Fitness entrepreneur, founder/CEO of Venus Inspires and former UW-Madison track and field athlete Venus Washington incorporates mindfulness into her clients’ fitness plan to create a transformative experience.
“It’s so much more than just being fit in your body, your physical body. It’s about being inspired from within,” she says.
Washington offers her clients personal training, life coaching, and health and fitness coaching where she examines their relationship with food. She is also an advocate for mental and emotional well-being. During her time in Madison, she has expressed the importance of wellness to families and individuals across the community.
Washington, a Milwaukee native, attended the university on a track and field scholarship and served as team captain for two years. She competed as both a sprinter and long jumper, earning the Badger Award given to exemplary athletes as a senior in 2008.
“I thought I was going to be a basketball player because that’s what you usually see. You don’t usually see to many people in the hood, which is where I’m from, getting track scholarships,” she says.
When Washington arrived at the University in 2003, she was not quite sure what she wanted to study. She explored a variety of different majors and career paths for herself.
“After I came to UW running track, I had no idea what I wanted to do,” Washington says.
She thought about pursuing a career as a doctor, lawyer or even a social worker. Washington even thought about working within educational policy but eventually would earn her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and Social Work.
“When I graduated I thought I was going to get Teach for America and that’s when I was going to do educational policy but then I didn’t,” she says.
After briefly feeling disappointed, Washington accepted a job offer as an assistant strength and conditioning coach at Coffeyville Community College in Coffeyville, Kansas. She also coached student athletes in sprints, jump, and hurdles. She enjoyed coaching and would remain in Kansas for about a year before returning to Wisconsin.
When Washington returned to Madison with her then-fiancee and daughter. After acclimating herself to the community again, she found herself working as the Head Varsity Track Coach for Madison East High School.
“Then, people started asking me about workouts, so I went and got certified,” Washington says.
She began training two student athletes who played soccer, as well as a sick coworker who pushed her to start her own business. Initially hesitant, Washington became the Owner and C.E.O. of R U FIT, a mobile wellness company that helps make health and fitness accessible for those on the go, founded in 2012.
After receiving her personal training certification, Washington says “life happened.” She decided to leave her job at Madison East as well as her partner, and jumped into personal training full time. She embraced her new career choice with optimism.
“All I had was my certification and skills so I was going to every gym in Madison. I went to every gym to apply, did not get hired,” Washington says.
She could not even find a part-time position so she decided to launch her training career as an independent consultant. Washington began relying on her personal network, contacting people she knew, and visiting individuals’ homes for training sessions.
“I did that for a little bit but was not charging enough because first off, you don’t know,” she says.
Soon after, Washington formed a fitness group and began offering classes in a church building. Then, she began going into the community and doing family fitness activities. Washington then noticed her clients would bring emotional baggage into their sessions which would affect their health and fitness.
“I always noticed my clients would come, they always had something going on and some of them wouldn’t be consistent. I could train, I could have a great program but then the mind wasn’t right,” she says.
Washington then went to go get certified as a life coach and health coach. She started practicing mindfulness, which she incorporated from her own practice. Washington says we often have an idea of what we want our lives to look like and when life does not look that way, we feel saddened.
“Once you get into a cycle of negative thinking, you just go into this deep spiral into depression, you just stay there,” she says.
Washington experienced this first hand after leaving her partner and job. She found that mindfulness allowed her to feel empowered and helped her not feel like a victim. Washington wanted to offer this experience to her clients. In September 2014, Washington would be honored with the “Legacy Award” at the annual Black Women’s Wellness Day for her work in the community.
She offers several community courses that are free and open to the public, including Monday and Thursday nights at Badger Rock Middle School. Washington also works with senior women Tuesday and Thursday afternoons through a free exercise class offered through the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at the South Madison Partnership in Villager Mall.
“You can learn how to practice sitting with yourself even when you’re dealing with a lot of deep emotions. You can take bites and pieces of yourself that you can take on. You can take five minutes,” Washington says.
She encourages people to listen to their bodies and allow their emotions to pass. Washington says emotions should not be bottled in or locked away but observed. She also says a lot of time people spend time hiding their emotions, which harm them more.
“We should be sharing because our trials or things we are ashamed of can help somebody else,” Washington says.
Truth gives us power, Washington says. Washington says we have to expose ourselves in order to experience growth so when she encourages her clients to “push away the thing holding you back” in a workout, she means it both metaphorically and physically.