Sarah Skedsvold is trying to set a new example for entrepreneurs. She talks with Ladyboss about her experience in the army, the practice of forest bathing, and why it’s so important to lead by example.
Q. Tell us a bit about yourself.
Q. Where did the inspiration for Nine-Four come from?
A. When I was in high school, I wanted to be a high school English teacher, and a track and basketball coach. When I graduated high school, I joined the North Dakota Army National Guard and my life took a dramatic turn. I was a soldier for 16 years. That career had run its course. I didn’t feel as fulfilled as I had. I wanted to go back to coaching and I had gotten my personal training certification. I then found CrossFit and became a CrossFit coach. In 2019 I took part in an intensive course, which was the catalyst for a lot of change in my life. I left the gym and started Nine-Four. I took the best parts of CrossFit coaching and incorporated a lot of nature and outside activities.
Q. Do you feel like your experience in the Army informs your business now?
A. I wouldn’t be the person I am today had I not been a part of the North Dakota Army National Guard. It allowed me to be a citizen-soldier. I did logistics, which made me develop a very disciplined approach. Now I can see requirements and see multiple ways to achieve that goal. It really allows me the ability to flexibly problem solve and pivot. The world’s greatest plans fall on their face just 10 steps off the mark. It was an integral part of my being and how I now approach coaching.
Q. What has it been like to do Nine-Four through the pandemic?
A. I don’t know anything different. The entire life of Nine-Four Coaching has been within the pandemic. What it’s really done for my practice has really drawn me out into the woods and solidified, for me, the importance of reconnecting with nature and getting outside, and even connecting with other human beings. One of the fundamental activities that I participated in was going for a walk. I went on something like 200 walks in 2020. When I would meet people to catch up it would be on a video call or we’d meet in the park. Going for a walk or meeting at the park was a safe option. Fargo-Moorhead has some incredible parks. I found parks and green space I didn’t even know existed and I’ve been able to explore that and then introduce it to others.
Q. Where does the name Nine-Four come from?
A. It stands for September 4, 2019. That was the day I graduated from a 13-week course called Training Camp for the Soul. It was an intensive group and individual course that taught me how to feel feelings and unlearn some really unhelpful coping mechanisms. I wanted to encapsulate the idea of a catalyst, and that’s what that training was for me. It significantly accelerated change, and doing that course and completing it helped me feel the agent of change. I wanted to honor that and allow Nine-Four Coaching to be the agent for change and growth for others.
Q. What do you do for your clients?
A. The first thing we do is we just sit and talk and I just listen. I do my very best to put myself in their shoes and feel the pain they’re in, or the unhappiness or whatever brought them to me. I try to ask good questions and listen to what they say and what maybe isn’t verbalized. Then if I believe we’re a good fit to work together and they agree, then we put a plan together. I specialize in physical and emotional durability. Sometimes that means movement practices like strength and conditioning and personal training fitness. Some of that is going outside, taking walks, or training outside. Some of that includes breathwork, which could be integrated in a yoga practice, or on their own. What I’ve found with a lot of the clients I have recently is clients who are feeling unsteady or like physically squishy, when we incorporate that strength training that really translates into emotional durability as well. I have some clients who are processing some heavy life things, and through our workouts or journaling exercises or getting into the woods, they then have more capacity to give themselves grace and be more compassionate to the people around them.
Q. You’re really passionate about what you do, and your work seems really personal. I’m wondering how you set boundaries doing work you care so much about?
A. I’ve definitely gotten better at it. In the beginning, I dove in with my whole body. Like I mentioned in 2020 I went on like 200 walks and in 2021 that was cut almost in half. I found I just didn’t have that same fire. So, I’ve had to recommit to myself. I have my own nutrition coach and business coach, and I make sure that I am taken care of in those aspects as much as my clients are. If I’m showing up as less than the person I want to be, then I’m not fulfilling the agreement that I made with my clients. I’m getting out in nature and making sure that I honor taking time with myself. I’m doing movement and doing the things that I profess to my clients. You have to lead by example. And that’s tough! In the entrepreneurial world especially, and especially for women. We’re designed to be nurturers and take care of people, and then it’s really difficult for us to do that for ourselves. I want to be an example of an entrepreneur and a woman who also prioritizes taking care of my mental and physical health and, hopefully, that sets an example and gives others the permission to do that for themselves as well.
Q. Knowing what you know now, would you have done anything differently at the beginning of starting this business?
A. I would have done a better job maintaining relationships. Especially during the pandemic, everyone’s circles tightened up a little bit, but from a professional standpoint and changing jobs, I felt a lot of shame and guilt around leaving a job that had been my dream job. I would have given myself the compassion and grace to be okay reaching out to other people and allow those relationships to help me through rather than doing it all on my own.
Q. You offer Forest Bathing sessions. What does that mean?
A. Forest bathing is not what you might think. Everyone is fully clothed. It’s designed to be entirely immersive. Imagine immersing all of your senses as we walk and observe through the woods or another beautiful setting. It’s a group activity that’s very individualized. The intention is to emerge able to bring a little more nature back into the city. I was introduced to forest bathing by a forest therapist. It was an Airbnb experience. We went into a park that was directly under the Minneapolis-St. Paul flight line, but in that two-hour experience I completely forgot that it existed. I imagine there were planes flying over us the whole time, but it was such a transformational experience to see how, if you take the time to notice and observe and appreciate, you get down into that cellular level of observation. When I left the experience I was like, more people need to do this. We have those blue-collar, Midwestern sensibilities up here, so it feels kind of weird, but if you talk to hunters or bird watchers, those people are already doing this. I wanted to make that experience really approachable and let them know this is always available and you have the tools to do it yourself.
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