Karen Hill grew up thinking she’d never be an athlete, thinking it would be tough even to stay in shape. That’s because of an abnormality in her heart that got so bad when she was 25, doctors had to literally stop her heart. No surprise, that was something of an ah-ha moment for the finance worker who moved to Charlotte when she was 7 years old. Now 34, she did something somewhat unexpected: She opened her own fitness studio – First Wind Cycling & Fitness. We’re excited to chat with our newest FACE of Charlotte, Karen Hill, about how perspective can make all the difference.

Karen Hill, owner of First Wind Cycling and today's FACE of Charlotte

Karen Hill, owner of First Wind Cycling & Fitness and today’s FACE of Charlotte

Tell us about First Wind Cycling & Fitness.

It is a small fitness studio for the everyday guy or gal. Our mission is to help people improve their lives through fitness and wellness. We believe strongly in having fun and being healthy. We offer cycling, barre, strength, kickboxing and yoga classes as well as personal training.

What sets it apart from other fitness studios?

We are all about the community, and we truly are a place for everyone. After a procedure to correct an abnormality in my heart, I started really getting into fitness, but I felt really uncomfortable at the gym and in group fitness classes. I’m not fast, and I never will be. I couldn’t move as quickly as other people or do as much, and I often had to stop so I didn’t pass out. Over time, I got more comfortable in my own skin and put my fears aside, but I wanted to open a place where no one felt uncomfortable in a place where they should feel happy and excited about the great things they are doing for themselves. Fitness should make everyone feel good. It shouldn’t be a place of fear or self-doubt.

Karen has created an environment in which she hopes all of her clients can feel comfortable and welcome.

Karen has created an environment in which she hopes all of her clients can feel comfortable and welcome.

What made you open a fitness studio?

I grew up with heart disease and struggling with fitness. I couldn’t do much, and I got tired really easily. When I was 25, I had a procedure done to correct an abnormality in my heart. A few years after my surgery, I was still having problems and was diagnosed with another condition that affects my heart, vascular and muscular system. This made an active lifestyle difficult, but I had made the decision to live a healthy lifestyle and I didn’t give up. I started walking a lot, then running, then climbing stairs, then riding a bike. I was taking fitness classes regularly. I finally decided I wanted to open my own cycling studio.

What has been the most rewarding part of starting this business?

Seeing other people’s lives change. It has been amazing to see people go from a place of inactivity to transforming not only their bodies, but their lives. People fall in love with fitness and wellness in our studio and change the way they do things. I’ve had members run their first half and full marathons after joining our studio. I’ve had members tell me that their family now goes for walks together and is eating healthier together. I’ve had members tell me they go for a walk with their dog now when they get home from work instead of sitting on the couch. These are the things that make everything worth it. It has also opened up the world of public speaking for me, so I get to share my message. That has been really meaningful for me.

Karen didn't anticipate she would be leading such a physically active life given her heart condition, and yet now she owns a fitness studio, runs 10ks and leads classes as a fitness instructor.

Karen didn’t anticipate she would be leading such a physically active life given her heart condition, and yet now she owns a fitness studio, runs 10ks and leads classes as a fitness instructor.

What’s the most challenging part of a new business?

Being an entrepreneur is hard work, and I have had a few major difficult life events happen since we opened the studio. Life doesn’t stop to give you time to focus, and it’s been very hard to keep going all the time when you and your heart are being pulled in other directions.

You’re newly engaged. How are you fitting that in with all that you already have going on?! (And how is wedding planning going?)

Oh boy… haha … First let me say that I am incredibly excited about getting married. I have somehow found myself with the perfect guy. As far as fitting in the planning, I am just doing what I’ve always done. I complete tasks as they come up, and I keep moving!

What are some of the fitness trends you’re seeing?

I think a lot of people are starting to look at fitness as something more than picking things up and putting things down or training like they’re going into the military. People want to have fun, be healthy for the long haul and find a community. I hope 2018 is the year of giving up workouts we don’t like doing and finding something we enjoy!

Karen's dedication and commitment to putting one foot in front of the other — literally and figuratively — is completely inspiring!

Karen’s dedication and commitment to putting one foot in front of the other — literally and figuratively — is completely inspiring!

What’s your best piece of advice?

Take small steps and keep going. I didn’t set out to open a fitness studio. I set out to walk two miles to work, and I just kept taking small steps until I was running 10ks, climbing the stairs to the top of big buildings, cycling farther than I thought I could and teaching fitness classes. I apply this to everything I do in life. I start with small steps because those are things I can do today. All of those small steps add up, and one day, you find yourself at the top of the staircase and realize what it was all for.

Aside from faith, family and friends, what three things can’t you live without?

Puppy kisses, warm weather and a platform — I need a way to talk to, connect with and inspire people.

Thank you to Karen for sharing a look into what inspires and motivates you. And thank you to Piper Warlick of Piper Warlick Photography for the fabulous photography. 

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Meet more amazing Charlotte women in our FACES archives! Prepare to be inspired!

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