We had the good fortune of connecting with Marshelle Johnston (MJ) and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Marshelle, what do you attribute your success to?
MJ Fit is a gym exclusively for women and children, with the mission of “inspiring women and children to be strong.” Because we have such a niche gym, we get to work with women who would not otherwise be comfortable in a gym, and those who appreciate being surrounded by other strong, empowered, and driven ladies! MJ Fit is vibrant and bold, both in personality and in ambiance, with teal, lime green, and black being our color scheme. All of our coaches hold nationally accredited certifications, and most of our team members also have a fitness-related degree. We require our coaches to get continuing education credits each year, and we provide support by reimbursing them for these educational opportunities.
I started my business at 23, without any financial assistance or start-up capital. I tried to get funding through banks, but was denied by all I approached, and was told to “come back in 2 years after starting the business.” So, I decided to be resourceful by devising a plan to open my gym with the money I had from my training business I was operating while subletting at a gym. Once I found my perfect location, and signed a lease with a terrifying monthly rent, I started the buildout. I traded gym services for the labor, bought all the supplies myself, spent countless hours in the gym hanging dry wall, framing walls, painting, cleaning, installing flooring, etc, so I have literally shed blood, sweat, and tears in MJ Fit while building my dream. This strategy to create my business, has me extremely emotionally invested, and I will continue to dedicate myself to MJ Fit to give more women and children the opportunity to get stronger and healthier with us!
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Bootstrapping the start of my business was a rare strategy, and the only option I had as an ambitious 23 year old with aspirations to open a gym. Now, I am an ambitious 27 year old who continues to operate and expand my business without seeking outside funding.
I grew up in small farming town in Missouri, and when I graduated from high school, I was ready for a big change in my life. A few weeks into my first semester toward my degree in Fashion Communications at a school in Missouri, I realized how miserable I was. I was still close to my hometown, I did not like the degree content I was learning, and I felt unsure of my next move. During this time, I started to develop a really unhealthy relationship with food. I struggled to gain control of my life, but I could control my food, so I started to binge eat, which created countless other issues. After a year at this school, I moved to Boston with the intention of a gap year to discover what career I wanted to pursue. This move provided me a new outlook, and many exciting opportunities. However, with no education about proper nutrition, and still struggling to find control in my life, I nearly stopped eating. Eventually, I developed the Female Athlete Triad, and because of the low bone density from the chronic under-eating, I kept causing stress fractures in my left foot. At my lowest point, I weighed 89 pounds. Two surgeries, four stress fractures, and nearly two years later, I finally decided I needed to change my lifestyle. Knowing my competitive nature, I signed up for a bikini bodybuilding show to hold myself accountable to my new goals. At the same time, I started my online B.S. in Sports Management. I did well at this show, but it was not as gratifying as I expected, so soon after, I discovered powerlifting. I competed in my first competition in 2015, and I won my division with a 155lb squat, 105lb bench press, and 225lb deadlift! From that competition on, I was hooked. This year, I set a Colorado state record in an International powerlifting meet with a 308lb squat, 176lb bench press, and 375 deadlift!
Finding the powerlifting community taught me about healthy body image, how important food is as fuel, and how incredibly empowering it is to be strong and capable! I have few regrets with how my journey is going, and I am eager to see what I am able to accomplish within the sport of powerlifting, and also with empowering women at MJ Fit!
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Colorado is such a beautiful state, so it is tough to narrow down the options! One of my favorite towns is Steamboat Springs. When I have friends in town for several days, I love brining them to Steamboat to stay in a quaint lodge, participate in the local food tour, bask in the Strawberry Park hot springs, ski at the resort, peruse in the boutique shops downtown, and walk around the picturesque town!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I am so fortunate to have the incredible friends, family, and MJ Fit community who continue to support me as I grow personally and professionally. As we all know, entrepreneurship is not easy; most of the time it is not glamorous, there are often as many fails as there are wins, and because of all this, entrepreneurs must be tenacious, confident, adaptable, and a little bit reckless. There are so many individuals who have believed in me since the day I decided on moving to Denver to open my gym. I am forever grateful for their help and encouragement, especially when the roller coaster of my journey seemed to get stuck upside down. Dennis Bingham, Joan Bingham, Nancy Johnston, Billy Johnston, Angela Brath, Terri Ross, Gail Bash, David Hood, Thomas Rogers, Pat Connolly, and the Black family are just a few of the influential supporters who helped make my dream of opening MJ Fit come true!
Other: Tik Tok: @mjfitdenver