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Meet Leah Ousley of LRO Fitness in Fulton Market District

Today we’d like to introduce you to Leah Ousley.

Leah, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I’m originally from Alabama, an Auburn graduate and have worked in sales for a variety of companies. I put my heart and soul into every company I worked for, but always desired more satisfaction at the end of each day. Eventually, I decided to take a leap of faith and left corporate America to teach Pilates and later Posture Alignment Therapy.

In 2002, I was living in Mobile, Alabama, selling advertising for a sports radio station. I always knew I wanted to live in a bigger city and after researching and visiting a few, I decided on Chicago. In less than two months, I sold my home in Alabama, resigned from my job, found an apartment and moved north. Shortly after my move, I started a sales position in the pharmaceutical industry. I remained in this role for over 7 years where I met and exceeded sales quotas, won awards, was promoted, made a good income, had stellar benefits, all the while making lifelong friends.

A few years later my life took a sudden shift when I was diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma brain tumor that required surgical resection. The physical and emotional road to recovery was long and difficult. At age 30 I was faced with learning how to walk again, complete hearing loss in one ear and severe balance and coordination issues. About a year post op I discovered Pilates, and started taking private lessons which played a crucial role in my recovery over the upcoming years.

At the time, I was still in the pharmaceutical industry, but knew deep down that I needed more fulfilling work. I did a lot of soul searching and finally decided to enroll in a Pilates teacher training program at Flow Studios in Chicago. The course was extremely intense and time consuming on top of working full time. A few months into the curriculum my instructor and owner of the studio, pulled me aside and asked what I was planning to do after completing my certification. My reply was that I would like to teach Pilates. She shared that she saw potential in me and believed I could make a career out of teaching. Of course I was beaming that my instructor and a studio owner for 15 plus years recognized this potential.

I knew I had to figure out how to make this happen and made the decision to resign from my current position and I have not once looked back. In life, once I make decisions I figure out how to move forward and only look back for past experiences that will help me.

In 2010, I was offered a “commission only” Pilates Instructor Position at Fitness Formula Clubs where I was responsible for generating my own client base. Promoting a service to someone was not new to me; however teaching Pilates and proper movement mechanics was. I arrived promptly every morning before 6am and often didn’t leave until 9 o’clock at night. I utilized my sales background and offered every member a complimentary Pilates session. It wasn’t long before I’d built a solid client base and was humbled by the number of members who took a chance with me given I was a new instructor.

After my first year, I was honored to win a company-wide award as Pilates Trainer of the year. With a strong business background I always knew I would branch out on my own, but never pressured myself with timing. In January of 2013 I started my own fitness company, LRO Fitness LLC, where I rented space in several studios in downtown Chicago, taught clients in their homes, their businesses and did corporate group fitness work. I continued this model for four years gaining new clients only through word of mouth and personal referrals and was even given the opportunity to teach Pilates in front of thousands of people at the Millennium Park Summer Workouts Series.

Last year, I realized I needed more of a professional challenge, but didn’t know exactly what shape it would take. Opening doors to my own studio was not the first thing that crossed my mind, but it’s what came to be. After calculating the numbers I began searching for a space to house LRO Fitness and its clients. I looked at a prospective space located at 218 North Jefferson Street in the Fulton Market District and immediately knew it was meant to be. I signed a lease, purchased equipment and opened doors 19 days later!

LRO Fitness’s new location happened due to the support of every client I am fortunate enough to work with. They are the sole reason I’m here today and I continue to be overwhelmed by their excitement and support for me. My clients motivate me to be to my best and I am eternally grateful for them and my dear friends who helped make the transition happen quickly and seamlessly.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Leaving a secure career that enabled a stable lifestyle, to then start over from scratch making money only when I filled a given time slot was a challenge. For the first time in my life, I truly loved my work so I gave up a lot of things I enjoyed during the first few years. I worked 7 days a week and never turned down a client opportunity no matter the time or day. Slowly over time, I achieved more balance between my personal and professional life.

As I’ve opened doors to my own studio, I’m learning what parts of managing the business I enjoy and the parts that I don’t. Right now, I wear all the hats and am figuring out which ones need to be outsourced. It’s difficult to do everything (marketing, sales, bookkeeping, web design, etc).

The biggest challenge I face each day is how to be better than the day before. How can I provide each client with the best possible experience in every session? What can I do different? How can I make more of an impact? If I continue to ask these questions and be a critic of my own work then I’m confident I’ll continue to be successful helping clients function better and reach their wellness goals.

LRO Fitness – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
LRO Fitness is a Pilates and Posture Alignment Studio. I’m trained to teach on all the Pilates apparatus, mat and have a personal training background as well. In 2016, I pursued and completed a Posture Alignment Specialist certification through Egoscue University.

A Posture Alignment Specialist is trained to restore posture to its natural alignment in order to improve function and help eliminate pain. I was initially introduced to this method through one of my clients who generously gifted me a session. During the first thirty minutes of my own posture session I was amazed to find that the method provided a missing link with my present work. The client education component comes in the first session and allows them to understand that the site of the pain is seldom the source of the pain. Clients visually see how their body is presently aligned and how it is ideally designed to align.

Anyone who suffers from chronic pain or has physical limitations during daily activity can absolutely benefit from this therapy. Our bodies should be balanced from front to back, right to left and top to bottom. For various reasons we can deviate from this alignment leading to compensations and pain. No one wants to live in pain if they can learn how to first avoid it and them remedy it!

While Pilates is the foundation and the vessel for allowing me to work with the human body, my curiosity about improving biomechanics is what’s kept me motivated to enrich my career with countless continuing education courses. My number one priority is my clients’ well-being and furthering my knowledge to help them function better has always been non-negotiable. The greatest part of my work is to see the impact is has with my clientele and to watch them improve their overall health and live with less pain.

What sets me apart from others in my industry is my ability to effectively communicate information to a variety of personalities. Clients ask specific questions to which they want specific answers. My role is to relate to my clients in a beneficial way so they can understand and enable themselves to view the body as a whole functioning unit. It’s a mutual relationship and I learn as much from them as they learn from me. I don’t teach any given repertoire or in a specific order, instead I choose movements and exercises based on my assessment of the body that’s in front of me that day that hour.

It’s also critical to have a network of health professionals to which I can refer clients. I look at posture, how bodies move and figure out how to make them more efficient. I’ve developed a good eye for this skill, but always ask myself what’s in the best interest of the client. Should they work with a physical therapist, manual therapist, or a medical specialist? On occasion, I’ve lost clients by referring out, but it’s about what’s best for them not me.

I’m very proud of my clients. They are a diverse group of individuals ranging in ages and backgrounds that make time in a stressful world to see me in order take better care of themselves. Clients trust that I’m guiding them to make the best decisions for their bodies and that provides me with immense satisfaction.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
Opening the doors to LRO Fitness Studio at 218 North Jefferson Street along with my clients’ excitement and support for my new venture.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Vernell Garrett

Getting in touch: VoyageChicago is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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