Celebrating International Women’s Day with Three Resilient, Courageous, Strong Female Coaches

March 7, 2021 by
Courtesy of Katie Michaud
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Today is International Women’s Day and we asked the community to point us toward inspiring female coaches and entrepreneurs. As expected, we had countless options to choose from. Here are three of them:

Kristel Raab: The Picture of Resilience

She kept her eyes closed as she opened the email, scared of the news she was about to receive. 

“I can’t see another fail. Please tell me I passed,” Raab pleaded internally about that anxious moment just before she learned she had finally passed her CrossFit Level 1 written exam in 2018.

Relief and excitement overtook her body. In recent months, Raab had spent $2,500 to take the Level 1 course twice and the test six times. And although she was thrilled, she didn’t share her excitement with anyone at the time, because nobody had known she had failed five times. 

“I was embarrassed. Nobody knew that story for a long time. It was a secret story that I kept inside me, because I didn’t want people to think I was a failed coach,” said Raab, who was a server at a restaurant at the time, but desperately wanted to become a coach. “But now I realize it’s not something to be embarrassed about. Anytime you put yourself out there and you fail, it’s not failing if you’re still trying,” she said.

Raab wasn’t always this strong and resilient. In fact, when she first stumbled across CrossFit North Marin in Novato, CA in 2013 she was too scared to go in. 

“I drove there and parked in front of that gym every day for three months, but I couldn’t get the courage to actually step in,” she said. When she finally did, she couldn’t believe she had let fear get the best of her and she signed up for one year. 

Over the course of the next four years, Raab went from “not knowing the difference between a kettlebell and a dumbbell to competing on a team at Regionals in 2017. 

Today, Raab is living her dream, coaching at two gyms in California, TJ’s Gym in Mill Valley and CrossFit Novato. And without the confidence CrossFit has given her in the last eight years, Raab said she never would have been as resilient as she was in putting herself out there over and over again to pass that damn test.

“By the sixth time taking the test, all the Level 1 trainers knew who I was and were like, ‘You’re back again?’” she said, laughing at the memory. And every time she failed, Raab admitted the first thought in her head was maybe it was the world’s way of telling her she wasn’t supposed to be a coach, but the moment she had that thought, her newfound confidence kicked in.

“Don’t let that thought get into your head. Everything in life isn’t easy, and sometimes the hardest things are the most worthwhile,” she said of her self-talk. “If you want something, you have to keep fighting for it.”

She added: “I don’t see myself ever stopping coaching.”

Credit: CrossFIt Novato:

Sara Topp: Taking a Courageous Risk

In 2018, Sara Topp was working as a painter at a nuclear power plant in Port Elgin, Ontario. 

It’s not what she wanted to do for a living, but the long time Jiu Jitsu athlete had resigned herself to the fact that this was as good as her career was going to get. 

“I thought I’d be stuck in a corporate job forever. I dropped out of university and thought I’d be an industrial painter my whole life. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a painter, but it didn’t fit who I was,” she said. 

Eventually she realized she had to choose between money and happiness, and once she realized “happiness and doing what I love was the only option,” the decision was easy, she explained. So Topp left her job and followed her heart to become a coach and gym owner. 

Three years later, the 33-year-old and her husband Jesse Topp are the owners of Topp Performance, a business that owns and runs three successful gyms in Port Elgin, including a CrossFit affiliate, a personal training space, and a 24-hour gym. Between the three locations, they have more than 600 members. 

“I have grown so much in the last three years,” Topp said. “I’ve had to teach myself how to do things — software, marketing, (social media) ads, keeping track of income…I’m shocked at how far I have come since the first day when I sat down at the front desk and was like, ‘Ok, this is my first day of work. I have to figure this out,’” she said.

While her success is undeniable, Topp remains as humble as they come. 

“I don’t even really think of myself as an entrepreneur, but I guess I am,” she said, adding that her message to other women looking to make a career change is that to lose the fear of failure. 

“Just don’t be fearful to take a risk. Don’t be afraid of not knowing what you’re doing or making mistakes. Go out there and teach yourself. Anything you want to do, you can do it. You just need to find the right resources and get some help along the way,” she said. 

Courtesy of Sara Topp

Christy Campbell: Finding Strength in Being Real 

Christy Campbell, a US Navy veteran, first found CrossFit in 2013 while on a weight loss journey after having children. She was insecure and believed that gaining weight was just part and parcel of having kids. 

Today, the 37-year-old Campbell is a Level 2 trainer who works part-time at CrossFit Lake Stevens in WA, a USAW Advanced Sports Performance Coach, and the owner and founder of Fit Me Nutrition, a company with 14 coaches and support staff, whose mission is to give people “a diet-free option of creating healthy habits to lose weight,” Campbell said. 

Courtesy of Christy Campbell:

Her habit-based approach to nutrition came from her own experiences in life, she explained. 

Her husband is still with the military, which has caused unexpected cross-country moves. During one of these moves, she had “a surprise pregnancy,” said Campbell, a mother of three. 

Through these unexpected experiences in life, she realized the only way to stay on track with nutrition was to have strong, almost unconscious habits in place. This became the foundation of her company.

“We’re different from a lot of nutrition programs out there, because we’re designed to help people navigate real life…so when they have curveballs, they have these healthy habits to stand on,” she said.

One of the biggest keys to her success, however, has been her ability to embrace her flaws and be real with her clients, she explained.

“While our instinct might be to hide the real life things, like the stretch marks and all the things that make us imperfect, I think one of the most important things as a coach is to embrace them and connect with people. People don’t connect with people who are too perfect,” Campbell said.

She added: “Women think they can’t be coaches if they don’t have that perfect image, but you can. And you have to because people need help. So be willing to put yourself out there and make an impact on people’s lives.”

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