Chantal Ross-Thomas, Founder of The Firecracker Group of Companies, Trinidad & Tobago
Owner & CEO, The Firecracker Group of Companies: Fire Fitness Women’s Fitness Studio, Fire Fitness Road Running, FC Sport Management Group
Chantal Ross-Thomas, holds a MSc and BSc in Sports Management, magna cum laude, with a Minor in Business from Barry University, Florida. She is also an ISSA Certified Personal trainer, Specialist in Fitness Nutrition, Specialist in Sports Conditioning and a NASM Certified Corrective Exercise Specialist.
Chantal has over 11 years of experience as a sport administrator. She has held the post of 2nd Vice President of the Amateur Swimming Association of Trinidad and Tobago, headed various committees on the 2010 Local Organizing Committee for the FIFA Women’s Under 17 World Cup, UWI SPEC, and continues to do work with the Ministry of Sport.
Additionally, she is an experienced sport educator, having lectured in the Sport Studies undergraduate program at the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT). Outside the realm of sport, she has worked in purchasing, accounting and communications for organizations such as Courts Trinidad Limited, Pharmaco Industries and the University of Trinidad respectively.
Ross-Thomas is a former national swimmer of Trinidad and Tobago, and the recipient of the Arima Female Sports Personality award, 1994 (the youngest recipient, male or female, to date). She still holds 4 Trinidad and Tobago national records.
SB-C: Tell us how your entrepreneurial journey began? CR: I came from a fitness background. Having a dad as a Physical Education teacher and becoming a national swimmer at a very young age, while simultaneously participating in primary and secondary school track and field, fitness just became a part of my lifestyle. When I became pregnant with my son, I was looking for a specialized trainer or program in Arima (my hometown) that I could attend. There was none. It gave me the idea to start a program for pregnant women. Nine months after having my son, I gave birth to my second baby (as I like to call it), which soon blossomed into a program for all women – The Fire Fitness Women’s Studio.
My other business venture blossomed from there. I challenged some of the women at the studio to enter a 5k, they accepted the challenge, conquered and decided that they wanted to keep running outside of their studio hours. Additionally, men wanted to join in all of the fun, so the Fire Fitness (unisex) Road Running Club was formed. Basically, I was at a point in my life where I wanted to do meaningful work; so I decided to stick to what I know (sport) and began working to fill the gaps/serve the needs within my community.
SB-C: You speak very openly about your battles to lose weight. Why do you think weight and body shaming are such huge topics in women's lives? CR:It’s such a huge topic because there isn’t enough/proper representation through media/magazine outlets of what a real woman looks like. Many of us have grown up playing with Barbie dolls (and her perfect proportions) and admiring the models on the cover of magazines or red carpets. We were brainwashed to believe that, that alone is the standard of beauty and even worse, health. If you do not fit the mold, you become subject to the shaming, which is nonsense. Although I do not advise people to live unhealthy lifestyles, I am happy for the body activists and social media/blogging of such info, that people can now admit that there is something wrong with the one mold fits all stereotype.
SB-C: You experienced many setbacks what kept you motivated when you could have easily given up? CR:Although many people may start their fitness journey for aesthetic or medical reasons; they will soon realize that the fitness journey is about mastering one self. Constantly trying to rid myself of bad habits and challenge myself with new and improved ones is what keeps me going.
SB-C: Is a fitness journey about losing weight or about shedding emotional baggage which is preventing us from being our best? CR: People pursue fitness for all kinds of interesting reasons; but the common thread with all of my clients is that the fitness journey is about mindset shifting: valuing yourself, becoming disciplined, challenging yourself and being open to new possibilities; which in turn leads to the goal of losing weight or shedding some emotional baggage.
SB-C: Your company Firecracker serves women. Is there a reason you chose to focus mainly on women? CR:Gyms generally favor men. I felt that the fitness market wasn’t completely meeting the needs of women. Based on observation and conversations with other women, I realized that even women that are in great shape, feel self-conscious about their bodies or are intimidated by the fitness equipment or size of the facility. I have seen the way that some trainers ignore fuller women. I wanted to create a space where women were encouraged to feel comfortable in their skin, as well enjoy the fitness journey. Fire Fitness is a woman’s fitness safe haven. Not only do you get a professional service, you get to meet people who truly understand what you’re going through and are there to help you on your journey.
SB-C: What is your take on fitness in the Caribbean? CR: I think it’s an exciting time. Over the last decade, our universities throughout the Caribbean have been offering more courses dedicated to sport management and exercise science. Additionally, persons working in critical support services e.g. physiotherapy, athletic training etc are returning to the Caribbean, which has created a lot more professionals in the industry. Some of these professionals are being hired in longstanding firms, while the others are forming their own businesses. They’ve begun to disrupt the system in a positive way. I look forward to seeing more sport/fitness tourism initiatives, sport scholarship opportunities for the youth and innovation in sport/fitness products.
SB-C: What next for your business? CR: We will continue to serve the needs of women and improve those services. Soon we will be bringing road running to the youth, with the goal of creating scholarship opportunities for them. SB-C: What type of encouragement do you have for women interested in starting a business in the health and fitness field? CR:GO FOR IT!! It may be the riskiest thing you’ve ever done but it’ll be worth it. Speak up. It’s a male dominated field, so you’ll need to find your voice. Don’t hustle for money, find a way to add value.
Support is important! In this field, you will be required to work odd and long hours at times. To maintain family /work life balance or in general, your sanity:
you will need a team to help you manage the business and one to help you manage your personal life e.g. babysitter/personal assistant.
Schedule in important family dates or activities into your planner just like business.
Select your team slowly; don’t pick people because you’re desperate for help. Make sure they’re competent enough to do their job and a bit more. I refuse to micro-manage.
Rest is important. A lot of times we feel like we need to do it all, and all at once. I have learned the hard way that to be a good mother and leader, sometimes I just need to put the work down or stop planning in general and just relax and be present in the moment.