Laura Pritchard-Compton grew up in a rural Southwest Virginia town that had more cows than people, graduating from high school in a class of only 35 students. An early passion for fitness kept her out of trouble and focused on her academic goals, leading her to the University of Virginia (for both undergraduate and graduate degrees), where she worked with athletes in the strength and conditioning room and ultimately earned two NCAA Championship rings as the Head Strength Coach for the Men’s Tennis team. She took a year off to serve in Mission Year, which placed her in an Atlanta community where she volunteered with a local church and coached girls basketball at the local high school. This year of service transformed her and helped her to understand the challenges felt by members of the community, one of which was the need for a safe place to work out. Her experience inspired her to start Urban Perform (UP), a non-profit gym that makes fitness accessible to underserved Atlanta communities where the harsh realities of poverty, high crime rates, and low walkability create significant barriers to exercise. After running UP from a church warehouse space for almost two years while still working in a full-time role at Mission Year, UP renovated an old gas station to create their own space and is now serving more than 1000 residents through its programs each year. Laura believes that exercise has the power to change lives and is dedicated to ensuring that people have the access they need to be healthy.
When did you know you wanted to pursue your business or venture? I knew I wanted to pursue creating a safe place for exercise for my community. When I hesitated on the opportunity, my mom reminded me that in any community, privileged or not, positive change won’t happen unless the community supports it. She made me see that my community was expressing their desire for a need to be met, and that I had the ability, the means, the education, and the passion to do so, and shame on me if I did not. My mom’s response was both the inspiration and the kick in the butt that I needed to get started.
Did your original business plan change along the way or are you doing exactly what you set out to do? If it changed, how so? The original business plan has evolved over time, but our mission has stayed the same: to make exercise opportunities accessible and affordable to low-income families. Originally, we thought we would have many physical locations that serve multiple communities. Over time, we’ve realized the value in creating mobile wellness programs that meet people where they are: at schools, after-school programs, apartments, and churches. It is the most impactful and scalable way for us to serve and grow.
What makes you different from your competition? Urban Perform is most often compared to YMCA, but our model is different. YMCA offers a sliding scale pay structure based on income, where we offer a flat rate pay structure. The decision to have a flat rate payment system came from our community members, who were quick to note that the Y did not survive in the neighborhood. Forcing someone to prove their income in order to exercise, when they weren’t even sure that fitness was something they valued in the first place, was not going to work in our community. At UP, the first visit is free and all visits after are only $2. Our monthly plans make it even more affordable, plus there are no initiation or cancellation fees.
Tell us about a time when you thought you should throw in the towel. What kept you going? Oh wow! I am quite familiar with this feeling…it creeps up when I am so overwhelmed that it feels like I’m drowning. A few months after having my son, I felt like I wanted to just burn the thing down (but of course, I would never do that). UP was growing so fast and I felt like I just couldn’t get ahead. What kept me going: 1. My son. I want him to be proud of my life and career choices. 2. Community members’ lives are being changed. Residents are losing weight, lowering their blood pressure, and feeling healthier. 3. Residents constantly thank me. When community members show their gratitude for Urban Perform, it gives me energy for days!
What three factors have most contributed to your success in business and in life? 1. A strong work ethic. I am naturally a doer. I grew up in a home with two parents and an older brother who modeled what it meant to work hard and take pride in your accomplishments. They instilled in me the value of getting things done. 2. Constantly seeking advice from people with more and different experience. I love to learn from women and men I admire. There is no need to reinvent the wheel, so why not learn from those with more experience? 3. People are important. Relationships matter and take time to maintain and grow. I greatly value my friends and family. I don’t always do this well, but I make an effort to put my family first.
If you could have a one-on-one meeting with any woman, who would it be and why? What’s the first thing you would you ask her? Michelle Obama. She values exercise and believes in stopping the obesity epidemic. I would ask her, “What’s next? What do you plan to do once you leave the White House?”
I wish someone had told me… You will say the same thing, on repeat, multiple times a day, every day, for years! You will feel like you are going crazy, but this is normal. Keep telling your story, with the same excitement, each and every time.
I gave up ________ to pursue my dream: Traveling.
My biggest challenge is… Trusting myself. As a verbal processor, I often want to talk through things over and over. I like to do this with co-workers and board members, but they don’t always need to process it with me.
“I am learning to trust myself and my own experiences.”
My proudest professional moment to date is… Anytime a community member says thank you or shares their story of how Urban Perform has impacted their life!
LET’S GET PERSONAL:
The three words that best describe me are… Intentional. Passionate. Inclusive.
While on vacation I always… Exercise. In my daily life, I am usually on a time constraint and don’t often get to exercise the way I want. On vacation, I take time to exercise for as long as I want each day.
My beauty routine consists of… Air-dried hair (I am a total minimalist)!
My tips for eating healthy during the workday are… Pack snacks!
My favorite type of workout is… Interval runs and Olympic lifting.
A teacher or boss who influenced me is… Mrs. Owens, my English teacher at Senate Page School. I came into her class having read zero books on the reading list because they were not assigned at my previous high school. I thought for sure that I was going to fail her class because I was not smart enough. She told me that it was OK that I had never read the books, because the most important thing was to do her assignments. I got an A in her class and won a ‘Most Improved’ award. She taught me the importance of hard work.
I rejuvenate by… Hanging out with close friends.
Lately I’m inspired by… The art of contemplative prayer.
Being a mom and an entrepreneur means… Mastering the art of being present in every moment of each day.
Tell us what LIVING THE DREAM means to you: Living the dream means intentionally living. Living in a way that values relationships with people. Living in a way that puts others before you. Living in way that brings beauty to the world.
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Images: [Fred Perry + Hyosub Shin]