After walking forty long blocks through downtown Calgary one afternoon in the fall of 2012, Kyle Shewfelt pondered a big question: ‘What am I doing?’
The 2004 Olympic gymnastics champion had just finished an interview with an executive search team, after years of dabbling in various post-retirement ventures like real estate, life coaching and teaching yoga. The interview was supposed to lead to a corporate job, one with security and predictability. But as soon as he left he knew something about the idea wasn’t right.
“During that walk I had to ask myself what I was doing,” recalls Shewfelt. “For four years after Beijing I was just floating, going from thing to thing. I didn’t have a focal point. I was lost and had no accountability.” Finding a place to land seemed like the right thing to do.
Still, an idea he’d had years earlier lingered in the back of his mind. Throughout his career Shewfelt admired many of the great American gymnasts, several of whom had opened their own gyms. “I looked up to these guys who had won Olympic gold and also created a legacy after their careers,” he says. He was inspired to one day open his own gym too.
He went so far as to declare the idea to long-time friend Krystal Boychuk at a house party when they were in their early twenties. “He turned to me and said, ‘I’m going to open a gym one day and you’re going to be my director,’” recalls Boychuk with a laugh. At the time she agreed wholeheartedly, not knowing that one day the deal would come to fruition.
Shewfelt wasn’t sure it would either and there were times when he seriously doubted his capacity to take the leap into entrepreneurship. “I wanted to open a gym, but I didn’t have the courage,” he confesses. “I didn’t know what it would take.”
Ultimately, his vision galvanized around a recurring memory from his days as a young, aspiring Olympian, training four hours every afternoon then coming home to eat and do his homework. He was extraordinarily meticulous and conscientious in his training and schoolwork, but once a month his gymnastics magazine subscription would arrive and at that moment, he dropped everything until he read it cover to cover.
That memory reminded Shewfelt of how much he loved gymnastics. “That wasn’t fake,” he exclaims. “The sport brought me so much joy and when I finally reconnected with that everything became very clear.”
By the end of his long walk Shewfelt, now 36, made the bold decision that would chart his life’s course – he was going to open his own gym. “I’m not a corporate guy,” he explains. “I needed to be my own boss. I was willing to push past the fear and I could see my future as that gym.”
With the vision in his mind he called Boychuk, who at the time was home raising her two young children. Within minutes they had a deal and from that point on Shewfelt dove full tilt into crafting a business plan, working sixteen hours a day to make it a reality.
After finding the perfect location in the spring of 2013, things got serious. Shewfelt secured funding and audited a number of entrepreneurship classes at Mount Royal University. Those experiences, he says, finally gave him the confidence to become an entrepreneur.
“I was successful in sport because I was willing to work harder than anyone, to do whatever it takes,” he says. “I’m the same in business.”
Less than a year after that fateful decision, Shewfelt opened his gym in south Calgary, Kyle Shewfelt Gymnastics. It differs from other centres because the focus is purely recreational, something Shewfelt knew he wanted from the outset. “I did the competitive thing, I didn’t want that in my life,” he says. “I looked at the market and knew there were so many great competitive gyms in Calgary.”
Instead, Shewfelt sends those with competitive potential to other gyms and stays rooted in his grassroots approach to the sport. “By opening the gym, Kyle has created a space for everyone, all ages and abilities,” declares Boychuk, the gym’s Program Director. “That’s his legacy.”
Of course, Shewfelt’s legacy in gymnastics is widely known and admired. He’s the only Canadian Olympic medalist in the sport with a gold in the men’s floor exercise in 2004 and his heroic feat of coming back from breaking both his legs just eleven months prior to the 2008 Games in Beijing further cemented his position as one of Canada’s greatest, and grittiest, athletes of all time.
But now it’s his legacy as a community builder, entrepreneur, mentor, volunteer, husband and father that gets Shewfelt out of bed every morning.
He is keenly aware that what made him successful in sport is the same as what drives him in life today: a deep well of intrinsic motivation and an extraordinary degree of conscientiousness. What is perhaps most remarkable about Shewfelt though, is his boundless energy, enthusiasm and optimism that bubble over into every aspect of his life.
“He’s serious and very business savvy,” remarks Boychuk. “But he’s also a lot of fun! Sometimes he will just crank up the tunes in the office when we’re working and we’ll have a big dance party right in the middle of the day.” Adding, “He’s one a of kind.”
Shewfelt says he is perpetually chasing the best version of himself and has a keen self-awareness that guides his quest, recognizing he’s just about there. “I’ve reconnected with my purpose,” he says joyfully. “I feel that I’m doing exactly what I was meant to do.”
Canadian Sport Institute Calgary: @csicalgary
Written by Kristina Groves: @kngrover