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My FIT4MOM Journey: Meet the Franchisee

"Hi! My name is Juli. I'm mama to 2 kids, 10 and 6. I've done every part of FIT4MOM. I'm the poster child. From member, to playdate captain, instructor, and now a franchisee, I've made FIT4MOM a part of my life for the past 10 years and I don't know where I'd be without it."

This is how all of my intros start. Whenever I'm teaching a class to a group of new moms, telling potential clients or business partners about FIT4MOM, or introducing myself at #MamaMagic #F4MCon2023. I started with the prenatal exercise program and am now a franchisee. It seems like a simple path, one that many franchisees share, but for me it was a life altering journey.

Before we moved to Austin, TX I was a zookeeper at the San Diego Zoo. I worked with large carnivores, mainly Giant Pandas. I know. It seems like a big change, going from caring for large carnivores to being at home and taking care of a tiny newborn. I assure you, the two jobs are not that different. First of all, both involve a lot of poop. Both can be isolating. In zookeeping, it's spending hours cleaning large exhibits on your own, giving into the monotony. In motherhood, it's the isolation and loneliness of taking care of a baby who can't tell you what's wrong. Both babies and zoo animals are completely dependent upon their caretakers. Then there's the long hours, not having weekends or holidays off, and of course the positive reinforcement behavioral training... but that's a story for another day.

Zookeeping and motherhood is a difficult combination, which is something I hadn't fully considered when I became pregnant with our son. During pregnancy, I knew I had to connect with other expecting moms. Guess what my midwife suggested?? Yep, the new Fit4Baby pilot program from this company called Stroller Strides (before rebranding to FIT4MOM). A workout and a chance to complain to other moms about restless leg syndrome, cravings, and heartburn? Sold.

Near the end of my third trimester my husband's company announced that they were closing their outlying offices, San Diego office included, and moving to Austin, Texas (as everyone did in 2013, amiright?). My husband was born and raised in Plano, TX, just 3 hours North of Austin. So for him it meant a free move home, closer to his parents and friends, which would be a blessing with a new baby. For me, it meant leaving a job I loved and had worked hard to get to. Still. San Diego is expensive and I hadn't considered how life would really change with a baby (do you know how early you have to arrange child care!?). Zookeeping doesn't pay anywhere near what IT jobs pay. So here we are. We moved when our son was 6 weeks old.

Leaving my job was hard. Leaving my friends was hard. I didn't know a soul in Austin. My husband was working full time in a new office and I was newly and unexpectedly isolated with a 6 week old baby full time. Then, one day while on a walk in the park with my baby in a carrier and my giant dog on a leash, I saw this group of moms with strollers. They were exercising, singing songs to their kiddos, and laughing. And I started crying. Right there, a big puddle, just staring at them. When the group started walking to their next station, one mom stayed behind. Her name was Courtney and she was the instructor. She gave me a hug, apologized for not being able to hang out and chat because she had to teach, but she invited me to join them the next day. She took my number, texted me a hello and a virtual hug, and told me they were Stroller Strides. Of course, Stroller Strides. How could I have forgotten to look them up?

I was in right away after my first class. Signed up on the spot. Of course, I hung out in the back, never made it to class regularly for the first month or so, and didn't talk to anyone. But I knew I needed this group. I had postpartum depression, but didn't know it yet. Later on this same group of moms encouraged me to talk to my OB. When I didn't go to class, Courtney texted me to see if I was ok and invited me to the next one. When I was too shy to join in on a playdate, moms in the group invited me along and saved me a seat. Slowly, I got to know them and I was exercising outside and laughing, which was a magical combination.

When my son was one I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Even though I was exercising, I wasn't losing weight. And my hair was still thinning. And I was just exhausted. All of these things I thought were still normal postpartum things... except that those things should have subsided by then. Hearing the word cancer is devastating. I had to have surgery and radiation. I couldn't lift my son for weeks after surgery and I couldn't exercise for a long time... but my Stroller Strides village was still there. They brought my family meals and took my son to class in their strollers while I rested. They came over for playdates and texted constantly. They had already saved me during my postpartum depression and now they were saving my mental health again, by showing up and being our family in a city where we had none. Shortly after I became a playdate captain, so that I could give back to the village. I planned playgroups and social events.

After thyroid cancer I joined Body Well (then Body Back) to try to feel normal again. To take it slowly and to learn how to eat a clean diet and develop a workout routine that worked for me. And you know what? I learned how much I was capable of physically. When the instructor sent us homework for the week, "run 30 min" I had no idea that I could even sustain a 30 min run, but I did. The session raised my confidence by a mile... or 13.1 miles. I ran my first half marathon with FIT4MOM Run Club+ in 2014. And again in 2015 and 2016.

In 2017 our daughter was born. By that time I was so hooked on FIT4MOM that I knew there was no turning back and I had become an instructor. The village rallied around our new baby, which came with a high risk pregnancy, and made sure we were well cared for. The arrival of our daughter was in no way isolating and was so different from the birth of our son. The difference was FIT4MOM.

In 2018 the previous owner of FIT4MOM Austin, our beloved Lacey, approached me and said she wanted to break up the franchise. It had become too big and parts of it needed individualized care. She asked if I wanted to become a franchisee. It was about two minutes after that I said yes. With a baby and a 4-year-old I learned the ropes of owning a business. All of the things. Marketing, taxes, legal documents, computer systems (still not my strongest skill)... everything. It's such a far cry from zookeeping now, but I am grateful for every skill I've learned. I can take all of this and continue on whatever path I choose later on. This is a business that somehow fit into my early motherhood.... no other business does that.

I was so confident at this point that I ran my first full marathon in February 2020.

And then the rest of 2020. I don't want to talk about 2020. Can we move on? No? Fine. We had to completely shut down and go virtual. Did I mention I'm not great with computers? I'd rather be running through mud. But, y'all. This village. They attended classes on Zoom (I was in the best shape of my life, teaching all of the things online every day). They attended virtual playdates (princess story time, craft hour, library stories). And they stayed a village. I will forever be grateful to my team, my clients, my husband and children, and to FIT4MOM Home Office. There is no way we would have survived as a business without the resources from home office and without the support of our village.

Enter 2021. In the clear, right? Kind of. I had a cervical cancer diagnosis in 2021. Luckily, it was very early and only needed a surgical procedure, but I couldn't exercise for weeks and it was hard to look after my littles (then 4 and 8). My husband was a rock star. When something he couldn't handle came up, he called my FIT4MOM instructors, who rallied around me. They carried me on their shoulders and kept our business running. Shauna. The instructor who's been with me since the beginning. You keep me standing, I love you. Thank you.

What do you do after cervical cancer? Run a second marathon, obvi. So I did, with the guidance of our Run Club+ coach, Geraldine, who taught me to run for the love of running, to take all of the photos, and to remember that race day is the celebration of all you've done to get there.

This year has brought so many changes. in September I was diagnosed with melanoma, and I'm still recovering. A tiny mole turned into a big problem. I've only needed surgery (ok, 2 surgeries), and I'm doing well. A few weeks after the extraction, I attended FIT4MOM's Mama Magic conference in San Diego. I did very low impact workouts and attended all of the sessions I could. I desperately needed a refresh. I was exhausted after the 2020 business recovery, raising babies to elementary age, the tensions that a pandemic, illness, and a business put on a marriage, and from physical recovery.

Lisa Druxman and the FIT4MOM home office crew: I will forever be grateful for this year's conference. It gave me the refresh I needed. I was able to meet people I've only ever known virtually (again, thanks 2020), and I have been encouraged to keep going and to enter this new phase of no longer being a stroller strides mom (my kids are 10 and 6, well past strollers).

You can imagine how my village has encouraged me during melanoma recovery. They've always been there and even after I've left FIT4MOM, they will always be there. From prenatal to 10 years postpartum. From San Diego to Austin. I honestly don't know what I would be doing or how other moms keep momming without FIT4MOM. From myself and my family, thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.



P.S. My apologies for any type-os. At the time of publishing this, my mental health can't handle reading that again to edit. So there it is.