things this life has to offer. Together we push our limits. Together we celebrate the achievements in and out of the gym. Together we support each other through the challenges in workouts and in life. Together… We Rise.
There’s a popular quote from Pat Sherwood that I love: “The goal is just to get fit. Make it the best hour of your day. Stay safe, turn up the music, high five some people and blow off some steam. So remember that. Relax. Have fun. Work out.”
It’s that simple.
So group fitness and CrossFit… on the surface, an unlikely duo. KAHA FITNESS and Together We Rise CrossFit may have separate addresses and different identities, but they share the same roof, and under that roof, we are ALL here to better ourselves. We’re just choosing different workouts to get there.
People ask me all the time what I recommend, and here it is: I recommend not choosing a side. I recommend doing what makes you happy that day. I recommend grabbing a protein shake and hanging out with your friends in the lobby for a while. Talk about your workout and your goals, but also about your life and your stories. Meet a new person and reminisce with people you’ve been next to in class for years. I recommend stopping me in the hallway or out on the gym floor, and telling me your story. You aren’t a number here. I’m going to push you to be your best so help me get to know you.
Group fitness, CrossFit, basketball, ballet… they’re all tools in making us stronger human beings. Do what works for you, enjoy doing it and then clap for your damn self on making an “effort investment” in YOU. It’s the best investment you can make, and we’re thankful that you’re doing it under our roof at KAHA FITNESS and Together We Rise CrossFit.