The Refit video “You Belong Here” illustrates every woman’s existential crisis. It opens on a dank, gray morning. A woman wakes and sits on the side of the bed, as if debating whether or not to stand. Words appear: “When rhythm turns into routine.”
She gets her kids ready. She stares blankly into the mirror.
“When moments turn into mundane.”
Her kids play outside while she stands alone. She pays bills. She serves a meal.
“When pouring out turns into giving out.”
She sits on the couch with her laptop, searching all the webs in the world for community and not finding any.
“It’s time for you.”
The scene cuts to a bright room with an older woman wearing a Refit T-shirt. She texts the mom, “Hey, are you going to Refit tonight?” Though the mom can’t quite smile, she texts back, “I’m so glad … I really need this.”
It’s still gray outside when the mom walks into Refit, and the friend who texted her is waiting with a hug. The room erupts in dance. The mom finally smiles.
“Change your body. Change your mind. Change your life. Refit. Revolutionizing Fitness.”
The Refit revolution began in Waco. Women and men attend classes across the U.S. and in three countries, and countless other participants cue up Refit’s YouTube videos and work out in the privacy of their homes. Wacoans get to attend classes in the only certified Refit Studio, which just moved to a new location uptown, at 1522 Washington Avenue.
The creators of Refit are known to their community as ACE — or simply as Angela, Catherine and Emily. They are friends, fitness instructors and business partners.
Through hard work, loving hearts and sheer will, they are building community and transforming how people live.
That’s why Angela Beeler, Catherine Ballas and Emily Field are our 2018 Wacoans of the Year.
The welcoming woman in the “You Belong Here” video is Levene Grant, Refit’s biggest cheerleader. Grant also stars in a video titled “You fit at Refit || Levene, Age 76,” in which she shares how Refit helped her when her husband had leukemia. Harmon “Stan” Grant passed away in 2017. Grant hasn’t watched the video, but Refit remains an almost- daily part of her life.
“I go unless I have something going,” she said. “I go at 5:30 [p.m.]. Sometimes they have a class at 6:30. Afterward I come home, watch a little TV and go to bed. It makes the evening so much better.”
If Grant misses a class, she has a good reason.
“For a couple weeks my grandson was in the hospital, and I was with him, but unless it’s something like that, I go every day,” she said. “It’s the best part of my day.”
Grant started taking classes from ACE even before they were Refit. She had been a runner but had to give it up because of her knees. Before Refit she’d never done
another exercise class, but she loved the dancing. Her husband noticed how much she enjoyed Refit and supported her passion for it.
“He always encouraged me, ‘Honey, you go,’ even when he was in the hospital. He said, ‘You need it.’ I’d leave the hospital and go. He loved for me to go because he knew how good it was for me,” Grant said.
Grant followed ACE through their moves around Waco. She remembers the early days when they left out a shoebox for donations.
“We just gave whatever we wanted to. They didn’t charge anything,” Grant said. “They’d have a little box there, and you’d put your money in it. Twice it got stolen. They were saving it to open a studio. They never said one word about it.”
Grant says ACE always welcomed her, even when she came in crying.
“It was such a blessing to me. They didn’t care if I couldn’t do all of the moves — that’s not their deal. You go there, and you don’t think about the day. It helped my spirits, helped my body,” she said. “I just love ’em to pieces. They make me feel so loved and cared for. I’d recommend it to anyone — anyone.”
Before ACE, there was just Angela, Catherine and Emily, three Waco women living, working, worshiping, fitness-ing.
Dawn Wible, founder of Talk More Meals, remembers attending a dance fitness class with Angela at the Waco Family YMCA.
“She was so good at it,” Wible said. “I remember dancing next to her and thinking, ‘Wow!’ There was something about the way she moved and worked out. It looked different on her than on me, the way she was coming alive.”
Angela went from participating to teaching.
In 2009 she and Emily began teaching dance fitness at Highland Baptist Church.
The classes were open to anyone, and most of the women came from the neighborhood. Some brought all the women in their families.
Catherine met Angela and Emily at another fitness class they attended. When the group formed two lines, a la “Soul Train,” Catherine brought her moves — the kind you might see on “Dancing With the Stars.” That’s because pro Mark Ballas from the show is her cousin. His parents, Corky and Shirley Ballas, are world champion ballroom dancers. They helped raise siblings Derek and Julianne Hough, who have also appeared on the show as dance professionals and who are practically family. At the Ballas family Christmases, kids had to perform before opening Christmas presents.
So Angela and Emily invited Catherine to visit the class they were teaching at Highland. Catherine came and says Angela couldn’t remember her name.
“She kept calling me Michael Jackson,” Catherine said.
Soon the threesome started teaching together, and as they taught more classes, a hobby became a business.
Wacoans who have followed Angela, Catherine and Emily awhile may remember when they were teaching Zumba as the HOT Z team. Once they started creating their own content, they dropped the Z-word.
When ACE began teaching, they had no five-year plan; they had no plan at all. They created choreography and picked songs with positive messages. At one point they were teaching in five locations across Waco, including churches, the Bellmead Civic Center and Curves.
For the first four years of Refit ACE took no salary. Then they created a YouTube channel.
“Who woulda thought?” Angela said. “We’re just three girls from Waco, Texas, that decided to put some choreography videos on YouTube in 2009.”
The original channel was shut down in 2010, costing ACE more than 6,000 subscribers.
“We had to make a decision in that moment, if we were going to continue or not. We’d lost everything we’d worked for. That’s when we sat down and started thinking through — if we make it our own, if we’re legaled up with our own trademark, logo, protecting our content, could we grow like we’d grown prior to that point? Thank goodness we did!” Angela said.
In 2011 a new channel debuted under the new name, RefitRev. There are 287,000 people who subscribe, and that number continues to grow.
“Our YouTube channel has been instrumental in a lot of that increase in our fan base. People follow us from all over the world,” said Erin Mayer, Refit operations manager. Videos using music by Bruno Mars and Jennifer Lopez have more than 6 million views.
Refit also has an on-demand service available for a monthly fee. Waco classes are live-streamed and recorded, and subscribers can access them for 24 hours. Those subscribers include fans from around the world, Refit instructors who are learning new choreography, and members of the Waco Refit studio.
“It’s a perk of being in the one and only Refit studio, here in Waco,” Angela said. “We created that because since we’re a mostly female group, we’ve noticed that many moms have less ability to come into our studio at certain seasons in their life — kids in athletics, summer — so we included the online subscription for those guys.”
In a Behind the Business Facebook Live chat on October 10, Catherine said she knew their videos were having an impact when they were doing a master class in Batavia, Illinois. The song started, and everyone already knew the choreography.
Angela described a similar moment involving a woman overseas.
“I was in the parking lot, waiting for church, and I had an email from a girl in Hungary — I didn’t know where it was. I had to look it up on the map. In broken English she typed out an email that said she felt so alive from working out with our videos. She’d felt lost and lonely but seeing our faces on her computer
screen — our positivity was reaching across the screen and into her heart and life. I thought, ‘We’re doing something big here, something worldwide.’ It was the first time I felt like my mind truly comprehended how vast this had the potential to be.”
New videos drop on #YouTubeTuesdays. The instructor standing front and center is the choreographer, and the participants are actual Refit folks. Catherine produces and edits almost every Refit video.
The videos had an impact ACE didn’t expect. People who worked out to the songs wanted to become instructors, so they created an instructor program.
But they needed seed money. In 2012 ACE did an Indiegogo campaign to raise $5,000. Everyone who gave $10 was promised a Refit DVD. In 48 hours they raised $13,000, enough to produce two DVDs, which were shot at the same time in what was the Outdoor Waco building.
They also created a website, refitrev.com, and began instructor training. In 2013 they started licensing Refit as a brand.
Refit now has more than 3,000 certified instructors across the country as well as in Australia, Canada and England. Angela and Catherine travel for 20-24 trainings a year, working with Refit instructors in the locality. Typically, they teach a Refit Live Experience class the evening before an all-day instructor training, and that 90-minute class is open to the public for a small fee.
A week before the new studio opened, ACE held one of those trainings in Waco. More than 100 participants came from as far as Arizona, California, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana and New York to get certified. The evening before the training, ACE held the first members-only class in the new studio.
“A void I didn’t know I had was filled that night,” Catherine said. “You get so stuck in details and the shortcomings and what we did wrong. It was really rewarding to see people who invested in the space get to stand in this space. That was pretty amazing. They all were taking pictures.”
Immediately after the training, called Precon, ACE went to Dallas for Recon, the annual weekend-long Refit convention. There were speakers, new choreography, training sessions and glitter. Recon is held in Dallas because the Waco Convention Center — one of the only local venues large enough to hold 300 moving bodies — books quickly, especially in the fall.
This was the fourth Recon. IsaBelle Obray, who attended last year as a participant and this year as staff, says she was surprised by all the work put in by ACE that no one sees.
“We rented a huge 20-foot U-Haul with merch and decorations, and it was 10 p.m. when we got there Thursday night, and they stayed with us till midnight to unload. They helped us blow up 7,000 balloons,” Obray said. “They’re not just there to be the face of the company — they are invested, helping as much as the rest of us. It made me feel valued as an employee.”
Sometimes the strongest thing a person can do is be vulnerable enough to walk into a Refit class, as Obray did six years ago in Logan, Utah.
“What’s important to understand is in a world that views vulnerability as weakness, Refit is bringing the revolution of vulnerability as strength,” she said.
Obray found Refit when she was a new mom and liked that she could bring her baby.
“I had never really stepped foot in a gym before. I didn’t want to exercise. I was not physically fit, wasn’t taking care of myself physically, mentally or emotionally,” she said. “I was so nervous. I had basketball shorts on and old tennis shoes from high school. I was so terrified to walk in there: ‘They’re gonna judge me, I’m not gonna feel welcome.’ The second I walked in, I was embraced with a hug: ‘We’re so glad you’re here!’ From that moment I knew I belonged. I left sweating but with my heart full.”
After attending classes for about three years, Obray became an instructor. Now she teaches at a church and at a private company, where employees can bring a plus-one to workouts.
“It was time to change my life and help others change theirs as well,” she said. “It’s changed every aspect of my life. I’m a better mom, better wife, better daughter, better sister, better person within my community.”
If asked, Obray will tell you about the weight she’s lost, but she will also talk about Refit’s impact on her psyche.
“Mentally, the thing about Refit is they take it so much further than fitness. How to be stable in my doings, like when I’m feeling panicked as a mother or about to lose it. It’s amazing the tools they’ve provided to us as instructors and to the community, not just for our Refit experience but for our life,” she said.
Friends have noticed the change in Obray.
“The other day my close friend, she told me, ‘I feel like you were the girl who wanted to disappear, but as soon as you became an instructor, you were this bright light. This renewed life was given to you, and you’ve been shining ever since.’ She’s right,” Obray said. “I didn’t want to be seen. I didn’t feel like I deserved to be seen, if I’m being honest. I will always be a back-row beauty. In other classes, where I’m not teaching, I’m on that back row. It’s incredible to me that I’m up instructing women, doing things I would never be doing in a million years.”
In September, Obray joined the Refit staff as Happiness Ambassador.
“It’s kind of a loaded job title,” Obray admitted. “Essentially my job is to oversee the new instructor sign-ups. I give them a call and welcome them to Refit, tell them how excited we are to have them join our family.”
Obray also oversees Refit’s on-demand service. Knowing that many people work out to the videos without attending a class, she is working to improve the sense of community for those users.
“We want it to be something people can go to and get as close to a Refit experience as possible, even though they’re in their living room at home,” Obray said.
She has consistently participated in the online space for a couple of years.
“I watch it every Tuesday night at 5:30, and I see these faces showing up to the class every Tuesday with me, and I feel like I know those people. Some of the studio-goers, they get online as well and get involved with the commenting and participation,” she said.
Obray came to Waco for the first time in September.
“[Refit] people said, ‘Are you coming to Magnolia?’ I’m like, ‘No, I’m coming for you guys, to visit you guys!’” she said. “I drove by the Silos on accident when I got lost. I did see them!”
Her ambassadorship brings her to Waco about every other month. Of the headquarters staff of eight women, Obray is one of three who work remotely. There’s an additional five auxiliary staff members, including two Baylor interns. Obray says the team communicates using video conferences for weekly staff meetings, voice messages on WhatsApp and a variety of other platforms that make her feel cared for by ACE.
“Those three women never cease to amaze me. They will go to heaven and back to make sure you feel known and seen and cared about and that you know that you belong,” she said. “Angela will comb through all the Facebook feeds that she’s a part of to make sure that she’s engaging and loving. Catherine will make sure she is reaching out to you, putting a hand on your shoulder, ‘Hey, I know you’re here.’ Emily, who’s got that heart of gold, will reach out to you and make you feel like a million dollars just by smiling at you.”
The photo on the Refit Studio website, refitstudio.com, is shot from the back row. If you know ACE, you can vaguely tell that’s them on stage, but those three people are the hardest to make out. Who’s front and center? The back row. Those beauties who choose the last row at church, at school and at a fitness class. That’s who Refit is for.
Refit is based on the belief that fitness starts before you attend a class. Its mission statement reads, “We believe that the heart is more than a muscle. That a person is more than a body. That relationships are as important as results. We believe fitness isn’t just for the fit … it’s for the willing.”
ACE say their classes provide “music and movement” rather than “dance” because that word can be intimidating. The movement has to be fun. The music needs to be family-friendly. (Catherine says they are “aggressive” about keeping it family-friendly.) If a song starts and a “yay!” echoes through the studio, then it’s probably a good Refit song.
Refit is a fitness brand instructors pay to get trained in and become licensed to teach. The one-day training — either for Refit or Rev+Flow, the new low-impact format designed around toning — certifies an instructor for a year.
New instructors are encouraged to sign up for Refit-X, which functions like a continuing education package. For a monthly fee, instructors get access to exclusive choreography, marketing tools, business coaching and other perks. IsaBelle Obray calls it “unlimited resources to set you up for success.”
The instructor trainings model the kind of community Refit forms in each class. Previously certified instructors sign in the newbies and lead the beginning workout. The rest of the day is a blend of instruction and connection, with attention paid to the needs of individuals.
“At the lunch break we have a saying: ‘Nobody goes to lunch alone! (Unless you’re an introvert and you need that.)’” Obray said.
Erin Mayer first attended a Refit class in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She has a dance background and had participated in other dance fitness classes before. But Refit was different.
“What spoke to me was the real community element of Refit. It was fun to be there, but they had things infused in the class, especially at the start and ending of class, establishing community, making people feel they are special. It’s more about what’s on the inside,” she said.
After the cool-down song, the end of class includes Heart Work.
“There’s not a hard-and-fast rule for it. Each instructor decides how to do it, but the goal is to bring the group together,” Mayer said. “Some people will read an inspirational quote. We may pair up and talk about one good thing in your week or tell the person next to you something good about them. Something so they can leave encouraged.”
The same year she started attending Refit, Mayer got certified as an instructor. After teaching in Baton Rouge for almost a year, she saw the home office was looking for an operations manager. With her accounting background and love for the company, it seemed like a good fit.
Mayer says Refit’s value of #WeOverMe is expressed in every business decision.
“What I love seeing on a daily basis is every decision, every choice we make, every avenue we decide to run down is based on community, on the people that come to our classes in Waco and all over the U.S. Obviously, we’re a business, so there’s a financial element to that. But if the question is ‘Will this benefit our community the most versus is this the most financially stable [option]?’ we tend to go with community,” she said. “That starts with Angela and Catherine and Emily. I’m impressed that as the business grows, that continues to be the heart of where decisions are made — the people they’re serving. That’s why they’re where they are today.”
The value of #WeOverMe means when a Refit member is in need, the Refit community responds.
“When I was in Baton Rouge, we had a massive flood there three years ago. After that happened the local Refit community, we had these work days, and anyone that had anything that happened to their house, we had a huge team,” Mayer said. “It was a Refit People Unite kind of thing.”
The flood help included diapers sent by Refit participants in Washington state and Florida and a Paypal account set up for people waiting on insurance claim checks.
“To see the community activated so quickly really spoke to everyone’s heart,” Mayer said. “We all just care for each other, whether we’re close to each other or not. We have this common denominator that is Refit.”
Ben Rosas is a jewelry stylist and diamond expert at Di’Amore Fine Jewelers. Since 2017 he’s also been a Refit instructor. He already knew ACE from their pre-Refit days, and he even taught with them in a different fitness format. But when he signed up for a Refit training, he surprised them.
“I decided, ‘I’m gonna do it.’ They had no clue. I’d signed up at midnight the night before,” he said.
Now Rosas teaches at the Refit Studio, and he is Waco’s only Refit dude, its only male instructor. Out of about 3,000 instructors, there are currently 20 Refit dudes.
“You don’t have to be female to do this. It’s for everybody, and there’s never been a place that is more welcoming than Refit,” he said. “We are trying to send everybody out with a positive message. We want you to leave feeling like you worked out your mind, body and soul.”
Rosas has also seen the Refit People Unite phenomenon — with Hurricane Harvey.
“[ACE] had a T-shirt made up. It had Texas on it and a Refit R right in the middle,” he said.
The shirt was called “No Storm Can Stop Us.” Donors who purchased the shirt were able to access a 90-minute master class. The entire $20,000 raised went to the Houston Food Bank.
Rosas says moments like this show ACE’s passion.
“They have the biggest hearts out of everybody I know. From the second I met them, I felt like I’d known them my whole lifetime. They embody everything good. They don’t have a bad bone in their body,” he said.
For six years the Refit Studio was located on Richland Drive. In 2017 Refit purchased a warehouse on Washington Avenue uptown, working with real estate agent Gregg Glime of Coldwell Banker Commercial. Catherine was the point-person for the building renovation, essentially adding a second full-time job. General contracting was handled by Mitchell Construction in Lorena.
“The Refit girls were always there, checking on things, asking questions. It’s their space, and they’re really proud of it,” said Mark Waldrop, owner and account director of Sidekick Agency, which handles media for Mitchell Construction. Sidekick shot a fundraising video for Refit to allow participants to contribute to the construction costs.
“That video was such a big deal because they’re a national brand,” he said.
Refit’s fundraiser, #LoveMeSomeRefit, allowed the global community to participate in the renovation without actually coming to Waco and grabbing a paintbrush. From a High-Five $5 donation to a $2,000 Crash Your Refit class and everything in between, people gave. More than 600 people donated a total of $36,000.
Refit encompasses 12,000 square feet of the 20,000-square-foot building. Happy Harvest and Bare Bucha are set to open by the end of the year, and additional space is available for lease.
The public was invited to tour the new studio November 1, and all classes the first week of November were free. More than 20 classes are available throughout the week.
Everywhere you look, you see Refit’s signature yellow accents with a side of encouragement. It’s what Angela calls “the welcome home experience.”
“Traditionally, with fitness, when you walk into the gym, that can be one of the most nerve-wracking times for a woman — especially if she’s new, especially if she’s overweight, especially if she doesn’t know anyone. So we have greeters at the door so they never have the opportunity to sense that insecurity, so that they are immediately whooshed in,” she said.
The lobby includes a Love Bar, a way for Waco instructors to leave a love note for the community after a workout. Week 1 featured a confetti bar.
Between the lobby and the studio hang streamers with encouragements. Streamers printed with encouraging words submitted by donors include sayings like, “We rise by lifting others,” and “You are capable of amazing things,” and “You do you, Boo.”
“We envision this to be a life-size pom-pom, almost as if they are going through a car wash that’s filled with encouragement,” Angela said.
Every detail improves upon the old space, and every detail is meant to be fun, from the “5, 6, 7, 8” dance cues painted on the bathroom stall doors to the “Drinks on us” sign above the water fountains. The ladies-only locker room includes lockers, showers and a vanity space. Men settle for a separate large bathroom.
“With us being so close to downtown, we really wanted people to come in right after work or during lunch and still be able to go back to work or go out for the night,” Angela said.
The studio has 3,500 square feet of space. A preclass light show beams positive messages onto the floor.
“The aesthetics have been a major upgrade,” Catherine said, demonstrating the state-of-the-art light and sound capabilities using Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk.” Trey Shaw of Brazos Media Technologies supplied the equipment for the AV room. Now Waco instructors can create different light shows for different classes at different times of day — quite a step up from the $30 Spencer’s disco ball that hung in the back of the old studio.
The stage itself — a donation from Bruce and Lizzie Lisenby — is large enough for multiple instructors to teach together. Or a single instructor has more room to get down.
“I have such big moves anyway. I used to get to the edge of the old stage,” Ben Rosas said. “[At Precon] I got to get on that stage for the first time. It was so exciting, with all the lights. You actually felt like a star or something.”
Behind the studio is the production space, where online orders are fulfilled and videos are produced. Although the staff formerly had an HQ separate from the studio, now everything is in one location — with multiple offices, a communal workspace, a meeting room, a kitchen and a quote from Beyoncé (“Ladies, now let’s get in formation”).
Outside the building, the wall mural by Kristen Hodges reads, “Every Body Belongs.”
“I know the Waco wall murals are so important for photo opportunities,” Catherine said. “So we thought, ‘If we’re going to have a message on our wall, we want it to speak to everybody.’”
Joining the businesses that have already made uptown Waco home means Refit gets to be part of the city’s growth.
“You’ve got downtown, Austin Avenue, Waco Drive — there’s this space that needs to be filled. It’s less expensive. There’s more parking. It has a ton of potential,” she said. “It’s a ligament or a tendon, a connective tissue between residential and the activity that’s going on downtown.”
Refit may hold more trainings at the new facility, especially since Waco has become a vacation destination.
“It is an excuse for a girls weekend: ‘We can do Refit training, go to the Silos, go to Balcones [Distilling]’ or whatever they’re interested in,” Catherine said.
And Refit instructors want to come to the Waco studio, affectionately dubbed “the mothership.”
“This community is what gave us roots and wings. It allowed us to grow here,” Angela said. “We’ve been doing this for almost 10 years. I love that now what our building does is allow us to come home and plant roots for our community.”
ACE described themselves this way on Instagram: “We’re fitness girls. (We’re also taco girls.)” All three women are co-founders, and Angela and Catherine share the title of CEO.
You might recognize Angela from the pages of the December 2013 Wacoan, when she modeled for the “Making Spirits Bright” feature. Angela is from Atlanta, Texas, and graduated from Texas A&M with a bachelor of arts in English and linguistics. She and her husband, Cody, (both Aggies) have been in Waco for 20 years. He is the local rep for DePuy Synthes Spine. Angela has three girls, one, a graduate of the University of Arkansas; and two who attend Live Oak Classical School.
Catherine is from Houston and came to Waco in 2002 to attend Baylor, where she earned a bachelor of arts in film and digital media. Her apartment (#PhatFlat) was renovated by 2014 Wacoans of the Year, Chip and Joanna Gaines. Episode 16, titled “The Downtown Loft Challenge,” ran in the final season of HGTV’s “Fixer Upper.” It is the only apartment the Gaineses renovated for the series.
Emily has deep roots in Waco, going back more than 100 years to her great-grandparents. She graduated from Midway High School, where she met her husband, Thomas. In 2010 Emily graduated from Baylor with a degree in nutrition science. She and Angela developed Refit’s new format, Rev+Flow. While her husband played major league baseball for the Colorado Rockies, Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers from 2011-2015, Emily traveled with him six months out of the year. She has two boys, ages 4 and 2.
While they’ve worked hard to expand Refit from coast to coast, the three are still not used to some parts of their growing fame, like being recognized in an airport.
“They’re like, ‘Would you take a picture?’ and We’re like, ‘Sure, what do you want us to take a picture of? Oh, of us! Oh, yeah, sure!’” Catherine said.
Two days before the new studio opened, Wacoan writer Megan Willome met with ACE on the comfy lobby couches to talk about the impact of Refit — on the founders, on the participants and instructors, and on Waco.
WACOAN: Emily, you’re the one I know the least about. Can you explain your role?
Emily: My role has shifted in recent years to focus more at the local studio. Managing that staff, memberships, all of what you would think of as local studio needs. I am the local studio manager.
Angela: I’ll brag on Emily. She is a founder, but her life has been in so much transition.
What I love about Refit and Emily is that as an all-female staff, we have to take into consideration that females often bear the brunt of those life transitions. If the husband moves, the wife goes with him. The wife gets pregnant, you’re the one who has the baby. Where Emily was traveling with us and was full time, we realized that wasn’t a good decision for anybody — for her, but for the business too.
Emily: We’re in Waco full time now, which allowed me to step into a more consistent position. Before it was where there were gaps or what I would be able to do long-distance, I did. Now there’s a clearer role.
Catherine: I will say that with the new space, we needed somebody to run it and oversee it.
WACOAN: Catherine, tell me about the picture of you with a cute, adorable child who was so excited to meet Cappy.
Catherine: I don’t know. I’m the Pied Piper?
My nickname is Cappy. My family calls me that. My dad called me that name because I always wore hats as a kid. Still do. I don’t know what to say about that except [the kids] think I’m 12.
Emily: It’s her spirit.
Catherine: They think I’m not a mom, so I’m their friend. And then they’re slightly frightened when they find out I’m their mom’s age.
Angela: On all the videos you’re doing something fun or quirky or busting out in some solo dance or breakdance. They want to meet you because, for kids, anyone on TV is life-size. Cappy does stand out in our videos. I travel to a lot of events with her, and there is a lot of fandom specifically for Cappy: ‘Hey, Angela, can you take my pic with Cappy? Can you step out of the way and hold the camera?’
Catherine: [Kids] are definitely a Refit value. Kids a lot of times get overlooked, literally, because they’re down there. I feel like I need to be intentional with them. They’re just as much an investment as their moms in the class. And to see moms and daughters, moms and sons, having a blast together in a class is a real reward for us.
WACOAN: Does that happen a lot?
Catherine: It does. We have a whole Refit kids shirt that we created.
Angela: We’ve heard countless stories over the years from teachers all over the U.S. who use our videos as brain breaks in their classrooms. We’ve heard from moms who have special needs kids, specifically autism, that for some reason, they’ll show their children different dance videos, but they have a son or daughter who will communicate —
Catherine: ‘I want that one!’
Angela: They’ll keep scrolling until they find a Refit video. There’s a connection that’s happening. We have a couple of moms who have adult Down syndrome kids that attend classes. Those stories bring you big tears in your eyes, to see them on stage.
WACOAN: I used some of your videos as brain breaks while I’ve been working on this article.
Catherine: How’d it go?
WACOAN: It went OK. My dogs did not complain.
Catherine: They didn’t start howling and crying?
WACOAN: No, they got out of my way.
Catherine: Are you familiar with the Enneagram at all?
WACOAN: I am. My in-laws have been into it since I’ve known them, so at least 30 years.
But y’all have said that the Enneagram has been helpful to you in putting together your team.
Angela: I think the Enneagram, along with the StrengthsFinder, the DiSC [profile — Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, Conscientiousness], Myers-Briggs [Type Indicator] — all four of them I think we’ve used equally. But again, an all-female staff, on a good day, is such an empowering thing. But we all know that certain times of the month —
Emily: We’re all lined up.
Angela: I just think having all the emotions, all the time, coupled with the fact that many of us are friends. It can create, dynamically, lots of tension, and it has. What we’re always trying to be authentic with people about is you get one dimension on social media, and it does look like fun and it is. But it’s been a lot of work.
I remember Emily, Catherine and myself, we did an intensive Myers-Briggs. We hired someone to come in and do an evaluation of the three of us so we could learn more about each other. Last year for our HQ staff we brought someone in to do an all-day Enneagram workshop.
Catherine: Jon Singletary [dean of Baylor’s Diana R. Garland School of Social Work].
Angela: It’s been instrumental for whether we hire somebody, whether we’re having a problem with an employee. It’s easy to go, ‘They’re a high I,’ or, ‘They’re a Four on the Enneagram,’ and learn more about why they’re responding in a certain way.
Catherine: Years ago when adding members to the team, we decided to run things through the filter of character, competency and chemistry. That’s where we started: Does this person have character to sustain growth in this business? Are they competent at what they do? Do we get along? And that ‘do-we-get-along’ [aspect], that gets neglected a lot. And really, when things have been tough, the chemistry has held us three together.
We have a value of embracing feedback and embracing growth and learning, so knowing that nobody has arrived or completed their journey helps us all work better together.
WACOAN: In October I followed your Behind the Business theme on social media. I did not expect the vulnerability you showed in the Facebook Live chat on October 10, in which people asked tough questions and you gave honest answers. Tell me about the decision to share that side of Refit.
Angela: Everything we’ve shared on social media, from the time we began until now, has been as authentic as we can possibly make it. Authenticity has been redefined a little bit because of social media. Now it’s intentionally sharing the weakest parts of yourself that you can turn into an empowering moment for women. Which is still not fully authentic because now you’re tying everything up and putting a bow on it.
It was never anything intentional. Our whole business was characterized by a bunch of naiveté. We just didn’t know not to, and I’m thankful that we didn’t, because that is what is resonating with women. To see three girls who share struggles, who have ups and downs professionally and also personally. It echoes what most women are thinking and feeling.
It’s sharing about our body-positive culture. Our value of acceptance, whether it’s hiring instructors that don’t look like traditional fitness instructors (because they don’t, and we love that they don’t). Or whether it’s taking an opportunity to share the messy behind-the-scenes. The last thing we want to do is communicate that we have it all together because we’re anything but that. It’s those stories we want to hear more of so we have to model that for people.
Catherine: What struck you when you watched the video?
WACOAN: I took notes as I watched and wrote ‘life training, life coaching.’ That was when I knew Refit was about more than fitness.
Emily: One of the most common questions we get from other women is, ‘How do you do this and this?’ or, ‘How do you be a woman, a wife, and a mom and run a business?’ or, ‘How do you blend and not balance?’ or, ‘How do you structure the things in your life so that everyone is getting the best of you instead of 100 things getting half of you?’
In their eyes, they just see all that Refit provides for them, so how on earth do three people do it all? Part of Behind the Business was showing all the parts of the business, the parts that are responsible for that ‘all.’ There’s more than the three of us. There’s wonderful people putting in blood, sweat and tears.
Catherine: What you said about life coaching, we care about the person. Really. We really do!
Angela: Sometimes to a fault.
Catherine: Sometimes it’s literally to a fault. We’ll make a bad business decision. But it’s OK because we really do value people. And the fitness industry values results. We are about people and their hearts. If the results happen, great.
Since day one, we’ve committed to be a business that helps people on their journey — that could be a journey through fear, through weight loss, through a failed marriage. That could be ‘I just had four kids, and they’re under the age of 5.’ We believe that lasting change happens when you address the issues happening on the inside, not just on the outside. So yes, we’re trying to get underneath the physical and underneath the surface because that’s where you’re gonna see lasting results.
Angela: We’ve often said, ‘What good is it being skinny on the outside if you hate who you are on the inside?’ That is in part why we chose the name RevolutionFitness [Refit], because we do think, from a fitness industry standpoint, we were saying something very opposite to what most fitness programs were advocating. I do sense now that a lot of fitness programs are embracing more body positivity. But we’ve been here a long time! We’re been ringing the community bell, the love-your-body-at-any-size bell.
Two of the hashtags we use a lot are #MoreThanFitness and #BeyondTheBody. You’ll see those on many of our social media accounts. And we do believe that most external issues are the result of an internal problem. So if you fix that, then everything will course-correct.
WACOAN: This brings me to the question of the impact of Refit. On October 6, you wrote this on Facebook after a training: ‘Some of the triumph stories that came from this training class brought tears to our eyes. Addiction. Death. Recovery. Loss. The mind is certainly a battlefield and many showed up today broken and bruised. It is an honor to sit at the feet of those who have been through hell and back and still give us a reason to believe that beauty really does come from ashes. For many of our instructors, a devastating place of pain finally found its purpose and became the catalyst for stepping into this revolution.’
Angela: I wrote those words, but they sound better when you read them.
Catherine: That is powerful!
WACOAN: That made me curious about the kinds of stories people have to tell. So I’d like each of you to share a Refit impact story.
Catherine: In 2012 we were doing Experience classes (we didn’t call them that back then) but people would pay for us to come and do a 90-minute class.
We met a guy named Junior Johnson, from Mooresville, North Carolina. He had some anxiety and said that Refit had helped him and he was off his anxiety medication. He was our first Refit dude, our first male Refit instructor.
And then about 2 1/2 years ago Junior’s wife was diagnosed with terminal cancer. That year that she was really sick, they came to a couple of our trainings to do something fun. She ended up passing away. Since then he’s done everything he did with her that year again, so he’s been back to a couple of trainings. He was on the stage this past Sunday at Recon. He led us for 30 minutes in a class.
That was one of those full-circle moments because we’ve invested in him, but he’s given back to us. The joy he has in his heart, even though he’s been through hell and back, was unbelievable. He is a joy bomb waiting to happen. He is such a bright soul. So to be able to walk with him through something very difficult — ‘rewarding’ is not the right word because he’s my friend. It’s what I would do for a friend. He’s not a client. He’s not a customer. He’s our friend. We wouldn’t consider doing anything other than holding hands with him and helping him through that journey.
Emily: A friend of ours, her name is Nellie Lisenby. She was part of the first instructor group. She came [to the training] out of support, because she loved us. At the time she had no intention of teaching Refit. She liked us, so she attended our training.
She goes to the women’s prison in Marlin, [William P. Hobby Unit], five days a week with both volumes of our DVD. She uses those DVDs to teach Refit classes to women in prison. She has only used those two DVDs every time she leads a class for the last four years. So with that kind of commitment, consistency, redundancy and repetition, using the same songs and same workout, there has to be more happening there for it to be impacting the women, for them to keep wanting her to come back. They say it’s their favorite activity. They ask about it. They look forward to it.
So by her using the vehicle of Refit is what’s making the impact on their lives, right where they are, in their current condition, in that state. It speaks volumes to the impact of a person showing up for another person. There has been an internal and lifelong impact in their lives.
Angela: We’ve been able to take instructors into the prison with Nellie twice now. I don’t know of a more life-transforming experience than getting face to face, eye to eye, knee to knee with women who will never see anything but the inside of those four walls and still have presence and joy and positivity and such gratitude to us for coming to see them. We all walked away saying, ‘Y’all did this for us!’ We felt changed.
My impact story would be the girl referenced in the [Facebook] post you read. She’s a mom. She hit rock bottom. She attended our training but was living in a full-time halfway house. Her story was so inspiring because she was selling herself for drugs, she was in prostitution. Refit is what is giving her a purpose. She’s set to transition out of the home pretty soon, and she wants to remain there to teach women. I can’t wait to see what she’s going to do.
In such dark times people find something that resonates with this fitness program. It does help them hold their heads up, does unlock a passion and purpose. If it were a fitness program centered on physical results, we wouldn’t see so much impact — any size, any season, any state of brokenness. If you’re willing to link arms with us and believe you have the ability to influence others around you, then we believe in you too.
WACOAN: Those stories are unusual for a fitness class.
Angela: In 2011 we could’ve settled for being the biggest deal in Waco, Texas. We had some of the largest classes in the entire city. We had a great venue with hundreds of people coming to class. Our goal wasn’t to be the biggest deal in 76701. We wanted to be a wide deal.
That’s why we launched our training program because the fruit that we’d seen, locally, could probably be replicated in other cities. We could replicate that same intentionality of community and reap the same fruits as what we were seeing. And we are.
WACOAN: You’ve talked about your growth in terms of wide versus big. It feels like you’re on the cusp of another such moment right now.
Emily: Well, we’ve got the big room now.
Catherine: If you build it, they will come.
Angela: It’s kind of like a circle. We grew real big here, then we went wide — focused outward, nationally. And now we’re having to come back to focus on new growth here. We don’t know what’s going to happen. Everything’s risky locally because we’ve been focused on building that national brand, that national presence. Now we’re turning the corner a little bit, coming back home to create that same community again.
WACOAN: In terms of Waco and the exposure you bring to the city, what is it that you think is the national draw of Refit?
Catherine: I have thoughts, but I don’t know if they’re right. (I’m an Enneagram One — I want it to be right.)
I think our family-friendly offering is a really big deal. I didn’t know this until I talked to J House Vlogs. He’s one of the biggest family YouTubers out there. We had a Skype, and he said, ‘Why don’t you have family-friendly on your website? That’s one of the first things I was drawn to, that I could work out to these videos with my kids and so could my wife.’ I was like, ‘Whoops.’
I do think the wholesome, family-friendly — you know what you’re gonna get, good clean fun — is oftentimes forgotten, specifically in the fitness industry. That is one of the draws [to Refit]. It feels safe to people.
Emily: There are examples in the fitness industry of people being in one of two boxes. It’s either strictly faith-based format or anything-goes format. We’re truly living through our values as just, we’re gonna be positive. We’re gonna give you positive things to hear, both from our mouths and from the music, to where anybody can feel good about whoever is listening and participating. And it not being tied to or put in a categorized box because all that does is exclude. We are limitless.
Angela: The basic unit of community is connection. We’ve always talked about how social media right now has connected people in unprecedented ways, thousands of friends on Facebook, thousands of connections on Instagram.
Though as a culture we’re heavily connected, it is a false sense of connection. People know that because when they do recognize true connection, it sheds light on that hole, what was missing in their lives. That’s what people experience when they find Refit.
It’s that place of belonging. It’s a basic human need. People want to know they’re loved, they’re capable of loving and being loved, and that they fit somewhere. The fitness industry tells women, ‘You can be fit, and we will help you get fit,’ but we’re throwing the doors open saying, ‘You already fit.’
Catherine: And if you get fit, great.
Angela: You belong. That place of acceptance already has your name on it. We don’t need you to be a certain age or a certain size or a certain ability. It’s yours.
It’s not what we say. It’s what they feel when they walk in these classes. We’ve done a real good job — pat myself on the back — of making sure our instructors get to the core of who they are. We’ve had lots of instructors that wanted to have only certain people fit or be in a certain category, and we’ve continued to push back. When we say, ‘Every body belongs,’ we mean every body. Whether it’s an agnostic or someone international or it’s a woman who’s 300 pounds or a woman who’s a size 3. Everybody has a place of belonging here.
Catherine: If you get into the female psyche, walking into a gym is very intimidating. It doesn’t feel like belonging. We’ve been very intentional about how people can know, no matter what, they belong here.
Emily: Practically, that’s why we don’t have segmented classes — Refit beginners, Refit advanced, oldies Refit. We don’t have a Refit kids (although that would make the most sense). We have Refit and we have Rev+Flow — different formats, and there could be potential new formats that arise. We really believe that everybody can be part of Refit class. Everybody can be part of a Rev+Flow class.
Angela: We’re about to launch our new merch for the fall, so the shirts say, ‘This Body Can’ or ‘Refit Loves Your Body’ or ‘Every Body Belongs.’ We want that messaging out there in the world as boldly and widely as we can [get it].
WACOAN: Can you say more about people who are looking for community — specifically, people who are not looking for it in church — and who find it with Refit?
Angela: We started in a church, in 2009. But even then, 95 percent of the people coming to our classes were not church members. That’s where we started, but we knew we didn’t just want to exist within the four walls of a church. As we got bigger and started traveling —
Catherine: Started growing personally.
Angela: We started to recognize that those labels, it does create some boundaries around thoughts and ideas.
It was intentional, as our business got bigger, we had to communicate that to the public. And to our instructors. That was hard. So many instructors came to Refit thinking we were Christian fitness. Part of our training is addressing that head-on: ‘That is not a label we use.’ Because of all the stories we hear from people who are saying things like, ‘I would never have darkened the door of a gym or a church.’
Emily: For the same reason why we don’t have Refit for beginners. That communicates that you aren’t fit enough to take a normal Refit class.
We’ve jokingly said, ‘Fitness can’t be Christian. It doesn’t have a soul.’ Using [Christian] as an adjective really doesn’t even make sense. It communicates that you need to be a believer to get the most out of this program. The choice of music, lingo, words used, the expectation of the class, would indirectly communicate to someone who was trying it out that they needed to be [Christian] to participate.
Catherine: Speaking very candidly, I don’t think Jesus would have done Refit in a church.
As far as the third space — the first space being the home, the second space being work, the third space for the last 250 years has been the church. Now there is literally a space. Where are those people going? We’ve wanted to be, literally, their space. We’ve created this space for them — here, on the interwebs, on social media. People are people, and they do need a space to land, and we want to be that space for them.
Angela: We’re in this weird place of tension. We’re not conservative enough for some of the people that want us to be all Christian, and we’re too conservative for the people who want us to stop being Christian. And being in that place of tension is where we came from and probably where we will always be.
We consider ourselves the bridge of things that aren’t normally put together. We are willing to stand in the middle, holding both extremes, both sides of the spectrum. We believe all people are worth knowing and loving, that there are growth opportunities for every single person.
A long time ago we had an instructor who was agnostic. She was walking into a training class where she knew she was going to be the only one. She emailed us before: ‘Is this OK? Can I still sign up?’ We said, ‘Absolutely, we’d love to have you.’ She walked into the room, and we do a circle time, where we introduce ourselves and share our names, and she said, ‘Hi, my name is …, and I hope it’s OK, but I’m an agnostic, and I hope I’ll be accepted.’ I’ve never seen a group of people love on [a person] so heavily. So an idea she thought would exclude her from that group became a place of belonging for her. Lessons were learned on both sides of that fence.
WACOAN: As women, you talk a lot about the concept of ‘blending’ instead of ‘balancing.’ You’ve been in a particularly busy season. What are each of you are going to do to take care of yourselves when this season ends?
Angela: People keep asking us that.
Emily: We keep on not knowing when it will actually end.
Catherine: It’s hard because January is the biggest month of the year for us.
Angela: All of December is spent preparing for January.
Self-care was not something I believed in even two or three years ago, but I turned 43 this past June. Whether you believe in it or not, your body will remind you that you need it.
For me, it doesn’t look like a one-moment thing or a one vacation. It’s finding time to do what feels right for my body. There were many days this summer when I didn’t have normal work hours, when I didn’t set an alarm clock, and I let my body sleep until it was ready to work. I worked when I wanted to work and didn’t work when I didn’t want to work. I was nearing the end of myself and had to do that.
For Catherine and I, because we spend so much time together [traveling] and because at the core of our business partnership is friendship, when we travel, we’ll put work talk off-limits. We won’t allow ourselves to have conversations that have to deal with work.
We had a business therapist come and work with our staff, and that was one of the things he pointed out. Just like in a marriage, if you don’t stop talking about kids and start talking about each other, at the end that’s all your relationship becomes about. Because the three of us are friends, we have to carve out time to have fun with one another. When we do that, then we are re-envisioned for the next few weeks, to keep moving forward.
Emily: I’m in the process of learning self-care, what that looks like for me. I’ve tried some of the traditional things and not found relief. Like getting a pedicure — I didn’t know what that was supposed to do.
We moved into a new house several months ago, and there kept being times of organizing and reorganizing. So little moments of having all the laundry put away or having things organized in the kitchen to where it makes most sense. Sometimes self-care means cleaning my car out, being able to locate where my kids’ socks are — that makes me feel better and less stressed. Self-care means caring about the things around me that make everyday life easier. A lot of times that’s what gets lost when the care is on all the other things.
Catherine: I’m going to Mexico for my cousin’s wedding. I guess that’s self-care.
I like reading. I love to cook. When I’m cooking and reading, life feels right. Maybe a little Netflix.
WACOAN: You often end Refit events with a Hi, Lo, Buffalo — your high point, your low point, and the random, unexpected moment. So let’s finish with your Hi, Lo, Buffalo for Refit.
Angela: My high is always gonna be Recon. We’ve done it for four years. Every year we always say this is the last time. The amount of work that goes into it is unlike anything I’ve ever known. I am a workaholic. I am a person who says, ‘It’s gonna get done,’ and this past year we all independently looked at each other and said, ‘We’re not sure it’s gonna get done.’
Every single time we do it, we get to watch the things that were in our brain come to life and see the people we did it for enjoy it with every ounce of their entire being. That will be my high all the time, looking into a sea of faces of people who’ve lost their minds by how much fun they’re having.
I think our low might be the purchase of the building.
Catherine: It’s my personal high, but OK.
Angela: I’m talking about the day we went to sign the papers.
Catherine: That was a low. It wasn’t a unanimous decision, and 99.9 percent of our decisions are unanimous. So to have a very large decision that didn’t feel like we were all aligned was awful interpersonally.
Angela: It culminated the day we went to sign the papers. That was a moment of silence because it was weeks of long discussions, hard discussions. It’s the first time we knowingly stepped into a decision we were not all on board with. That’s not how we’re used to operating. But I think it was a growing decision. It’s not three girls that say yes to everything, all the time. That is the model of community. It is saying, ‘I don’t agree, but I am in. I don’t agree, but I’m not leaving the table.’
Catherine always says, ‘Can you disagree but commit?’ There were moments where I didn’t want to. But clearly, we’re still here, and we’re still together, and we’re better for it.
Emily: Let’s think of a buffalo.
Angela: Our buffalos have to be all the random misadventures we’ve had.
Emily: The places we’ve stayed.
Catherine: We really needed a reality show this whole time. You cannot make it up. Like in a four-month time period, every hotel we stayed in, the fire alarm went off.
Angela: We’ve been snowed in at an airport. We’ve been in California where we had a fire evacuation. We’ve been in a hotel where there was a gunman on the loose.
Catherine: We were on a plane one time, and the pilot said, ‘Well, the doors are not closing, but we’re gonna take off anyway.’ We’re like, ‘OK?’
We’ve lost luggage.
Angela: Staying at random strangers’ homes.
Emily: Another high would be getting moved in here. The low was making the decision, but the high was seeing that hard decision be worth it. A pretty big swing.
Catherine: This whole thing, we continually surprise ourselves with what’s being created within and for this community. This was an idea, and now that it’s here, holy cow! This is real, and it’s what we thought it was going to be and actually a little better.
My interview with ACE was at 1 p.m. Around 1:30, someone dropped off lunch — sandwiches. I encouraged the women to eat. They said they would but didn’t. An hour into our discussion, I brought up the uneaten box of food, sitting in the middle of the floor.
WACOAN: Y’all aren’t gonna eat, are you?
Angela: I’m good.
Catherine: My mom made me take etiquette classes.
When we finally wrapped around 2:45, Angela, Catherine and Emily asked to take a selfie with me. That’s never happened in my 14 years with the Wacoan. After a three-hour drive home I received a text, making sure I’d arrived safely. That’s never happened either.
But I think my experience mirrors what happens in every Refit class, in Waco and around the world. People leave feeling loved. That’s why they come back.