Ep 15 – Kyle Shewfelt  – 3X Olympian, Gold Medalist and Entrepreneur

The Ambition Project – Calgary Entrepreneurial Podcast

The Ambition Project is a video series in which we interview successful and ambitious Calgary entrepreneurs and talk to them about their struggles, what they’ve had to overcome on their journey and valuable insights they have to share with up and coming business owners. The series will premiere on September 18th, 2018. Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel to stay updated or stream an episode on Spotify or iTunes.

Jonathan Hafichuk: Welcome Kyle, thank you so much for joining us. I really appreciate you taking the time to do this. 

Kyle Shewfelt: My pleasure. Thanks for inviting me 

Jonathan Hafichuk: I’m really excited to do this interview. For the five people in the city who don’t know who you are, Kyle Shewfelt owns a gymnastics gym in the south and he’s been in three Olympics. He won a gold medal in one of them as well. Correct? 

Kyle Shewfelt: That’s correct, bio check haha.  

Jonathan Hafichuk: Tell us a little bit about your who you are, and Kyle Shewfelt Gymnastics.

Kyle Shewfelt: I am a born and raised Calgarian. I grew up in the south east of the city in Dover, my parents actually still live there in the same house that I grew up in, it’s been renovated since! I’m a Calgarian at heart and I love the city. I spent 22 years training and competing, I went to three Olympic games and after Beijing in 2008 I knew it was my time to be done, my gut spoke to me and I knew it was time. I decided through a process of transitions that I wanted to give back to the city, and I wanted to make an impact here. I wanted to use the sport that I loved to create a grassroots movement for the next generation of kids that could fall in love with the sport. So that’s why I decided in 2013 to open a gym and it’s been very, very rewarding. 

Kyle Shewfelt on The Ambition Project

Jonathan Hafichuk: Awesome, that’s great. How did you originally get into gymnastics?

Kyle Shewfelt: My dad actually was a hockey player. He played for the Brandon Wheat Kings. He grew up on the ice. He’d be playing out with his friends and he’d go home when his toes were frozen. He wanted his little boys obviously, to play hockey! I learned to skate when I was two years old. My brother and I were on little Bob skates and my dad would skate us around, by the time when I was like 5 or 6 years old, I was already in a hockey league. I could skate backwards I’d be skating around the ice, but it didn’t speak to me. Gymnastics was the thing, and my parents didn’t know what it was. They didn’t put me in gymnastics, I just started doing cartwheels and handstands everywhere I could! My brother taught me how to do a cartwheel in our backyard, I would take over the living room and the kitchen and I always joke that once I almost cartwheeled my mom into the stove. So we had a neighbour who actually did gymnastics at the Altadore Gymnastics Club, my mom opened up the phone book and she saw Altadore since they’re like number one with the A! She decided I needed to channel this energy that I had, so she put me into the gym. By the time I was seven years old I really started to have a dislike of hockey, waking up early on Saturday mornings was torture for my parents to take me to hockey. I’d fight the whole way. Gymnastics was a thing I wanted to do. That’s how I always say, “gymnastics found me, I didn’t find it, it found me”. 

Jonathan Hafichuk: So, did you train at Altadore for a long time then? 

Kyle Shewfelt: Yeah, I started there when I was six and I trained there until I was 22. So, I trained there for my entire career up to the Olympic Gold and I think what’s even more interesting about the story is that I trained with the same coach almost for the whole time.  I started in the recreational program and did grassroots foundation gymnastics and then I just had this natural ability and I was strong and I was flexible and so the one of my rec coaches his is Brian he called this man Kelly over to like the recreational side of the gym and he’s like “I’ve got this little kid you know he’s got like this blonde hair combed over to the side and he can do a roundoff back handspring and he taught it to himself in the backyard. So Kelly was like okay so I should see this kid. So he’s like… “okay little buddy what is that you taught yourself in your backyard?” And so I went barreling down the floor roundoff back handspring jump he’s like oh… “can you do the splits?” and I was like bunk right down into the splits and then he came and lifted me up to a bar and he said show me how many chin ups you can do and you know my legs were bicycling and he made sure to put them together and he was like “no, no, in gymnastics we do it with straight legs, legs tights and together” and I did seven chin ups. And so, he was like kay… this kid’s got acrobatic talent, he’s flexible and he’s strong. And the next thing he said was where’s your mom hahah. So I feel very, very lucky that I was able to have that interaction I truly believe in karma and fate and like the stars aligned for us on that day because Kelly was a coach that protected me he was a coach that looked out for me and he was a coach that also didn’t think he knew everything so he so brought in mentors and brought in people around him, he brought in great Russian coaches to work with us over the summer just to give us the knowledge and also that he could learn from as well. There was a coach, his name was Eugene Galperin. Eugene was Kelly’s mentor coach and he really helped Kelly develop a strong plan for what the future could look like for myself and my group of young guys that were training together. And Eugene told Kelly, he’s like “Kelly with this kid you’ve got a golden fish and if he doesn’t amount to something, then you’re a very bad coach.”  And that’s what Eugene told Kelly. So, Kelly protected me throughout, and he kept bringing in mentors and that’s why we were able to reach that pinnacle together. I was very, very proud on that day to be able to run off the floor and hug this man who I consider to be a family member. 

Kyle Shewfelt with Jon Hafichuk

Jonathan Hafichuk: Wow that’s really cool. I did some of my competitive gymnastics coaching certifications at Altadore, it is a good gym, they are a lot of fun. 

Kyle Shewfelt: Yeah, Altadore was a club that really supported me. You know as an elite level athlete, there’s a lot of needs that you have that are very singular and very single-minding focus and I used to kick twenty kids off the floor who are in the rec classes because I had to do floor routines that day because I had to go to a World Cup the next day you know to Germany or whatever it was. Altadore really accommodated me, they looked for grants, they looked for all of these things to help get me to that place. They also supported Kelly, so I am very, very thankful for that club and for everything they did to help me achieve my ultimate dream. 

Jonathan Hafichuk: So, what was your first big competition?

Kyle Shewfelt: My first big one? 

Jonathan Hafichuk: Yeah!

Kyle Shewfelt: What do you consider a big competition? 

Jonathan Hafichuk: Like Worlds or the Olympics or something like that? 

Kyle Shewfelt with Symbol Syndication

Kyle Shewfelt: So, my first big competition was actually the Olympic Games in 2000. I was 18 years old. I competed at several World Cups before that, actually… long story short, Canada only had two spots to the Olympics in 2000 because the team came 18th at the ‘99 worlds. So that earned the team two sports to the Games. And so, they took me… this young 17-year-old and sent me around the world to try to earn the second spot. I had to qualify, I had to be ranked top 16 in the world based on the World Cup ranking system and so the Canadian Olympic Committee trusted gymnastics Canada to send this 17-year-old kid with not much experience. I competed in Europe at invitationals, I competed at the World Youth Games which was like a big Youth Olympics in ’98, but I got sent to these World Cups and I did end up qualifying to the Olympics in 2000. I came seventh at a few meets and that earned me the top-16 placing in the world, so my first big meet on the podium and with the Olympic rings was in 2000 in Sydney. I remember standing in the corner of the floor and my legs were literally shaking they were shaking, and I didn’t even know I thought I knew everything, but in that moment, I realized this was bigger than anything I could have ever imagined. 

Jonathan Hafichuk: Wow, incredible how’d you do in that Olympics? 

Kyle Shewfelt: So, at that Olympics I ended up coming a respectable 12th place but what really motivated me at those games was that I went out of bounds. So, in gymnastics there’s like a white line that goes around the floor, and if you go outside of it, it’s a one-tenth off your score deduction. It’s a mandatory deduction. I ended up going out of bounds, I had too much energy on my first pass because I just had so much energy inside of me and I didn’t know how to control the adrenaline and so I went out of bounds. And that one-tenth of a point if I would have gotten that back on the score sheet, I would have been in fourth place and I would have moved to the final, so I tasted that, and I was like WOW. I was so close and then my friend actually ended up winning those Olympics, his name is Igor and he was a gymnast from Latvia and to see someone who’s your peer who you’ve actually beaten at World Cup competitions win the Olympic Games it becomes a lot more real to you that maybe you could do that too. So he let me hold his gold medal in Sydney, we were kind of like backstage there’s this like athlete area where you can grab drinks and Snickers bars and whatever and he was there and I was like “Oh my God Igor, you won!” he’s like “ yeah do you want to see my medal?” and I said “absolutely!” and I held it and I was like “Holy! This is like a heavy medal” And I remember him saying to me, it was really impactful, he said, “maybe next time it can be you” and like that stuck with me. 

Kyle Shewfelt on the Ambition Project Podcast

Jonathan Hafichuk: Yeah, wow. So, growing up and I’m sure in like middle school and high school I know a lot of the higher-level competitive gymnastics that I used to be friends with, had to train like at-least 20 hours a week and I imagine you have to have a somewhat rigorous diet to get to that level and make a lot of sacrifices. What kind of sacrifices and things did you have to give up when you were growing up to get to that level of performance? 

Kyle Shewfelt: The word sacrifice is something that I’m not really comfortable with because I made choices, I never felt like I was giving things up, you know? I had a great balance, my parents and my coach allowed me to have lots of independence and I got to go out, I could go home and party if I wanted to till 2:00 in the morning, but I was making the choice not to because I know I had to get up the next day and train. I trained anywhere from 24 to 30 hours a week we would do two training a sessions 4 days a week. Then on Wednesdays and Saturdays I would have one training session and then Sundays I would have off. I was choosing to follow this path sure I missed out on a few things, I didn’t get to go camping with my friends and I didn’t get to go to every party and I didn’t graduated on time, I graduated years after all of my peers but sacrifice to me is something where you feel like you are missing out, and I never felt like I was missing out on anything. When it comes to diet… I was scrawny and like I grew up on French fries and grilled cheese sandwiches. It wasn’t until 20 years old in 2002-ish is when like you know drinking beer and eating bad food kind of caught up to me and I realized that to reach that next level to be like an Olympic champion and not just an Olympian I needed to up my performance everywhere in my life. That’s when the big shift happened when I was about 20 years old in terms of diet and taking care of my body as well a little bit more. At first,  it wasn’t completely on my radar.

Jonathan Hafichuk: How old were you when you won the gold medal? 

Kyle Shewfelt: So, I was 22 

Jonathan Hafichuk: Was that the 2008 Olympics? 

Kyle Shewfelt: No, it was the 2004 Olympics. 

Kyle Shewfelt with Jonathan Hafichuk

Jonathan Hafichuk: Okay so tell us a little bit about how that made you feel.

Kyle Shewfelt: It was a special day. It was a day that I will never forget it’s a day I can close my eyes and I can go back to that day and I can remember every sound, I can remember every thought, I can remember every smell, I can remember the way things felt, I can remember the way the floor felt on my feet, I was so present and fully immersed in that moment and there was nothing in the world that was more important to me than that, and I spent 16 years of my life laying in bed like imagining what that moment might be like or imagining getting a gold medal or whatever you know. As a kid you have these big dreams but being there, it was literally I had dialed it back to the performance. It was no longer about the outcome it wasn’t about the medal, actually I didn’t even think about it, it was like the routine that was gonna get me there. Give me a change and that took a lot of work and a lot of time working with my coach and my sports phycologist because there was a lot of pressure, a lot of expectation, Canada had never won a medal in gymnastics at the Olympics before so I had that pressure on me and as the games progressed there was no Canadian that had won a gold so you can kinda feel that buzz and that rumbling, so there was a lot of pressure and the way we dealt with that was: “okay… you know what, I deserve to be here!” I was ranked third in the world at that time, I had come third at the World Championship, and I had won a bucket load of world cups, so I knew I had the goods but it wasn’t about the outcome, I couldn’t see that light at the end of the tunnel, all I had to think about was the routine. Literally the way that I was going to step onto the floor or the way my arms were going to execute before I began my first tumbling pass, the way each rhythm felt during each skill, each landing. I was talking myself through it, it felt as if I was almost floating above myself. To be honest, it was like I had done it so many times in my mind and had thought about it so many times that when it was actually happening, I was having this crazy out-of-body thing going on, it was a total zone performance. And I know that because I only had about three of them in my career, one when I was very young, one at the Olympic Games in 2004, it was a magical day… it was a magical day. What I remember most about it actually was running off the floor and giving my coach this big hug, and what I remember about that, was that feeling of joy. I didn’t know the results, we didn’t know the results, we didn’t know the placement, I didn’t know if I was getting a gold medal! I could have ended up in fifth place because the results hadn’t been posted yet, score hadn’t come up, but I remember that feeling… I did it! Like I nailed the best routine of my life in this moment that mattered the most. You can’t buy that feeling! This was a feeling that you get inside and that’s a magical feeling, I try to aim for that feeling a lot in my life now because it’s so pure, you know it’s so pure. Then of course the score came up… And when I saw that I was in first, I was like… “Holy shit, I won the Olympics!”

Jonathan Hafichuk: Wow! That is crazy, that is awesome. What would you say has been your biggest struggle in your athletic career? 

Kyle Shewfelt: The most obvious struggle was when I broke my legs in 2007. That was really intense. I landed with two straight legs on a tumbling pass, I was in Germany, both my legs hyper extended and my knees blew out the back. I broke both of my tibias, tore some ligaments in my left knee, bone chips, it was messy. So, that was a big struggle coming back from that.

Jonathan Hafichuk: You competed in the Olympics again a year later didn’t you? 

Jon Hafichuk setting up for our Kyle Shewfelt Interview

Kyle Shewfelt: I did yeah, yeah. I broke my legs in August, the end of August of 2007. Then in August of 2008, it was 11 months later that I did compete in my third Olympic Games. There was a lot of learning, and there was a lot of growth. Growth of me as a person, and as an athlete. Coming back from that injury, I really learned about appreciation and of gratitude.

Jonathan Hafichuk: I would have imagined you would have been in a dark place Eh? 

Kyle Shewfelt: I went to a darker place when I was finished sport, to be honest. When I finished sport, to me, there was like a light switch that went off in the room. It was like… done. You know in those scary movies, when the person’s talking into the camera with the flashlight, and then all of a sudden, it’s just done? You don’t know what happened… well, that’s what it felt like and I was done sport. When I broke my legs, I had this vision of where I needed to be, and the vision was so clear. I needed to get back to the Olympic Games, I couldn’t have it end this way. I was in a wheelchair for several months, I had these giant braces on my legs, my muscles were dangling off my body. I remember sitting at the kitchen table with my mom, I had been in the wheelchair for about three months, and I was saying to her that I was just so tired. My mom asked me “why are you doing this?” and I said, “because I can’t end this way, this can’t be the end of the story.” I had this pretty clear vision of where I needed to be, it was very empowering actually to have that sense of importance in a goal. There was like a pull and a purpose, that’s where I’m always at my best in life, when I have a reason, and I’ve got a clear vision of what it looks like, man… I would go after it, that’s my strength, that’s my superpower! But when I don’t know where to look, or where to go, I’m like wow… what do I do? I freefall, and it’s bad. 

Jonathan Hafichuk: What did the recovery look like? Did you get back to the level you left off at?

Kyle Shewfelt: I was better. 

Kyle Shewfelt out of focus

Jonathan Hafichuk: Oh really? 

Kyle Shewfelt: Yeah, I was better in Beijing than I was in Athens, Athens I was more of a full package. My mental state, my emotional state, and my physical state were at peak. I was at my absolute peak performance in that moment, but in Beijing I did more athletically. My routine consisted of a higher level of difficulty, I was doing six tumbling passes, so my endurance was much stronger, I was executing more acrobatic elements in the time limit, but I didn’t get the same result. This is where the struggle is, I didn’t get the same result there in Beijing I ended up eleventh on floor, and I was ninth on the vault. I didn’t move forward to the finals, and I was done after the very first day. That was really tough to deal with, but I had to come to terms with the fact that success comes in many different shapes and sizes. Success isn’t just making finals at the Olympic Games, it’s not just winning gold medals, you know, it’s not just being the top business or whatever that is! Success is like an inner feeling that you get. That’s where I circle back to the 2004 Olympics, I felt successful when I didn’t even know the result. So, I had to search back to myself in 2008, I felt a bit like a failure. That was when I thought “wait no… I came back from two broken legs, I performed the most difficult routine of my life, I overcame a huge obstacle to be here, that’s success… and if that isn’t, then I don’t know what success is!”  So internally I felt it, I felt that feeling of self-satisfaction. You can’t tell me if I’m successful, and I can’t tell you if you are successful. Only you know, and only you can feel it. This feeling has been my guide, and it has been my guide through my life I’ve come to realize. As I move forward through business and as a parent, there’s a little voice inside of you, and this little thing speaks to you, and it says “yeah you did enough…” and at that point, you got to be okay with it! 

Jonathan Hafichuk: What did the transition look like from being an athlete into retirement, and then from that into being an entrepreneur? 

Kyle Shewfelt: Well, it was a rocky road let me tell you… You know what, I think we make an assumption that elite athletes like Olympic champions are gonna easily transition to the next thing. We assume that it’s just gonna be like “here you go… here’s the next thing!” That wasn’t the case for me, and I don’t think that’s the case after talking to a lot of my peers who have achieved Olympian status. It’s not easy, the next thing doesn’t come overnight it takes time. Sport took 16 years for me to get to the Olympic level and win, and after 22 years of doing it you know it takes some time! After Beijing when I was done competing, I just knew that it was done for me, and I feel very lucky that I was able to decide that on my own terms. There are so many athletes that get injured and then that’s the end, and then they keep wondering “what if?” I was able to say I have no regrets. I’ve done everything I wanted to do, and this is the end. I don’t know how I knew; I just knew… I just knew. So, I get back from Beijing and I’m home, I don’t have anywhere to be! I was doing like some TV stuff, I was doing some speaking stuff, but those were gigs that would only be once a week, or maybe once every couple of weeks. I’d fly to Toronto do a speech, or go do a World Championship coverage, or whatever it was! I didn’t have a stable thing in my life, and I was missing that security of a daily purpose to get up and work towards, you know?  Gymnastics gave me that every day, I had a place to be and people that were holding me accountable to bring the best of myself. My teammates, my coach, the Federation, there were people who were watching, and I just felt really alone. I felt really lonely when things were done, and I started to go into a bit of dark depressed state. I had a hard time leaving my house. There was this weird conversation that would happen in my mind, and it would be like “you need to leave the house, you need to go do something! Go for coffee with a friend, go for a run, go to yoga class, do something!” I couldn’t come up with the courage to go and do it, I can’t describe it any more than that. I knew what I should have been doing, but I couldn’t do it, it was like I was trapped. I remember one afternoon in particular; I was laying in my kitchen in a ball like balling my face off, I just felt so horrible about where I was at. The self-loathing was just happening, and my body was starting to change a little bit, I was losing my muscle mass and I was noticing it. It’s was just compounding and compounding, then no one’s phoning you, no emails are coming through, you’re like blah… I had to go do a speech that night, I had to go do a keynote speech…Here I am laying in my kitchen not knowing how I’m gonna be able to do this talk. Finally, I figure I need to have a shower, I need to get ready, I’ve gotta go. I left, got there, did my speech, it was great had “fun” blah, blah, blah…get home and I’m like “I’m such a fake, I’m such a fake.” I’m out there telling people to do this, and to you know…follow their dreams. I’m talking to people about leadership, about being a self-starter, and that kind of stuff right, and I’m not even able to do any of that myself. So, that was my dark, dark period. I tried on a lot of things, I went I did my yoga teacher training, I did my life coach/executive coach training, I did started my real estate license, I was doing some TV stuff,  I auditioned for like tons of morning shows, I was trying to put myself out there but there was no traction. It was like nothing was moving forward for me. I felt like I just didn’t have that daily purpose, that daily “thing” that kept me going. So that was my transition, my struggles, there was just so many things I was doing but I never felt like I was doing anything good. I got the opportunity in 2012 to go to London to cover the Olympic Games with CTV. I was their expert commentator on gymnastics and trampoline. During the prep phase for that I was doing all my research, and I was like “oh yeah this feels good!” So, I created a schedule for myself, so I would do four to eight hours of research a day. I would be in there learning about of every country, every athlete, their best pieces of equipment, I would really immerse myself in it. When I got back from those games, I realized that I was fighting so hard against moving forward with gymnastics, I wanted to move away from gymnastics. I was trying all these other things and I kind of had this lightbulb moment… I’m like “no it’s got to be gymnastics, always gymnastics!” Gymnastics is the thing that makes me happiest, so I decided to dive off the edge of the diving board and open a gym. That’s my transition in a nutshell, I didn’t know if I was gonna get through it, it was a pretty it was a very tough time in my life.

Kyle Shewfelt and Jon

Jonathan Hafichuk: So, after you came to that realization that you needed to stick with gymnastics after trying everything else, what was the first steps towards opening your gym? 

Kyle Shewfelt: Well the first thing is always the idea and I think most entrepreneurs have that lightbulb moment. The first step for me was to write things down. I need to write things down, I journal all the time, so I went and bought a new journal. I just started to write out all the things I could think of that I was going to need to figure out, and all the problems I was going to have to solve along the way. I still have it that first journal and I look back at it and I’m like… “oh that was super high level!” I didn’t even know all the trenches that I would get into when I was starting to open the gym. So, the first step was the idea and my second step was the commitment. One thing I’ve come to realize about entrepreneurship is that when you make the decision to dive into it, there is no turning back. I use the metaphor of standing on the edge of a diving board, when you dive into that water you accept the temperature no matter what it is. You’re diving in and you’re going for it! If you just stick your toe in, you’re never ever gonna get there, you got to fully immerse yourself in it. It’s got to be full-on, you can’t just dabble! So, I fully immersed myself in it and I made it my big project. I said no to all of the other things that were going on, and I just fully immersed myself in it. The third step was that I armed myself with a strong team. The first phone call I made was to Krystal, she is our program director at the gym. Krystal has been a friend of mine since we were like 15 years old, she was someone who I really trust, someone who I know was very good at what she does, and she’s great with people. I phoned her up and I said “Hey Krystal I’m opening a gym. I want you to be my program director, are you in?” and it was silent for a second, and she was like “Hell yes I’m in!” Krystal had two young sons at the time, we figured out a way to work around that. She had run a gymnastic program at the Altadore club for quite some time when we were kids, and she had left to have her family. Krystal new what kind of things were coming, that I had no idea to expect. I had the big overarching vision, what the brand will be and the vibe and like the feeling.  Krystal had the knowledge of the kinds of details we would have to sort out in order for things to run smoothly. Those were sort of the first three big steps, first getting the idea, second was making the big commitment and third arming myself with people and making accountability around myself. Telling people that I’m opening a gym helped with the accountability, because when I say it to people, I got to do it. It’s like writing a book, I’ve told people I’m writing a book because I’m getting it done. This accountability helps get you through those hard times because it gets hard, it gets muddy. It’s called the trough of sorrow, when you’re in the bottom you feel your worst like you cannot solve your issues, but since you’ve told people you got to get out and do it.

 Jonathan Hafichuk: I think Seth Godin actually wrote a book about that called “The Dip” that was really good. 

Kyle Shewfelt: Totally, yeah, I love his stuff!

Symbol Syndication setting up

Jonathan Hafichuk: What was the biggest struggle in the first year in your business? 

Kyle Shewfelt: During the first year I would like to say that it was all conceptualized in September of 2012 when I got back from the London Olympics. So, the first year was actually just putting together the business plan, finding the investors, finding the space and creating the layout of the equipment. There were probably more struggles during that first year before we even opened our doors, compared to the second year after we opened our doors. There was just so much that had to get done, so many stones that needed to be un-turned that you don’t even know were there and then all of a sudden, the roadblocks would pop up. I learned to trust my ability to solve problems and to get my way through it during that process. I didn’t trust in my abilities for so long after I was done gymnastics, but during this process of opening the gym I felt confident that I could do this and figure it out. I had no idea how to negotiate a real estate lease, so I hired a great lawyer and a great real estate guy, and we figured it out! It was a very intense time. I look back on spreadsheets now of all the things that I had to think about and do, and I am like…wow how did I survive? 

Jonathan Hafichuk: How many hours would you say, on average, you worked a week during that time?

Kyle Shewfelt: Well I was doing 14 to 16 hours a day, if not more. I would wake up with spontaneous bursts of idea at 4:00 in the morning, then I would just have to get up and start working. I stared at so many spreadsheets, that was the only way I could keep things organized. I created three sets, action items, backburner items that included ideas I’m probably never gonna do it but here’s my idea and reference items which included things we’ll need to know. In my email I even had three little folders for my actions, references and back burners, just to keep me going.  I was doing anywhere from 14 to 20 hours a day, by the end of it I actually weighed 132 pounds. I was so skinny because I was forgetting to eat, I was just in it. I loved it man, I loved it. It didn’t feel like work, I was chasing it down, I loved the iteration, how it grew, how it changed, and I loved the fast pace of it. When you’re in it you hate it, but when you look back on it, you’re like…man that was so cool, that that was me at my best. I was just so hypersensitive I was ready for anything that it threw at me.

Jonathan Hafichuk: Since then, what’s been your biggest struggle with the business?

Kyle Shewfelt on The Ambition Project

Kyle Shewfelt: I think managing expectation is always a struggle. I remember when we first opened, I really wanted to be everything to everybody because I’m a people pleaser, I like people to like me. At first, I was really offended when there was this guy whose son was taking classes and then the dad wasn’t happy with the way that it was, and so he basically made a personal attack on me because my name is on the business. Your business is this…  as if it was it’s like totally my fault. I got offended and then I came to realize I wasn’t the right fit for him, because we have a lot of people that love what we’re doing. Now I’ve come to realize that I’m not everything to everyone, I’m something to someone. There is a certain segment of people that are gonna love what we’re doing, and there’s a certain type of coach that’s gonna excel in our environment and so I’m trying to attract more of that.  I’m not trying to speak to the people that can’t be converted, we’re not a high-performance facility, we are recreational gymnastics facility where we’re doing gymnastics for fun. Our team has great coaches, and everyone likes to have a good time and we’re not super serious. We’re not trying to produce the next Olympic champion, we’re grassroots focused. Knowing that’s what we stand for, and that’s what our brand is, it’s so much easier just to tell someone that maybe we’re just not the right fit for you. That was a struggle, and then I think the second struggle for me was that I didn’t know all of the HR stuff. I just want to make everybody’s happy and figuring out how to do that has been a really big learning experience for me.

Jonathan Hafichuk: Yeah, staffing always difficult in some aspect.

Kyle Shewfelt: Yeah, when you get great people, I want them to be with us forever. I now realize that great people their lives don’t revolve around the gym, they have other things, and other dreams and desires and goals. We’ve had great people come, and great people go. I always feel really sad when the great people go because I know how much impact and how much value they brought to the business. What I’m trying to do now as a business owner is to create an experience for the great people, for all the people who are on our team and to have them want to be a part of it for as long as they can. As a team we like doing fun team events and allowing the coaches to use the gym together for like dropping nights, that kind of stuff! We strive to make it not just a place to work, but a place where there’s community, where they feel like they’re a part of something. That is something that I don’t have full control over, it’s something that I can kind of create a bit of, and then the team gets to grow that themselves. That’s been hard to learn to let go of that control as well.

Jonathan Hafichuk: Typically, recreational gymnastics coaches are younger and it’s more of an entry-level job, typically right? Oftentimes they will eventually move on to a career, which should be tough for an employer.

Kyle Shewfelt

Kyle Shewfelt: I just thought of another thing that has been a struggle as well. I like control, like I’m in control guy! I had to do it in my career, I was in charge of my own destiny. Learning to trust the people around me has been a challenging thing to do. I didn’t realize it until the first day when we opened the doors the phones are ringing, and I wanted to do everything all at once. Our office manager at the time she was like… “Kyle I know how to do this, you need to trust me, you need to trust me and let it go, you need to let it go, and let me do it, I can do it well.” I was like okay, and she did it better than I could have ever imagined. I hire great people who figure it out, that’s what I’m learning, people who are resourceful are always your best asset. 

Jonathan Hafichuk: One of the last guys I interviewed said that when he’s hiring, the one thing that he looks for is people that have learned a skill in the past. Even if the skill is skateboarding or if they taught themselves something because he says that if they can learn skills on their own, that they’ll be more independent and more likely to be successful working for him. That’s been something I found interesting and that has kind of stuck with me. 

Kyle Shewfelt: Some of the people that have been easiest to transition into roles at the facility have been people who have worked at Starbucks.

Jonathan Hafichuk: Oh yeah? 

Kyle Shewfelt: Yeah, because at Starbucks you have to do so many roles. You got to do cash, you have to work on making the drinks, you’ve got to have customer service, you got to be cleaning, you have a multitude of talents in that role. Anyone that has Starbucks on the resume, I’ll hire them! I know that they can create a good customer experience, and they’re aware of the things that are going on around them enough to know that it’s not just about them. 

Jonathan Hafichuk: Schulz did a good job of building in those systems and processes that ensure customer service, and I think it’s the reason that Starbucks is the only coffee chain that’s skilled to that level. Anyways, what are your goals both personally and for the business in the next 10 years? 

Kyle Shewfelt: This is a question that I struggle with now in my life. When I was an athlete, I knew 10 years down the line this is where I’d be, and this is what I’d want to do. Right now, in 10 years I envision myself still having the gym, we found a good groove, I like the groove that we’re in. I feel that’s been my biggest most proud moment as a business owner is that I don’t have to be there, I like to be there, and I choose to be there, but I don’t have to be there. I can do a lot of the things I need to do from away, I can go into our online registration and do all that from home, so I don’t have to be there which is a very nice feeling. I have a daughter who’s 3 years old now, and so in 10 years she’s going to be 13.  I want to be highly involved in her life; my parents set such a beautiful example for me as of what a parent should do in terms of volunteerism. My mom was like the president of the board of the gymnastics club, my dad was always working the bingos with the casinos or whatever that was, they were just always doing what had to get done and fully engaged. I want to do that for my daughter, whatever she chooses to pursue I want to be fully involved. I want it to be her “thing” because my parents let me drive the bus, like they never told me which direction I was heading, and they never tried to coach me. They never got in the way of my coach and I’s growth. I want to do the same for my daughter, I want her to choose her path and I just want to be there fully supporting her. Yeah, that’s sort of my vision for the next 10 years. I don’t want my life to be complicated, I don’t want to be running in a thousand directions. I have no desire to open multiple facilities. At first when we kind of envisioned the gym and I was speaking to ambassadors it was like yeah maybe I’ll open multiple centers in in different places in the country, but at this point where I’m at my life that’s just not feasible. I don’t want to do that because I don’t want to be traveling a lot, I like being at home.

Jonathan Hafichuk: Especially with a young daughter at home.

Kyle Shewfelt: Right! I want to see her grow up, and I want to have Friday night dance parties with her. I don’t want to be on the road, so right now things are in a great place. If life can continue being fulfilling like this, then I’m I’ll be really happy with that in 10 years’ time! 

Jonathan Hafichuk: So, one final question. You mentioned earlier that when you had a goal and a purpose behind it that you’re pretty much unstoppable, do you have any thoughts on how people can find that? 

Kyle Shewfelt: A goal and a purpose… well that’s like the million-dollar question isn’t it? I think that purpose is something that comes by trying a lot of things, and it’s not something that I can tell you how to get to. I think it’s not doing a million things at once. I see so many people spend so much time on Instagram and Facebook and on all these things just distracting themselves from the pure purpose of a project. I I’ve been writing a book and I’ve been spending a lot of time sitting at the library writing. When I look around and I see people taking phone calls and swiping through their phones doing this, and that, they’re not fully engaged in what they’re doing. I think the best way to find your purpose is to pick something and be fully immersed, and fully engaged in it. If it doesn’t feel right, this was one thing I learned in yoga …nothing’s permanent! If you start something and it doesn’t feel right, you can try something new. Purpose is something that I think is different for everybody. For me, purpose feels like a culmination of things coming together. Number one it makes me feel energized not tired. You know how sometimes you meet with people, or you have a conversation, you go for a walk, or a coffee or whatever and it’s so draining? It takes so much of your energy and you’re like “oh that made me tired”, those are signs that that’s not your purpose! That’s not the right thing, or that person is not the right fit for your project, or for your company. Purpose to me is something that energizes you, you can work 20 hours a day because it’s something you’re thinking about all the time. It’s running through your brain, it’s important and you feel a reason to do, it it’s it feels purposeful. It also feels fulfilling, for me, the most fulfilling part about the gym is that it makes an impact in the community. It’s a grind sometimes, and some days I’m there and I’m like wow, I don’t want to be doing what I’m doing right now. But then I look around and I’m like you know what this is making an impact, this is affecting young people in a really positive way. Our team is cool, everyone gets along, this is good vibes man. So that makes me feel fulfilled, and so I think purpose and fulfillment kind of intertwine like a lava lamp. I think those are the feelings a person should look for, when you’re energized by something and when it just makes you feel good, and it sparks that energy and joy inside of you, that to me is what purpose is.

Jonathan Hafichuk: Well thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate you taking the time to do this interview, it was an amazing story!  I’m really glad I got to hear it.

Kyle Shewfelt shaking Jon Hafichuk's hand at Gravity Cafe

Kyle Shewfelt: Well thanks for listening, and thanks for having me a part of the project!

 Jonathan Hafichuk: My pleasure.

Kyle Shewfelt: Cheers.

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