It’s my true pleasure today, to introduce you to Melanie Webb; Founder of Sol Fitness Adventures. When I first met Melanie I noticed her incredible energy, not to mention super strong body, and I thought, I want to be like her; tough but cool, successful but down to earth. Jury’s out as to whether I’ve succeeded in this, but she’s amazing, of that I’m sure.
Melanie has a fascinating career. She has been on Good Morning America, has received numerous industry awards, and formerly trained the Secretary of the Department of Defense. Contrarily, Melanie isn’t about the glitz and the glam. She cares most about getting people reconnected with their bodies through outdoor adventures. I encourage you to read this interview with her and to learn what Melanie’s brushes with death taught her. She will also walk you through the science behind how our bodies are connected to the earth and so much more!
1) Why did you start a career in fitness?
I get so much enjoyment from being active – playing sports, exploring amazing outdoor places around the world, and working out. Helping others discover the joy of being in their own body and unleashing how powerful that energy can be – that’s the intention behind my fitness career.
I’ve always had an interest in the human body. My Dad taught high school Anatomy and Physiology and was a big proponent of women in science, so from the time I was little I was surrounded by textbooks and skeletons. On top of that I was an athlete and played every kind of sport. I was a 16-year-old volleyball player the first time I watched Tamilee Webb’s Buns of Steel and Kathy Smith’s Aerobox workouts – and I was hooked! (I think I just dated myself!). I wanted to be just like those ladies.
Somehow, I lost sight of my dreams after college. I traded one passion for another and took a job as a wildlife biologist for the State of Utah and worked to help save endangered fish species. Five years later I was an environmental consultant to the Federal Government in Washington, D.C. I was a Certified Personal Trainer with ACE during that time and saw a few clients, but I think I was worried about my ability to support myself full time as a trainer. Finally, I traded the government cubicle for the training studio and made the leap to train full time.
2) What’s the most powerful or life-changing experience you’ve had as a trainer?
Rather than any one moment or experience, it’s the overall personal growth I’ve experience as a result of interacting with people from so many diverse ages and backgrounds. I think it’s a mistake to think that the trainer is the only one who has something to teach in this dynamic. Especially when our older clients have so much life experience and wisdom to share.
A few of my clients have become surrogate “parents” who’ve provided nurturing and emotional support during the good and the bad times. Others are irreplaceable business mentors and friends. A rare few have challenged me and pushed my buttons, causing me to have to weigh how much I want to suck it up in the name of being “professional” versus surround myself with people I like to be around. As I’ve gotten older and more sure of my own worth, both as a professional and a person, it’s become easier to walk away from those clients or situations that aren’t healthy for me.
3) Why did you decide to pursue starting your own business?
It took a number of years before I really committed to doing my own thing. I started leading fitness retreats several years before I quit training full time. My clients at The Sports Club/LA (now Equinox) in Washington, D.C. are the ones who gave me my start. They wanted to see their training applied to real life experiences, and they wanted a type of active vacation that nobody else was offering in 2007. Clients started hiring me to plan and guide their own private active trips. My first trips were to and Deer Valley and Zion National Park in Utah, and Machu Picchu, Peru.
Then something unexpected happened. I’d fallen into the trap of trading my lifestyle for making money. I was training six days a week, at least eight clients a day, and I finally burned out. I felt myself beginning to stagnate, feeling that I’d learned and accomplished all I could there.
After seven very successful years in D.C., I decided it was time to leave the East Coast and reclaim my lifestyle in the West. I ended up in Santa Barbara, California, a paradise of a place for an outdoor lover like myself, but quite possibly the most challenging work environment I’ve ever encountered. The place was still reeling from the market crash of 2008 and it was a difficult town to break into as a trainer. Nobody cared that I used to train the Secretary of Department of Defense or that I’d been on Good Morning America, they just wanted to know how cheap they could get a training session from me. There were too many “gatekeepers” to get through.
Concept met reality. I was going for broke as a trainer and I had to do something different. Through word-of-mouth referrals, clients started hiring me to help them train for their big bucket list adventures – like climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and competing in the Baja 1,000 off-road race. Suddenly, I was able to take advantage of my surroundings and all of my career experience. My client’s training programs included hiking 14,000 foot peaks in the High Sierra’s and stand up paddling on the Pacific Ocean.
Around this time, an elderly client from D.C. checked himself into rehab in Beverly Hills so that I could be part of his team of healthcare professionals. On my first visit, he told me to give him my business plan because he wanted to give me money to start it! I was dumbfounded. I wasn’t even clear what that business should look like!
There’s no question in my mind that I owe my start in business entirely to my amazing clients who led me down this path. It’s because of them that I’m in the right place at the right time now.
4) What is Sol Fitness Adventures all about?
Sol Fitness Adventures is my response to what I see as a big problem for a lot of us – we’re losing that wild, instinctive, very necessary connection to the outdoors. The clients I work with are looking for an experience that helps them live a lifestyle of activity. Something that makes them a better human being for having taken the journey. It’s a very niche space that we occupy, but it’s one that I think bridges that gap between the fitness and outdoor industries.
We create customized fitness retreats anywhere in the world, but primarily in Park City where I live and in southern Utah’s spectacular National Parks. Everyone wants to come here. My clients look 10 years younger when they leave than when they arrived.
5) What’s the coolest thing you’ve done with a Sol Fit group?
That’s a hard one! There have been so many fun trips. But I have to say, the cycling fitness trip Sol led last year to the Central Coast of California was pretty fantastic. A group of eight women from Colorado – all over the age of 60, I might add – spent six days road biking, working out, and enjoying the culinary and cultural highlights of the Santa Ynez Valley and San Luis Obispo. Everything went off without a hitch, nobody got injured, and the ladies pushed themselves. I enjoyed every minute working with them.
6) How do you motivate people towards healthy living?
I try to live by example. The fact that I’m the happiest when I’m exercising or playing outside makes it easy. There’s nothing else I’d rather be doing. I think I’ve also overcome some physical injuries and illnesses that help me relate to people. They realize that I’m not just a skinny girl who this comes easy to, and I think that helps them believe that they can do it too.
Being so active can come at a price. I’ve had shoulder and knee reconstructions. I’ve been stitched up a number of times and last year I was diagnosed with adrenal fatigue. I fell prey to the same stressors my clients face and I was just pushing too hard. It was the reality check I needed to remember to prioritize my self-care. Good nutrition, rest, and setting limits on my workload and travel have helped me heal, but it’s something I have to stay on top of. Inside Tracker online helps me keep track of my nutrition, now that I’m no longer under a doctor’s care.
7) Have you ever had any moments that scared you or that pushed your body to its limits?
…How much time do you have? I’ve had so many encounters with physical harm it’s hard to pick just one. My Grandma used to joke that I’m the cat with 15 lives, because I’d already passed the nine…
Some of my scariest moments have been with water encounters. I love playing on the water, but it’s also this element that you just can’t control. Until you’ve spent enough time around it, it’s just really easy to make the wrong judgement call and make mistakes. It’s something I really envy of my “watermen” friends; those people who grew up on the coasts and have spent their lifetimes on the water.
One of the most memorable of those encounters with death was a boat trip to Lake Powell during college. An afternoon storm blew in so quickly that we weren’t able to get off the water in time. The wind was blowing so loud that I couldn’t hear what the person next to me was screaming. White caps came over the bow and swamped the boat. We had to abandon ship and swim to shore. Once I washed up, I looked out to see the boat go under water and get swept away, stranding us. It was terrifying.
Another close encounter with “death by water” happened once while I was hiking the backcountry in Zion National Park. I ignored the dark clouds and got caught in a deep slot canyon in a torrential downpour. I’ve spent enough time in the canyons to know that rain that heavy can bring a flashflood within minutes. I was convinced that I’d said my last prayer, and I ran faster than I ever thought possible for about 4 miles before I felt the canyon walls were open enough. Minutes later, the flash flood came through, churning the color of dark chocolate milk and tumbling rocks and logs as it went.
Those were good experiences, for me to come that close to death. You don’t know what you’re capable of until you get tested like that. You learn that you have a strength that can get you through anything.
8) What’s next on the horizon for your career and/or goals?
I’m glad you asked! I just launched Sol Guide: Online Training for Your Next Outdoor Fitness Trip. Not everyone can afford to take a fitness retreat with Sol. But with Sol Guide, now you can learn how to harness the active outdoor lifestyle for yourself – anytime, anywhere.
The online course teaches you how to plan your own fitness retreat, no matter where you live. There are 40 exercise videos, stress-reduction techniques, games for kids, outdoor safety and gear tips, and so much more. There’s even a business module for those who want to add a new revenue stream to their fitness or yoga practice.
By late summer we plan to host our first two-day teacher-training course here in Utah. The course will offer real, practical experience planning and leading a fitness retreat for individuals who want to get certified and/or take their leadership to the next level. Please feel free to sign up for our newsletter to stay informed on the dates!
9) What evidence is there that the outdoors is good for our health?
Science is discovering so many amazing new things about our body and the human connection to the outdoors! Japanese scientists discovered that walking in a green forest drops systolic blood pressure six points, while walking in an urban environment elevates systolic blood pressure six points!
When you approach a large body of water, your brain releases large amounts of the “feel good” hormone oxytocin, the same hormone babies release when they see their mother’s face. A fantastic new book called Blue Mind by Wallace J. Nichols reveals the many ways that water is good for us.
Also, did you know that the Earth has a magnetic frequency of 7.83 Hz? And the human alpha brain wave, associated with relaxation, is – get this – 7.83 Hz! I don’t think this is just a coincidence. In fact, I believe it’s part of the evidence that we come from this Earth, that we’re part of it, and that we need it for optimum health. You can do a search on the Schumann wave on NASA and read all about it.
There is so much more! Part of what I share in Sol Guide is how to harness these earth elements of Green Mind, Blue Mind, and Red Mind. You learn how to design a fitness adventure that leaves you not only more “fit,” but helps you tap into Earth energy for maximum health. This isn’t woo-woo stuff I’m talking about. The science is proving it and I see it in my clients on every trip. I’m excited to share this with more people. Thank you for reading!
If you’re feeling inspired, please stay connected with Melanie and Sol!
Sol Fitness Adventures: www.solfitnessadventures.com
Sol Guide: www.melaniewebbsolguide.com