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Ep. 137: Rachel Ridgeway

Waitress to entrepreneur, Rachel Ridgeway, launched Ridge Senior Fitness with the mission to train aging adults with a focus on strength, balance and mobility. Her training has moved to virtual as she leads group classes, personal training and fitness sessions via digital.

Follow Rachel on Instagram @Ridgeseniorfitness

Welcome to the Bridge the Gap podcast, the senior living podcast with Josh and Lucas. Exciting show today about fitness and we’ve got a great guest on. Welcome Rachel Ridgeway. She’s the owner at Ridge Senior Fitness. Welcome to the program. 


Rachel: Thank you. Thanks for having me on.


Lucas: Yeah, we’re really excited to connect with you on Instagram and get you on the show because we really were captivated by your story. And, you know, Josh, we talk all the time. We love it when younger people have a passion for older adults and Rachel is exactly that type of person. She’s created an entire company to cater to senior living. So Rachel, the big question is why did you start a senior living fitness company and where did that come from?


Rachel: So it’s kind of a long convoluted story so I apologize in advance. There’s a lot of moving parts. But I got my start in senior living at 16. I was a waitress at a senior living community and really only took the job because it was the only company offering me a job at that point in time. So I had no idea I wanted to work with seniors at that point. Just was like, yep, I need some cash. So I got a job and found out pretty quickly. I was the worst waitress on the planet. I mean, those giant trays that you have to carry on your shoulder, I dropped numerous full trays of food. And so, but for whatever reason, my residents really liked having me as their waitress, even though nine out of 10 times, their order was probably wrong or missing something. But I think I just clicked and had a good personality and was able to kind of make them laugh at my expense a lot of the time.


So I realized pretty quickly I liked working with seniors, but obviously I couldn’t be a waitress anymore. So kind of dug in deep and tried to find where I would end up and nursing at that point kind of seems like the most logical route. So I got my CNA when I was a senior in high school and then did that pretty much every summer through college. And then when I graduated, I ended up not getting a degree in nursing. I actually got a degree in nutrition and then realized, I didn’t really know where to go from that point. So I just kinda went back to the drawing board. And senior living was just always where I worked. 


So I got a job as a personal trainer here in Denver at a senior living community with a Brookfield community. And I was just the trainer for that specific building and so basically people rolling off of physical therapy or occupational therapy would then continue their plan with me. So it’s a really, really fun job, kind of where I developed my passion and kind of fell into that too. I didn’t really know I wanted to be a trainer at that point in time. 


So pretty quickly moved into a different department after that role in home health. And it was a promotion for me at the time, which was exciting, but that job was a lot of work. I was on call, you know, two weeks out of the month and, you know, someone passed away in the middle of the night. I’d have to jump up at two in the morning, restaff it. Sometimes even show up to the building if paramedics hadn’t come yet. So it was a pretty heavy job for a 22-23 year old.


And so at that point in time, I just, I realized home health probably wasn’t the route for me, but then I didn’t really know where to go from there. I thought maybe I’d have to go back to school. So I just kind of did a little bit of soul searching and realized, I’m a new college grad,I should probably try out the corporate world for a little bit and just see if that’s a path that I should take. So I ended up in HR software implementation. I was a consultant for seven years, pretty unfulfilled. I realized I was going through the motions of life and just always looking forward to the weekend. And it was funny because in that world, the smallest things are the biggest deal. And so I think when you worked in senior living, you know the difference between life and death and that’s actually the biggest deal and if there’s a mistake on a spreadsheet to me, I could just never wrap my head around how this is that big of a deal.


And so, you know, it was just one of those things. Like I never felt like I took it serious enough because coming from, especially the home health background, I’m like, we’re not saving lives here. We’re implementing software. It’s really not that big of a deal. So I think I quickly realized I shouldn’t be in this space because I can’t take it seriously. And so kind of at that point, I had just turned 30. I realized I still had a long way to go in my working career and if I was unhappy and unfulfilled and missing my seniors, I should probably do something about that. So kind of went back to the drawing board. 


And last year I decided I missed training. I always went back to that job in my head. And it was just where I felt the multiple filled. It was fun. I love that there’s a prevention mindset with training. You’re helping to prevent major life events: falls and keeping people strong. And I liked being on that side of it. So I decided to get my personal training certification and my senior fitness specialist certification and quit my job right before the pandemic. So obviously COVID threw us all for a loop this year, but I officially launched the business in March and have been pretty much virtual for the most part as of now, but hoping to get more in person kind of as things progress. 


But yeah, my business is solely focused on seniors. I don’t train anybody under the age of 70. I, definitely, I have friends that are always like, can you train me or write me up a program? But I always say, no, it’s not where I want to be. Senior space is where I want to be. So that’s a long winded story about how to end up here.


Lucas: I love it. 


Josh: Yeah. Super cool story. And thanks for sharing that. And so glad you found senior living, senior living found you and through a series of events, you’re back in senior living where you belong. So transition us now you started this exciting company and congratulations on that launch what an awkward time to launch a business, right?  You’re right in the middle of COVID. So tell us a little bit about what that program that you have developed looks like for senior living companies and talk us through: let’s talk to the operators, the owners of the community that are caring for seniors, what are some resources and things that they can be doing to keep their residents active and healthy? And you touched on a great point, which so much of it is about preventing and strengthening to prevent that fall or that incident that we know oftentimes causes not only huge setbacks, but sometimes causes residents to leave the community and never return. So talk to us a little bit about what you’ve done and your vision for that for the senior care space.


Rachel: Yeah. So I think when I originally launched, I know anyone who works in senior living enjoys the in-person aspects the most, and that is what I had really planned on. I didn’t really plan on an online presence much at all. I did have a social media mindset because I wanted to share a story, but it wasn’t, I didn’t plan on teaching classes online. And that’s pretty much what the majority of my job has been the last six months. I teach a class called Sukin cardio, very fun. It’s a 30 minute strength focused class. And so what I offer is if you are a community and you are allowing small groups of say five or six people socially distanced right now, you can book a private class. And so I do offer public classes as well, where anyone can drop in. They’re only $5. So I try to make it really easy for every price point to be able to join those classes. But again, if you are a senior living community and you have some open socially distanced activities right now, you can book a private online session. So that’s just a great way to kind of keep some sort of activity going in your community. 


I think the hardest part, the part that I’m struggling with most with COVID is I completely understand, like we need to keep our seniors safe. We need to keep them away from this thing, but there’s also the other aspect of: what is this doing to their mental health? And I know I can’t speak to other states, I can only speak to what’s happening here in Colorado, but right now I met with a business development director at a local community here last week. And she’s like, I’d love to bring you in. I’d love to hire you for classes, but we’re still locked down. So in the state of Colorado, we still aren’t able to go in and do those types of classes in person. But I actually have a colleague in Washington who he is in person teaching classes like 10 classes a week and he hired me to do the programming. So he’s in person doing the classes and I’m just writing the workout for him. 


So in Washington they’re able to be in person. I know state to state, it just is very different. And so I think for my own seniors here in Colorado, I’m struggling with that because even if it’s just a class of five or six, just something, something you could sign up for, have it very spaced out, would be better than nothing. And I think seniors are just craving any sort of activity and some sort of stimulation right now. But the hardest part I think with being online is a lot of seniors don’t have access to a computer. I don’t know necessarily how to log onto zoom and set themselves up for a class so that the help that they would need to get onto a class, it’s pretty significant. And when I spoke with this business development director last week, she said, well, we’d love to help, but we would have to have all of our CNA staff logging people into these classes and so it’s just not really conducive to what they have going on. I mean, they have a thousand tasks that they’re juggling all at once. 


And so I think that’s the tough part is trying to balance keeping people safe, but also providing some sort of outlet. So it’s kind of for the people that are able to get onto the computer, get set up or have family maybe help them set up the online space is great. And at least it’s an outlet, but for the people that can’t do that, it’s just, it’s been tough. 


Josh: I can completely understand that. And I think one of the things you touched on, which is a pivot that our industry, our providers, all of us as providers are kind of coming to this reckoning with. And to be honest with you, I think COVID, with all of its negative things, for most providers who I believe are truly committed and they’re Ys match up with all of our Ys that we’ve been talking about, they’re in it for the right reasons. They’re starting to realize that resident engagement is not just about activity programming. It crosses over into the physical aspect. And so I know and I’m hoping that our listeners that are strategizing on what they do realize how critically important it is to keep the residents actively engaged in every aspect: physically, emotionally, spiritually, and that no matter what we have to do as operators to, even if it’s delivering that on a one to one in the resident rooms, through technology, through virtual sessions, like what you’re delivering, it’s kind of part of that care plan. And it should be as critically important as any other activity of daily living that we’re providing for. 


So tell me a little bit: how could, kind of in this new world that we’re living in, part of what you have done in the past and maybe are doing right now, is that you kind of pick up before and after maybe a therapy through a home health or an outpatient rehab type situation. You come in and can build a customized program either for community or for an individual to kind of bridge that gap, no pun intended, to keep them moving in the right direction. So how would you work with a home health agency, a community and an individual in this COVID era?


Rachel: Yeah. So I think I haven’t done that as much recently as I did in the past. My sole job in the past was to pick up basically where a therapist left off. And so they would write me an individualized care plan and say, stay away from this. You should do this, shouldn’t do this kind of thing. So I could basically build my programming off of the therapist recommendations. I think now with this new business, I haven’t been doing that quite as much. It’s been more focused on prevention. So I’ve been seeing people kind of before the issues, but I’m definitely not opposed to if there is somebody that, you know, runs out of therapy dollars and they want to hire a trainer to kind of continue that care plan. I’m absolutely happy to do that. I just haven’t had those scenarios come in yet.


But I think with my mindset and my focus with what I’m trying to do now  is really trying to prevent a lot of those horrible scenarios that we see so often in senior living. And so I put a big focus on strength, balance, and mobility for my clients. I think, and this again, I think maybe comes from the younger mindset. I think, you know, strength training has become a really big part of our culture. It’s how I keep myself in shape right now. And I feel like a lot of the senior programming styles have been very chair focused, very kind of like chair aerobics or chair, you know, just, it’s just nothing too super difficult. 


And what I’ve found is a lot of my clients have come to my classes and said, thank you for making something that’s not so easy.I think a lot of times people are afraid to program for seniors. They’re afraid that something’s going to be too difficult or maybe trigger heart attack  or some sort of episode if someone has some preexisting conditions. But I think you’d be surprised that you can actually program some more difficult things. And it’s actually beneficial for them, right? If you’re not challenging them, it’s not really helping them to grow in any sort of way. So I think with my mindset is I want to try to push the envelope a little bit with training, obviously within safe parameters. I’m not making anyone do anything crazy, but definitely trying to challenge people to do more weightlifting styles that someone my age would do and keeping techniques in mind that can translate to a senior. 


But then I also do focus a ton of my training on balance because as you all know, falls can be absolutely devastating to a senior. I think too many times I’ve seen someone completely healthy fall, break a hip, and then decline way faster than you would ever imagine. And so I think with bounce training, it’s one of those things where it’s not going to prevent every fall, right? But you’re working and you’re challenging these different balancing muscles to keep yourself healthy and to keep yourself able to kind of roll with the punches, I guess, that aging throws at you. And so it’s one of those things. I think it’s a skill you have to work on. If you don’t use it, you lose it. And so as our peripheral vision starts to go, our chances for falls, just keep going up. And so definitely I put that a big focus on my classes and my one-on-one instruction. I just think it’s super important to amplify that message. So that’s kinda what I focus on right now and kind of the methodology, I guess, that I use with my clients.


Josh: That’s awesome. So let me ask you in realizing that our industry is predominantly a state regulated industry, each state has dealt with this responding just a little bit different timeframes are different in an environment like so many of the communities are still not doing group exercise or group fitness. What if a community wants to have more of this personal training as I would refer to it that you provide in these exercise programs, individualized? Tell me exactly what the resident needs to have access to either in their apartment or what do they need to have in place to be able to connect with you?


Rachel: So for me specifically you could have a computer, a tablet or a smartphone. I use Zoom for my online classes and I know like you said, every state is different. So whether or not I could actually go in person to teach these classes is up to the state. But if you know what I’m trying to push and what I’m trying to encourage, anyone listening, if you are in a position to make these decisions is to at least allow the seniors within the community to maybe do some social different activities with the staff up there. And so you could even have five or six people set up in a room, very spread apart and have, you know, the activities coordinator or maybe a CNA or whoever set up a screen, right. And have it stream for the residents. They don’t have to have the equipment themselves, but then, you know, whoever is in the building could help them log on, get set up and you could teach a class that way. So I could still be virtual and not set foot in the building, but at least there’d be some assistance to get people logged on. Cause I think, like I said, that’s the biggest barrier I’ve seen is someone has to be pretty independent to be able to log on, get onto Zoom, set their camera or their computer or phone, or what have you, and then do the class. So if it’s a lot of little steps just to actually get to the class and even sign yourself up, right. 


So I think if there are people listening that have the power to do this, just even setting up some space where, you know, whatever group size that you deem appropriate could come together, have one person set up a class it would be beneficial and just offer him maybe spaced out throughout the week. That would be better than nothing. And so I think I’m just, I keep hearing all these stories about people who are missing their activity and missing their workout classes. And there really hasn’t been a big push to fill that void in my opinion, at least what I’m seeing. And so I think that would be a step in the right direction until we can get in person. Again,


Josh: I love that. Well, Lucas, I know our listeners are from a variety of different places in the U.S. and abroad and a variety of different types of providers. And I know some, their ears are perking up right now and thinking how in the world that we plug Rachel into what we’re wanting to do right now. 


Lucas: Yeah. Yeah. And I love that. I mean, we’re are months and months into this pandemic and I know that the residents, they are so desiring to have that interaction and to bring these programs back. And it’s, and the staff, I mean, my gosh, they’ve just been at this on the front lines for so long. So hopefully there is some light at the end of the tunnel here, and people like Rachel can get back into the communities to interact with, with these older adults. I mean, that’s one of the biggest values of congregate care is the interaction is the lack of isolation. When you’re stuck at home alone as an older adult, you know, you’re isolated and you’re outside people, interactions and stuff. And so that’s a huge value that senior living brings. So we’ve got to continue to pray and hope that these things open back up so Rachel and others can get back in the community and start living and providing services that impact the lives of older adults. 


Josh: And, meantime, what I love about what you’re doing as well is just with the little bit of simple effort and technology: basic internet basic computer or a tablet or something and a Zoom app people can connect to you even one-on-one, if that’s a requirement and it can be personalized. And I love that it’s interactive. I know there’s tons of opportunities and it’s great to have the YouTube videos and things like that, but to be able to actually have the engagement and see what that person’s going through, even communicate with them and help them improve. I love that about your program. And I know some of our listeners will as well,


Rachel: I will say too. I am a big music lover. And so I know a lot of these online classes, at least that I’ve seen, it’s really tough, like to stream you know, music in the background and have it actually come through clearly. And so I have a system down where I’ve got streamed music. I have a playlist, you can actually look it up on Spotify, if you have any interests. But it’s just Ridge Senior Fitness. And it’s all sorts of different music from the 40s to the 90s. And so it’s all different, fun songs that I like to use for my classes. But I think that in person that always brings such a different energy when there’s music and people can kind of sing along and dance. So even though it’s not a focus of my class, I’m not doing like dance cardio or anything. I think just having music in the background makes the class so much more fun. So I do put a big emphasis on that. And I haven’t really seen that as much, at least from different accounts that I follow that do similar types of programming. So I will say that’s one thing that I really try to focus on just cause I think personally it makes classes more fun. 


Josh: Oh man. Well, so crazy Josh just had an idea that yes, Lucas, I know you’re shaking your head right now and our listeners can’t see that, but Lucas and I have both probably gained the COVID-19 during the pandemic. Have you heard about that? It’s the 19 pounds or more. So we’ve both been talking about that offline. I think we might need your fitness. And now that you said that you’ve got the music down, this may be a future session that we book with you where you personal train Lucas and I to some boogie down music. Lucas is a musician as well and can sing probably whatever you play. 


Rachel: Amazing.


Josh: Are you down for that, Rachel? Lucas is down for that. Look at that grin. 


Lucas: I’ve got a leotard that would work out perfect for this and would really showcase my COVID-19 pounds very well on video. 


Rachel: There you go. With like some Elvis in the background and maybe a little Beyonce hands in there. 


Josh: I opened up the can here. That’s digressing quickly.


Lucas: People have just turned off the podcast. 


Josh: Yeah, absolutely. We just lost half our listeners. When you said leotard, I, you lost me there, Lucas. I’m forever scarred. 


Lucas: So yes, yes. 2020 everybody. It is. It is weird.


Rachel: It’s weird. It’s a weird year.


Josh: Oh my gosh. Well, Rachel, thank you so much for joining us today. This has been fun and awesome conversation, such a relevant topic. Congratulations, waitress to entrepreneur boss, lady. This is amazing. 


Rachel: Thank you so much! I appreciate it. 


Lucas: Well, we’ll make sure that we connect with Rachel in the show notes. I know our listeners are going to want to follow her on Instagram and check out all of her classes and different services that she provides there in Colorado. And you know, we’ll put all that in the show notes and follow you. We appreciate your time today, Rachel.


Rachel: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me on it was fun.


Lucas: All right. Rachel Ridgeway. Ridge Senior Fitness on the program. Thanks everybody for listening to another great episode of Bridge the Gap. 


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Ep. 137: Rachel Ridgeway