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Gym Owner: “The Risk Paid Off”

 Brandy Monge loved working as a lawyer, but she loved fitness even more. She decided to follow her heart and open Crossfit Queens – a risk that paid off in a career that she loves and the ability to make a tangible difference in people’s lives.

What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How long have you been doing this job?
I own Crossfit Queens, a Crossfit gym in Astoria, Queens, and have for over five years. Crossfit is all about functional training, so it includes a little bit of everything – weightlifting, gymnastics, and cardiovascular work. Most of the classes are group classes, so you get to know everyone and work out with other people cheering you on and motivating you and a coach making sure you’re doing everything safely.

What I love about it is that anyone can do it – we have people at the gym who are grandmothers and people who were college athletes and everything in-between. I think that it’s that variety that makes Crossfit Queens such a strong community – we work out together, eat together, drink together, compete together, and generally have a great time doing it. The community is what makes Crossfit Queens not just another business.

How would you describe what you do?
I’ve done everything and anything at Crossfit Queens. As a small business owner, you have to get your hands dirty, especially in the beginning. My original business partner and I did all of the coaching, all of the billing, all of the marketing, all of the phone calls, all of the work. Now that the gym has grown, though, I have a staff, so I can focus on what I care about. These days, I coach some classes and focus on promoting the gym by creating events, hosting competitions, and building the sense of community.

What was your journey to doing this kind of work?
I was a lawyer before I was a business owner. I was studying broadcast journalism in college when I noticed my roommate’s LSAT book lying on a table and took a look and thought, I can do this, so I became a lawyer. I really enjoyed it. Office work didn’t appeal to me – I knew I didn’t want to push paper around – but the trial work and the depositions were a lot of fun.

When I moved to New York, though, I realized that everything was a lot more expensive than where I was from in Texas. I’ve always been active, and when I moved to NYC, I was spending most of my money on physical activity – I had a tennis club membership and a gym membership and a yoga studio membership and a Pilates studio membership – and I was going broke. My friends saw how much I loved spending time being active and how much money I was spending on it and suggested that I look into becoming a personal trainer as a second job to cut back on expenses.

I started out teaching group exercise classes at New York Sports Club – spin, sports conditioning, boot camps. I really loved it and wanted to keep learning and growing, so I was always looking at fitness videos or reading up on strength and conditioning. One day, I saw a video of a woman named Annie doing a pull-up while pregnant. I was immediately fascinated. I learned that she was part of something called Crossfit, a way of working out that emphasizes functional movements, non-traditional workouts, and an inclusive community. I began working out at a Crossfit gym in Brooklyn and eventually became certified as a Crossfit trainer.

At the time, I would work my legal job during the day and spend most of my free time either training or teaching classes instead of going out to eat or drink like all of my friends, but I knew I couldn’t balance both jobs forever. I was going to have to make a choice between the law and the gym. I started looking into opening my own Crossfit gym in Queens, which had no Crossfit boxes at the time, and met another member of the community who also wanted to open a gym. We became business partners and opened Crossfit Queens in 2009.

Even after the gym opened, though, I kept working as a lawyer. I knew I wanted to be a Crossfit owner full-time, but building a business takes time. I started preparing to be a full-time business owner way before I ever made my move – cutting down my personal expenses, getting roommates, and saving as much money as I could. When my original business partner moved away, I saw that as my motivation to make the switch and I left my legal job behind. Altogether, it took about 2 years for Crossfit Queens to go from an initial idea to a working self-supporting reality.

What is your ethnicity and gender? How has it hurt or helped you?
I’m a Mexican-American woman. As a woman, I’ve definitely run into some backwards attitudes. People sometimes think Oh, you’re the coach? But you’re a woman. It was the same in the law. Most people are great, but there are always those who would assume that I was the assistant or the intern. People expect a man to run a business or a man to be a senior trial attorney more than they do a woman.

As far as being a minority goes, one thing that I’ve really loved about being active and encouraging other people to be active is impacting minority communities and getting people to make exercise and healthy eating part of their lives. I was raised by my father as a single Dad, and he’d give me McDonald’s for breakfast and then I’d go have tacos for lunch. Over time, I saw the impact of those decisions – my Dad has diabetes now. Part of what I want to do with my life is encourage people to live healthier, especially those from minority communities.

Do you love what you do? Do you think you’ve found the right path?
Absolutely. I love empowering people and seeing the results and the changes that they’ve been able to make in their lives as part of this gym and this community. When I see someone with the confidence they’ve never had before or watch someone doing the thing they never thought they could do, it makes me feel great. Every time someone gets their first pull-up or gets in better shape or feels proud about what they’ve accomplished, it reminds me why I do what I do. I also love the people that I work alongside.  I have an amazing support system at Crossfit Queens. My coaching staff is made up of humble and hardworking team players – having people like that around me makes all the difference.

What do you need to succeed in this field?
I got lucky, because I really didn’t have any business training. I just got caught up in the community and the passion and the ability to do what I love. The two things that I did do really well were to prepare and have a good support system. You can’t just wake up one day and decide to quit your job to do something like this – you may want to, but you have to be able to support yourself financially first. It took me two years to get to that place, but all the planning I did paid off and it worked.

I also had a good support system in place. The reality is that when you’re doing something outside of the norm, some people will try to discourage you or tell you that your path is too risky. I was lucky to have some friends and family who backed me up. They may have thought I was a little crazy, but they were willing to support me when I made a decision that wasn’t exactly the safe choice.

What is the single most important thing you have learned outside of school about the working world?
You can’t do it all. As a business owner, you may start out doing everything, but once your business grows, you can’t. So you have to figure out what you’re really good at and what you like doing. Some aspects of owning a business I never loved, like bookkeeping, and I had to recognize that and surround myself with people who were strong in the areas that I don’t like or don’t excel at. Having a partner who complements your skills and interests is key.

What kind of challenges do you face and what makes you just want to quit?
Sometimes it’s hard to balance the day-to-day work with the long-term growth of the business. Growth in general is harder than people think. As you grow and change, sometimes people aren’t happy with the changes or don’t like the way you’ve chosen to grow. It can be hard to make those decisions, especially as a Crossfit owner, because Crossfit gyms are communities. Every decision I’ve made has affected people that feel like my family. I think it’s that way for many small business owners, because you’re so close to everything that happens and everything is much more personal than it would be at a large company somewhere.

Acrossfitqueensre you paid enough and/or happy living within your means?
New York City is an expensive place, but I make enough money to live comfortably. Of course, I’m always adjusting my priorities, but that’s just part of life. Sometimes I’m focused more on resources for the business, sometimes I’m focused on money for my family, and sometimes I’m focused on myself. I think that’s true of anyone.

What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?
You can’t be afraid to fail. When I decided to be a full-time Crossfit owner, I wasn’t sure it was going to work. A lot of my friends weren’t sure it was going to work. Many of them said I was crazy. But I didn’t want to look back and regret not trying. In my mind, the worst case scenario of failing was to go back to what I’d been doing and start practicing law again. The worst case scenario of not trying was always wondering what if I had. I decided that the risk was worth it and I’m glad I took that risk. Otherwise I would have always been dreaming about it and thinking about it and never knowing if I could have succeeded.

If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?
I will always be involved with the gym and the Crossfit Queens community. I like seeing the change in people that Crossfit makes possible. I may start traveling more or spending more time with my family now that I have a staff that can handle some of the workload, but I will always be part of Crossfit Queens. I can also definitely see myself starting another business in the future – I’ve really enjoyed the whole process.

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  • Meeting her in person was nothing like this article tries to make her out to be. It’s amazing how people can create a character online.

  • For her to risk her comfortable life to chase something she felt was right, moves me. I believe in following our guts at all cost no matter how uncomfortable the feeling or thought may seem. We all have a dream inside of us that we can live out. Many people in my life tried to lead me away from what I felt was right, but I didn’t listen to them, I followed my own heart. I love her story because like myself she didn’t allow others to control her destiny.

  • This is such an inspiring story. I really like how you started your career path as a lawyer then a gym manager. Those are two quite different career paths. Very motivational and makes me want to never give up!

  • Woman to woman it is very inspiring to see the risks you took in exposing yourself to such a gamble, business. You didn’t take “No.” for an answering and nevertheless you persisted. You faced all fears and took them down despite the dangers you knew you could face such as losing money.

    I agree the business world can be a very intimidating line of work. I have thought about managing businesses myself and still do not think I can pull it off. Although you have given me a different lighting to the image and I hope that one day I can too be telling my story of a time I persisted despite the chances I was taking.

  • Wow, what an amazing transition. As a student about to study the law, I was immediately taken by your story. In high school we did Crossfit during our Health class, so I can really relate to it being inclusive for all. You are truly an inspiration for being able to become a successful business owner and doing something that you love. I have felt torn between two things before and it is true, we cannot do it all. However, you managed to make it work and you have given me some great advice!

  • Although Brandy and I have different career interests, her story strongly resonates with me. I too identify as a Mexican-American female. I find it challenging and at times frustrating when people are shocked or bewildered when women want to pursue male-dominated careers, such as being a gym owner, or in my case, being a surgeon. My Hispanic background has also significantly impacted why I wish to become a surgeon. My father immigrated to the United States as a child, and did not have adequate healthcare like so many other immigrants and underprivileged communities. The vast presence of health disparities became even more apparent to me when I volunteered with Doctors Without Borders while studying in Athens, Greece. My desire to make tangible differences in these communities like Brandy does in her gym community continues to motivate me during my studies.

    What strikes me most about Brandy’s story is the strength she had to continue believing in herself, as well as the courage she had to not fear failure. You can find friends and family members who will have faith in you, but ultimately, you need to have faith in yourself to achieve a dream. Maintaining faith in your dreams is especially difficult when they involve some financial risk, such as facing large amounts of student debt or the chance of bankruptcy. I constantly remind myself to not let negative thoughts eat away at my dream because I know that if I do not try my hardest to pursue medical school, I will only be filled with regret. Brandy’s story serves as an excellent reminder of how powerful one’s own mind set is in shaping the outcome of our lives, and the importance of not letting fear cause you to live a life of regret.

  • This article is very inspiring and it shows me how people can really turn dreams into reality. All it takes is a personal want and the guts to go after it.

  • This is a great story! It resonates with me because you really do have to follow your heart. When I first started in school, I felt like I wasn’t good at learning, and wanted to study art and be an artist. I was worried that if I were an artist, I wouldn’t be able to afford to live, so I took a few years off from school and somehow wandered my way into a STEM major. I’ve been a person who struggled with math and science my entire life; it took my 4 tries to attempt to pass the basic algebra math course at my community college, how was I expected to make it through calculus? It was a slow climb, but I poured myself into each math class, each physics class, each chemistry class, trying to get to a chemistry degree until my applied science credit lead to geology. I fell in love with this science that there was still so much to be discovered in. How can there be so many things that we don’t know in this field? It peaked an interest in me that I had no idea existed. Once I discovered geology, science had a whole new light. I’m still not great at math, and science doesn’t come easy for me, but I’m blessed to live in the modern day and age of technology, where it’s easy to look up a quick refresher on the internet. I still laugh to myself now, while I’m pursuing the last two years of my degree at a state university, about how I thought I would fail as a artist so I ended up becoming a double STEM major. I started with nothing, wore a few hats along the way, and have big dreams about my future. I can’t wait to see what the future might hold for me.

  • I love the fact that Brandy was able to step out of her comfort zone and become a great athlete and owner. I always wanted to have my own music studio but never pursue it. However, I love English just as much as I love music. So, right now, I teach English as a second language and hope to expand my horizons even the more. Even though I believe I am optimistic, I need a higher level of motivation like Brandy to go forward in what I love and desire to do. Being fearless and not caring what people think is key to getting to our destiny. Go Brandy!