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Women You Should Know: Michelle Cody, Studio Director, Fly Fitness

Michelle Cody is a mother, grandmother, and the studio director at Fly Fitness. She speaks with Melanie Iverson of Ladyboss Lifestyle about managing an inclusive studio, the connection between social work and fitness, and mental and physical health.

Talk to us about your work with Fly, as the studio director, and how you got to be in that position.

My background is in social work. I worked prior to Fly at a nonprofit working with women. They were all facing pregnancy, unexpected situations, chemical dependency issues, so I worked with them. I was the program manager and helped women get connected to resources and get back on to their feet and find housing, and all the things you need to do to have a baby and be functional.

How did you get from social work to Fly?

I was working out for my own mental and physical health, and I always have. It’s a hobby of mine. At the time, I was working out with a bunch of friends and instructors I liked and followed them to the places they were. My daughter became an instructor at this new place called Fly and I thought, “Oh this sounds like such a cool gym!” I thought I could work the front desk to get my foot in the door and maybe get a free membership. They hired me, and I started at the front desk. That’s where I learned the ropes of how the gym was supposed to run and the philosophy, and that was October 2019. By the end of the year, things with the current manager didn’t work out and the owners said, “Michelle, we want you to be the studio director.” I didn’t know anything about running a business, but they said, “Well, you know how to work with people. You can learn how to run a business.”

You create communities in all organizations you belong to. You do it very intentionally, and I think especially post-COVID, or even before then, people have such a desire to belong to something. Especially women, I think it’s harder for us as we get older to find community. Will you talk more about what those owners saw in you about building a thriving community around yourself?

That’s a good question. It’s a huge compliment. I’ve done strength finder, so my top five are firstly, belief. So, if I believe in something I give it 100%. I believe that people can be, and should be, physically, mentally, spiritually healthy. I want to see people thrive in that place. Another of my top ones is includer. I feel like I’ve been this way my whole life. I’ve been on the inside and the outside. When we moved to Fargo, I felt the most outside of anything I’ve ever felt in my life as an adult woman coming into a new community. I was going through a really, really hard time with the move and my mom had cancer. We got bombarded with tragedy. I had no community. I moved to a place without any friends and felt completely alone and isolated. That was really formative for me in a lot of ways because prior to that, I was on the inside. I was part of groups and all the things that filled me up. It took awhile for that to change for me. So, inclusion is so important to me. I want people to feel like they have a place. I want to create a safe space where people can feel accepted for exactly who they are.

How is the gym different? It seems to be intentional in the ways you differentiate yourself from other gyms someone might go to.

We know when someone is brand new. There is an icon that pops up, so when they walk in the door, we recognize that they’re new and call them by their name. We put their name on a board, introduce them to the instructor and give them a tour to try and alleviate fear. When a new person comes in the door, there is fear in their eyes and they’re totally scared. Immediately, we try to break down that wall. When they leave, we follow up with a handwritten post card and reach out to thank them for coming. We’re really intentional. We go above and beyond to make them feel accepted right away. We have people who leave saying, “I’ve never felt that way before.” That is a win, that’s a huge win.

How do you address diet culture in the gym?

Part of our philosophy is we don’t talk about diets or food or caloric intake or deficits. We don’t want to even address it because we are going for a feeling. The name Fly comes from that feeling you get when you are running or are in the midst of an intense workout; you get to that point where you feel like you could fly. That’s what we’re going for. We’re motivating you to that feeling. We’re measuring success by your feeling and motivating you to a higher place. ‘

You’re passionate about becoming emotionally, spiritually, and physically healthy. We’re talking a lot about physical health, but we were talking about Jonah Hill’s documentary called Stutz, where he interviews his therapist and shares tools his therapist has given him. I talk openly about seeing a therapist and benefiting from that. One of the things I found interesting is his therapist talks about a tool called “life force” where the bottom level is your relationship with your physical body, secondary is your relationship with other people, and the top is your relationship with yourself. He says diet, exercise, and sleep are profoundly important for mental health and will drive people forward in their pursuit of well-being, and that is 80% of feeling better. Have you seen that?

We have definitely seen that. I think people would speak to that, and I can think of several stories. One that had a profound impact on me was a girl who started coming and wasn’t totally into fitness, and she started to really enjoy our classes. She was really smiley, sweet, a really fun gal. I wouldn’t have known until after the fact that she’d been coming for several months, and she sent a text that said, “I just have to tell you what this has done for me. My therapist said I needed to get into working out and find a community of people to work out with. I was struggling with suicidal thoughts and severe depression and basically, this has changed my life.” Along with therapy, maybe medications, but along with physical movements and being with other people dramatically changed her mental health. I wouldn’t have guessed because she wasn’t someone who came in looking like she was falling apart. I want people to live in that freedom to be who they are. I feel like the physical benefit is extra. We say all the time, “It’s more than a workout.”

For more of the conversation between Melanie and Michelle, check out the new Ladyboss Lifestyle podcast!

Written by Brady Drake

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