Hillsborough and Triangle Fitness: SUP Yoga and a Woman-Owned Business

Maria Finnegan Fitness ClassesMaria and I met on a crisp spring evening. Weaver Street in Hillsborough was bustling with their evening customers. We took a seat on the patio surrounded by herbs and flowers. I have known Maria for almost seven years. The ages of our children are just shy of a few months apart. We’ve seen each other over the course of pregnancies, holding infants, pushing toddlers around, and watching these kids enter elementary school. I remember when Maria started offering fitness classes in the early mornings the basketball court in our neighborhood. We begin the interview by discussing those early morning gatherings.

Maria: I wanted to work out after having my third child and many of my neighbors and friends were talking about trying to get fit. Before moving to North Carolina I was a fitness instructor at multiple fitness centers in Virginia and I was currently working at the UNC Wellness Center. At that point in 2010, I had been in fitness and training 8 years.

Maria gathered neighbors in cul-de-sacs, basements and the community field for these free morning fitness sessions. Eventually, she started using the neighborhood clubhouse when weather forced them indoors. After 18 months of encouraging healthy habits, Maria’s training included the use of her own fitness equipment. She was spending her own money on fitness equipment in order to bring variety to the morning class routines. She wanted to make the workouts challenging and fun. At her students’ request, she was encouraged to charge for her classes.

Kim: So, you were bootstrapping your startup before you realized you had one?

Maria: Yeah. I started charging a small fee at their request. They could see I was investing a lot of my own money in fitness equipment, so it just made sense. I have a huge passion for seeing people make progress and feel proud of what they can accomplish. It really is something when you see the pride for being able to do things with greater ease, especially when some students do not start out with a lot of strength or endurance.

What happens as the business grows and interests mature?

As time passed and interest in her fitness business grew, Maria realized that she wanted to offer classes to the greater Hillsborough area, beyond her neighborhood. Maria started looking for space in the area to possibly open her own gym and then Snap Fitness announced they were opening a location in town. Snap Fitness opened up on the outskirts of the neighborhood and the timing matched for Maria to move into a more professional setting.

Maria: It was interesting moving the classes to a more public space and being associated with a fitness center. It gave my small business more credibility, and also allowed me to have new clientele outside of the neighborhood. Things really started to pick up for me as my client base grew and I was trying out newer fitness options.

SUP Yoga classes TriangleMaria also added Stand Up Paddleboarding Yoga,(SUP Yoga), to her business plan. This has not only become one of Maria’s biggest fitness passions but also created a more lucrative fitness offering. SUP requires special equipment, including boards, paddles, life jackets, and anchors, and requires transporting the equipment to different locations. Building this branch of her business required the biggest financial investment, but one which she is confident will pay off. Her summer SUP Yoga and Fitness classes were some of the first offered in the Triangle and she teaches year round by partnering with local aquatic centers to keep the classes going during the winter months.

Maria’s love for fitness and training has changed over the years and matured. She talked about her love for seeing how invested and committed to fitness and wellness the students are that she teaches at Duke University. She has been a course instructor there in Duke’s Health, Wellness and Physical Education department for 4 years. She also delivers curriculum on “how to be outstanding” as a fitness professional. Her latest endeavor involves developing online content and courses for current and aspiring fitness instructors.

Maria: As one student put it, my classes are just different. She told me how another class she takes is “like flossing.” She knows she has to do it, it’s good for her, but she doesn’t like it. She told me that she is always engaged and energetic when she takes a class with me. You don’t want fitness to be a necessary evil that is tolerated. It should be challenging AND fun. We do hard work and we enjoy the challenge. Being a motivated instructor is critical to what your students get out of the class. It is more than building muscle or stamina, it is a mind, heart, and health experience.

Opportunities and Commitment

Last year, Maria had the opportunity to relocate her land-based fitness classes to a bigger location at I.T.S. Baseball. The owner of this local baseball training facility offered the space to her for the times he is not training athletes. The arrangement has worked well since Maria typically teaches in the early morning hours and the athletes come to train in the afternoon. Being in a bigger and more unique truing space has allowed Maria to increase her client base, vary her class offerings and increase her brand awareness.

I asked Maria what she is surprised about most with owning a business, and her response makes me laugh. She says with a big smile and shake of her head, “When will I stop learning from mistakes? Shouldn’t I know everything by now?” Owning your business gives you the freedom to take it in a new direction and build in areas that enterprises may rarely venture. It also means the learning curve is ever present on the business-side. Maria Finnegan Fitness has a core strength and that is Maria’s genuine enthusiasm for seeing her students excel. She sincerely wants to learn more about those she is helping to gain confidence and strength. Having watched her business grow, transition, and adjust is inspiring for us at 3 Bossy Bees. While we have years of experience in marketing, social media, and online communities, we haven’t been tasked with making it a business of our own.

We see the hard work women put into their businesses, how they pursue their passions, and care for their communities. If you are looking for a new fitness experience, you should try one of Maria’s outdoor SUP Yoga classes. It will be a unique experience and one that you’ll remember. www.mariafinnegan.com

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