Carol Frazey, founder of Fit School, Inc., knows firsthand the importance of a good coach. During her middle school years in rural Pennsylvania, she struggled with making good choices. “I was hanging out with the wrong people, doing the wrong things,” she recalls. Then she discovered something she was good at — running. “Finding cross-country saved my life. I had a really good coach who guided me gently in the right direction.”
A passion for coaching
As Carol’s abilities and self-confidence grew, she went on to run Division One cross-country and track and field at Penn State. She became a teacher and coached middle school track and cross-country. It didn’t take her long to realize that coaching was her life’s calling, so she pursued her M.S. in kinesiology (the scientific study of human movement) at the University of Colorado, focusing on the psychological aspects of competition.
Carol and her husband Paul moved to Bellingham in 2000, and their first child was born soon after. Looking for ways to pursue her passion and recalling the escalating rates of childhood obesity she had observed while teaching, Carol started a newsletter subscription for schools, teaching about nutrition and exercise and focusing on things that families could do together. With more than 100 schools across the country subscribing, the Fit School Newsletter is still going strong.
Her “aha” moment
As Carol’s kids grew older, she started running regularly with a group of local women. “One day we were running, having a deep discussion, and I realized how easy it was to talk about things,” Carol recalls. “Sometimes it’s easier to talk when you’re not looking face to face, but doing something focused, like running on a trail.”
As Carol turned to her running friends and said, “More women need this!” she realized what her next mission would be.
Carol put out a call on Facebook, and in January 2011, her first Fit School class began with six students. Before long, Genevie Roguski at Fairhaven Runners & Walkers took notice and asked her to lead a class in conjunction with the store.
My Fit School experience
It was at a Fairhaven Runner’s introductory class that I first met Carol and got a taste for her Fit School coaching style. I’d taken a couple runners’ training classes before and felt a bit out of my league, so I was slightly apprehensive. I didn’t start running until my 40s, and my pace is on the slow side.
But Carol kept it fun and light, and by the time our one-hour track session was over, I was impressed with her running tips and with the easy camaraderie of the group. I signed up for the next Fit School session, a six-week, 12-workout commitment.
When I showed up at Civic Field for my first workout, we began by walking around the track, warming up and introducing ourselves. Coach Carol gathered us together and shared her three ground rules:
- Don’t say anything negative about yourself. If you do, you have to say three awesome things about yourself in front of everyone.
- Go your own pace. Don’t compare yourself to others.
- Be selfish with your time. Give yourself an hour a day to do your thing.
Next was the one-mile time trial. My pace was faster than I anticipated, an instant boon to my confidence. We did a bit more track work, then hit the field for some drills, followed by a three-minute core workout and stretching. It was a good workout, but not a grueling, boot camp-style experience. I was hooked.
Your goals, your pace
A gentle approach is at the core of Carol’s coaching philosophy. “It’s not pushing you to an extreme, it’s gradually building you from where you began at your own pace,” she says. “The sense of community that the women bring makes for a really supportive environment. It’s not competitive at all.”
Over the next few weeks, as I got to know Carol and my fellow Fit Schoolers, I was struck by the diversity of our group — from power-walking half marathoners to sub-eight-minute-milers, we embody a wide range of ages, abilities and intentions. But for two mornings every week, we come together to work on improving at our own paces — and to cheer each other on. Any event completed, be it a 5K or full marathon, is shared and celebrated by the group.
Fellow Fit Schooler Carole Foldenauer recently ran the local Turkey Trot 5K. Like me, she has run her share of half marathons, but her goals have changed over the years. “I exercise for increased functional strength and stress relief. I want fresh air, camaraderie, encouragement and the helpful instructions of a wise fitness coach,” she says. “The workout is challenging but not punishing. We work at our own pace while slowly but steadily getting stronger and fitter.”
Kate Adad began running less than two years ago but already has 13 races under her belt, including four half marathons. “Not only has my form and pace improved since taking Carol’s class, but she’s helped me to believe in my abilities as a runner and achieve whatever goals I set for myself,” Kate says. “I’m not sure I could have done all this without the support of Carol and her program.”
A community of runners and walkers
Carol has coached more than 600 local women since 2011. And as the Fit School community continues to grow, she cultivates it with a private Facebook group where members can share stories and and photos and find regular opportunities for running or volunteering at local events. I recently helped out at the Girls on the Run 5K and had a blast running with hundreds of local girls and their families.
Carol often encounters Fit School members running together on the local trails. “That’s the greatest thing for me to see,” she says. “Seeing women from my classes in a group, out and about. That brings me so much joy, and it’s what I wanted it to be about.”
Carol’s contributions to the local community were recently recognized when she was nominated for Professional Woman of the Year by Whatcom Women in Business. Accompanied by an entourage of Fit School followers, she thoroughly enjoyed the award ceremony.
When asked by the awards committee about her bucket list goals, Carol recounts, “My answer was to get one million women empowered through running. I don’t know how that’s going to happen, but I feel like it’s my calling.” When pressed about the lofty number, she holds firm. “If I hit it, I hit it. If I’m done, I won’t know.”