Have you ever wanted to join a club but never felt like you fit in? Like, there's an in-crowd, outfits, and a lingo you don't know? Maybe the members of the group even exhibit an intimidating level of physical fitness? That sort of thing could make a person feel unwelcome—but what if you took that feeling and used it as an opportunity to create something new and different? And along the way, you found that there were lots of other people just like you?
That is exactly what Kelly Roberts did with the Badass Lady Gang, a running community for ladies who don't identify as runners. Kelly has intentionally designed her community as, well, a community first and a workout second—one that's confronting the constricting stereotypes of what a “runner” should be. Come for Tony's yoga studio story, and stay for the badass-ness that is Kelly and her awesome community.
Kelly Roberts’ pre-BALG fitness routine consisted mostly of struggling through the elliptical and trying to shrink her body. It wasn’t until hitting post-college life, poised with a theatre degree, student loans, and the onset of panic, that she found running. Running forced Kelly to ditch perfectionism and stomp out fear of failure. Viral selfies from her first marathon struck a chord with women who could relate to the struggle, and soon the Badass Lady Gang was born.
BALG is about enjoying life with a side of running. Kelly’s philosophy measures success by confidence gained, not pounds lost. If you aren’t having fun, it’s time to pivot. Over the years Kelly has appeared on the cover of Women’s Running Magazine, joined Nike at the Women’s World Cup, and created a worldwide movement called the Sports Bra Squad. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.
In This Episode:
- This one time Tony went to a Manhattan yoga studio
- Kelly's journey from theater school to running a running club (see what we did there?)
- Running as the closure of a stress cycle
- Creating a truly “all-levels” running community
- How Kelly's been navigating new chapter requests mid-pandemic
- Event-building versus community-building
- How Kelly structures Badass Lady Gang to be a community first and a workout second
- Confronting stereotypes in the running world and ageing well
- Navigating a typically in-person community remotely during the pandemic
- Pushing back on tribalism in running communities
- Why Kelly got her community off of Facebook
The CX 016: Community First, Workout Second with Kelly Roberts of Badass Lady Gang
Jillian Benbow: Have you ever wanted to join a club but never felt like you fit in? Like, there's an in crowd, there's outfits and a lingo. Maybe, there's an intimidating level of physical fitness. What if you took that feeling and used it as an opportunity to create something new and different? And along the way, you found that there were lots of other people just like you.
That is exactly what Kelly Roberts did with the Badass Lady Gang. A running community for ladies who don't identify as runners. Tune in to learn more about how to find your fellow weirdos on today's episode of The Community Experience.
Tony Bacigalupo: Okay, Jill, can I tell you my experience going to yoga class in Manhattan?
Jillian: Oh, please do.
Tony: So, okay, I want to go to yoga, I want to stretch, I want to connect with the universe, all that be one. And, but I'm not a mega yoga guy. And, I'm next to this guy, and he is doing every move so intensely. Like, aggressively, like violently even. And, I'm just... It feels like there's a lot of that energy in the city. And, of course, every yoga studio is different. But, I just felt like, I don't really fit my yoga clothes that well. And I don't really do any of the poses that well, but I want to not feel weird being in this room. And then, I just run into guys like that.
Jillian: Yeah, I can relate. It's very easy to get intimidated by what else is going on and even if it's like a beginner class, but it's clearly not beginners, and people are doing like handstands. My go to is just straight to Savasana. I'm done guys, have fun.
Tony: Exactly, or oh, my goodness cycle clubs. If I remember like, "Oh, I'd love to ride bikes with other people." Forget it. You don't have the right kit. I had to learn what the word kit is.
Jillian: Got to have that kit. It's gotta match too.
Tony: So, I think there's just this huge opportunity across a lot of different areas, especially in the world of physical fitness or moving your body, things like that where anywhere where there's people who just maybe get a little too intense about it, and where there might be people have a curiosity. And...
Jillian: There's nothing wrong with being intense. It's just not for all of us.
Tony: Not at all. Not at all. We just need room for the rest of us too, right? And that's where Kelly comes in. So Kelly’s Badass Lady Gang embodies a lot of what I wish I could find in a lot of these groups, place where you don't have to worry about being judged, and where it's really more about connecting than the actual action.
And even better, Kelly created something that anybody can do anywhere. It's a pretty simple thing. Once you hear it explained to you, you basically take the idea and run with it wherever you are too.
Jillian: No pun intended, right?
Tony: I didn't intend it the first time I said it.
Jillian: But, now, it's a race.
Tony: Now, I'm aware. Yes. So, let's get into the episode. Kelly is our new BFF. So, join us and giggle along with us as we make our new friend. You will really love Kelly's energy. So, come hang with us and learn how to hang with your fellow weirdos in this episode of The Community Experience.
Kelly, welcome to The Community Experience podcast. We're so excited to have you here.
Jillian: Yes, welcome.
Kelly Roberts: Hi, everyone.
Kelly: This is my favorite thing. This is all I love doing is talking about myself.
Kelly: That's a joke.
Tony: Talking about yourself. And, okay.
Kelly: Just in case everyone's like, "Oh no ... skip!"
Tony: Welcome to the narcissist podcast.
Kelly: It's good to be here, amongst friends.
Jillian: It's all about you.
Kelly: Look, I'm blushing. I know you all can't see, but you two can see.
Tony: Yes, we can see each other and she's sort of, to be red...
Kelly: I'm literally, blushing.
Tony: And we're off to a great start. We're off to a great start.
Jillian: I love it.
Tony: Kelly, you run a group called Badass Lady Gang.
Kelly: Yeah, pun intended. I do run it.
Tony: You know what? I had to step right into it...
Kelly: Boom, boom, boom.
Jillian: You did, you did.
Tony: Okay, tell us how this happened? Like, once upon a time, you were not running a run club, and then somehow, it came to be that you were. And I find that community organizers, there tends to be some like, hero's journey moment when it's like, I must do this. This has to happen. It was I...
Kelly: I slay the dragon, pulled the sword out of the stone. No, I mean, community has always been a really, really huge part of my life because my background is not in running or athletic or athleticism pursuits. It's in theater. I did theater my entire life growing up, like queen circus clown. Went to college for it, got an undergraduate degree in it, like ensemble was built into my DNA.
I loved being a part of a ragtag group of weirdos like building something from nothing. That was always just something that I always was drawn to and found myself in. And after I graduated from college, I really felt like, it was the first time I think I looked around and went like, "Oh, no, what do I do now? What do you mean, I have to pay money back for that really fun four years that I just had." I had really supportive parents who were like, "Follow your dreams, do whatever, you're paying for it. So, have fun."
And, I... It's not like I went to school blind. Everyone told us like, chances of all of you working are slim to none, like, you're never going to work. That was always something that was told to us. But, I was always like, "Yeah, right. I'm so good at this. I'm going to be so good."
Jillian: You're not talking to me.
Kelly: Yeah. And then, I graduated and was like, "Wait, I'm fat and I have acne scars, and I don't know a single person in the entertainment industry. I have no clue how to do this for a living." I've always known how to do this for fun. And, in school, you pay to be on stage. And I didn't know how to do it the opposite way where people paid me to be on stage.
So, I moved home with my parents and I was really struggling. Earlier, when I was in college, I lost my brother. He had died of alcohol poisoning, and I just used theater to cope. I don't think I ever really grieved. I grieved through other people's stories. And so, I just like, I lost my creative outlet. I lost my grieving outlet. I lost my community. I was all by myself, didn't know what to do.
So I started running. Like I really was just desperate enough to start running because it was so horrible that I didn't have time to throw myself a pity party or think about anything. It was just like, don't die, don't die, don't die, don't die for an hour, which I really liked, which I now know is running.
Everyone is running from or toward something, but most people, especially 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s on, if you find running later in life you're probably going through something. It is a way to close a stress cycle. It is a way to cope. It is a way to survive. It is a way to mourn or grieve whether that's like relationship, waking up and not knowing who you are and not feeling like you have anything to be proud of. But, I didn't know that. I only thought, like skinny white guys in split shorts ran, like that was my perception of runners was like those guys...
Jillian: So, it wasn't a good perception.
Kelly: Yeah, with like the butt flap shorts.
Jillian: It was more of like a recoil like, "Ooh."
Kelly: But, that's really all I knew, right? Like, when I looked at magazines, or when I looked at the media, I really only saw super, super skinny people who looked super athletic and ran like little gazelles. I didn't see people who ran like I did, like Lisa Kudrow in Central Park. I didn't see that experience represented at all. But, I needed it. It really did become something that really got me through a really, really tough part in my life.
And so I ran a half marathon, and I ran a marathon. And then, after that, I'm like, "I could do anything. If I can run a marathon, I can move to New York City and try to figure this out." So, I did and almost like, immediately went viral for running a half marathon and taking selfies with hot guys behind me. Just like it was a silly thing to make my sister laugh.
And, I immediately found myself with the platform. And I was like, "I don't want to do anything with this. I don't want anyone knowing anything about me." I had built my entire life building walls. I wanted to deal with my shit through other people's stories on stage. I didn't want anyone to know anything about me because the things I said to myself were so horrible. I just assumed that's what everyone else thought as well.
And my sister was like, "You have to start a blog. You have to do something with this." And I was like, "Hell, no, I would rather die than let people know like, what I say to myself." But, sure enough, I started a blog, which immediately found an audience because it was talking about crying on street corners, or how hard it was, or how I really struggled with body image, or the fact that I ran really, because I thought I would become skinny.
That was always in the back of my mind that that was going to happen for me, that I would become this version of me that the world deemed healthy. If I ran hard enough and fast enough, I would become the person that when you looked at me, you didn't assume I was lazy. That's like the narrative that I had. So, we built this online community of people who were very similar to me, people who weren't athletic growing up, when they went to local running clubs, or crews or charities. They got dropped, they couldn't keep up. Everyone's at all athletic levels. But, it's all athletic levels until a certain pace.
So, soon enough, I was like, "How do we create, take what we're doing online and put it in real life where it truly is all athletic levels?" Because for me, I think I don't like about the running community is that everyone's always training for something. And women especially are super susceptible to overexercising without even knowing they're doing it.
So, when you go to something, everyone's like, "What are you training for? What are you training for? What are you training for?" And I was like, "Running is the least interesting part, like thing that I do. I like to do it, but I don't want to talk about it 24/7." I think it's especially because this is my job, and it's been my job for a long time.
And I was like, "I want to make a community that if someone doesn't feel compelled to ever run a half marathon or a marathon, they feel just as welcome as someone who's running their 20th marathon." How do we make a group where no one's outside of yelling range from each other? Everyone's together and getting the exact same workout, whether you're walking it or sprinting it.
So, we figured out how to do just that, and I put out word and I said, "Hey, anyone want an unpaid part time job to build community with me?" And a bunch of people were like, "Me, I want that." And so...
Jillian: You know you've got something, if that's the reaction. You know what I mean?
Kelly: Yeah, yeah, it's all community led. Every community that we have, we're in it, we're in 11 cities in the US, in Canada and in Germany. And that's exactly what you get. Everyone is very different. Every community is very, very, very different, which is nice. It's the same, like DNA, the trunk of the tree is the same, but the branches are very dependent on the community itself.
So, it's just a place really to connect, make new friends, and move together. So, we're both online and in real life, but like, I totally, just jumped in the pool and looked around and was like, "Oh, I didn't realize I was in the wave pool. This was all unplanned." It was like one thing led to another.
Jillian: It's so interesting. So, I'd like say I'm an ex-runner because I got into it. I just don't do anything now. But, I got into it late in life, like in my 20s and I got super into it. And I live in a mountain community where everybody is so fit. And, I got really into the trail running circuit, and a lot of the stuff you're talking about, I'm like, "Uh-huh, uh-huh, yup," because it's like, one of my friends once said, "Why do you do these trail runs, these races, you hate them, they make you miserable." Because I'll never win, you know what I mean? And, yeah, I got super burnt out, actually, I had hip surgery and that was kind of my catalyst of like, "Am I a runner?" And it was a struggle because it was my... I let it become my identity in so many ways. And then, it was like, "Cool, well, you just tore your body in half. So, now what?"
So, this group, you're talking about, in the back of my head, one hand I'm like, "I want to be a part of that." On the other hand, I'm like, "I would be the person that quickly was like, I'm going to work on my pace and ruin it for everybody," because I would just like, I wouldn't able to help myself to just be like, "Oh, I'm going to sign up for a race and just get back into this thing I was in," which isn't bad. But, for me, I'm just very cautious now because I don't want to blow my other hip.
All of that to say, I think it's just so fantastic that you've created this group, both online and doing the digital and the in-person is just the best because now, geography doesn't stop people. Because so many times, you see something cool and it's like, and it's in LA only and you're like, "Okay, I'm never going to do that." How does that work for people if they — say Denver wants to start a group like, does it just organically happen from your online membership? How are you navigating the digital and the in person?
Kelly: So, right now, everyone's on hold. I'm not accepting any new chapters. We were kind of like, once we came back, I told all of the chapters. I'm like, I would assume that you are starting from the ground up, everyone has moved, people are in different places, people are really uncomfortable being around each other right now.
We have a wristband system. So, you have to say whether you're vaccinated or not, or there's a yellow option, which means you're vaccinated, but you need space, you are uncomfortable around people. Runners are notorious for hugging and like high fiving. So, having that little space for people to be like, "I'm not there yet," has been nice. But, I really wanted — because before 2020, we had like, I mean, how do you remember? We had something like 30, I think we were in 36 cities.
So, we had a ton of chapters, and I made a bunch of them retire when I made everybody like get on calls and be like, "Where are you at?" Or, if I could gauge that people were burned out, I'm like, "You have to retire, you go enjoy this community that you built. If in six months or a year, you want to do it again, we can talk then. But, you're not in a place to lead this, like it's just not fair for you."
So, it's been hard because the pandemic brought a ton of new runners, and it brought a ton of people to us. So, we have a lot of people who are like, "I want to start the Badass Lady Gang, I want to start the Badass Lady Gang." And it's hard to tell them like, "No." So, that's exactly what I've been doing is like, you don't need to be an official Badass Lady Gang to get started, that's the best way to prove to me that you actually can build community is to not take the name, and just start organizing, to start reaching out to people in the community and people on this board. We're on Mighty Networks, which is like an online message board type thing.
So, I'm like, " Reach out to people." You can see who's within 20 miles of you. So, if you spot someone say, "Hey, do you want to run? Do you want to meet up on a Tuesday or, go do a trivia night, start, trying to get everybody organizing?" And then, when I open up applications, again, you can show me that you've already done the work to build a community and get people coming back. And it'll be an easier experience for you to become an official Badass Lady Gang.
But, it has been tough. It's been really tough navigating where people are at. A lot of people are really... They're really, precious about their time right now and as lonely as it was. I saw when we came back in the summer, it was like explosion. But then, I think everybody again was like, "Oh, I want to go places. I want to do things."
At 6:30, I mean, I don't know about you guys, but like this... I'm experiencing like, I'm done. I don't want to do anything. Maybe, hang out with a friend or two, but mostly, I just want to go to bed. This has been the most exhausting year and a half ever. So, it's been really hard to be like, "Great. Now, I'm going to go run with my friends." If I don't do it in the morning, I'm not moving. I'm just done. So, I'm noticing that. It's a very different world that we're navigating right now with what we used to do. It's not the same.
Tony: I think that there's a really important community building aspect to this idea of giving people room to experiment, reach out to their contacts, do their own thing, and use what you've created as inspiration. I'm a big fan of this idea of recipes for belonging. This idea that you could explain Badass Lady Gang to somebody.
And then, yeah, I'm sure, as an official chapter, you get all kinds of support and whatever. But you basically, could take the gist of it and just go... God, now, I'm catching my own puns, just go run with it...
Tony: And you get it, right? It's not a hard thing to communicate to somebody. And it doesn't require a branded, licensed package in order to start like, go phone up your lady friends and find a time to go run and don't take it too seriously, and you're off to a good start.
Kelly: It's also interesting because so many people don't realize how easy it is to just start getting people together, right? When we think community building you think, "Okay, I need to get a 100, 200, 500, 1,000 people together," and it's like, it is quality over quantity, 100 times over.
If you have five people who are coming, if you have three people who are coming and those three people are jazzed as all hell to come, you're going to have an infinitely more powerful community than if you have 20 people who come here and there, don't really want to connect, don't really want to be there, or maybe, aren't enjoying themselves and are trying to figure out where they belong.
If your three people are really happy and feel like they're real core member, and that they're an important part of the process, they're going to do most of the work of making this community special.
Tony: And they're going to pave the way for the next round of people who are maybe waiting in the wings, watching to see what happens. And then, when they start seeing pictures of people having a lot of fun, there's that social proof that gets them unstuck.
Kelly: Yeah, this is what we experienced, especially when everybody went on hiatus. It was like, people always think unless there's an organized event that the organized event is what makes the community a thing, and I'm like, "If my people aren't reaching out to each other without the organized event to be like, "Hey, do you want to go for a walk? Hey, how do you feel about meeting up maybe for a coffee?" We didn't build a good community. We did not build a strong community. We didn't do our job. If people are only coming to this, like the scheduled thing, we didn't do it right because that's an event, that's not a community.
Jillian: That's so true. I'm just like, "Yes, yes, yes."
Kelly: Which sucks, like that's really what we found out with a lot of us were like, "Oops."
Kelly: Great. So, we just need to work harder.
Jillian: Okay. I'll be honest.
Kelly: We need to put way more into it.
Kelly: Which is hard, it's a lot of work.
Jillian: It is, and it really resonates what you're saying just about, people wanting to be involved, but they want it to be so big, right? And it's like, "I want to start a chapter and do all these things, and it's going to be amazing." And then, I'm sure you get a bit of like, when you push back and say, "Well try, do it, and then come back,” people are probably, I'm sure some people just don't.
And that's, that's actually genius because if it was like, "Okay, cool, here's all these resources, and I'm going to invest in you, and whatever," those are the same people that still are going to walk away. They're going to burn out fast because it isn't what they were looking for. They just think it is versus the people that are like, "Awesome, I'm going to go build it and come back," those are your people.
And so, figuring out who really actually is going to do that, like what a great way to have people self-select at the beginning.
Kelly: Yeah. It's also hard because like, when you hear run club, you have an idea in your head of what that is, you think you're going to run a 5k, you think you're going to run a 10k, you think there's like X amount of distance involved? And it's really hard to get people to understand what we do, because we spend 30 to 40 minutes at the top talking.
We circle up and we do intros because I'm very socially anxious. I do not like events, where I have to go and buddy up with someone, and then just chit chat. So, we spend a lot of time talking about anything but running and making sure everyone has a moment with each other and has at least one thing to talk about whether it's doing an unpopular opinion or whether you think ice cream cake has cake in it or not, like whatever it is, something silly where people immediately have something to talk about.
And we wear a name tags. We are the least sexy running crew there is. I always tell everybody we are community connection first and a fun workout second, but you are not going to leave here feeling like you just like left everything out there. That's not what we're about. You can go find that anywhere. That's what everyone's doing.
For me, I was like, I want a space where people can make friends and move together and feel good moving, but the goal is not to get faster and to run a marathon. That's not the goal. We always joke that. We're the real running crew that we're probably never going to get asked what you're training for because no one really cares. Maybe, down the line, but not really. We want to know everything else. What are you going through?
Jillian: Yeah, this sounds like the most sexy running club, by the way, not the least sexy.
Kelly: We are.
Jillian: This sounds amazing. I'm just like, yes, and it's so called for because like you were saying though, the stereotype of the runners, the really skinny guy that looks like you could blow him over, but he's like the lean muscle in the short shorts, probably, no top, that's the trend now which I'm like, "Can we stop? We don't need to see it."
Everyone do whatever works for you, no shame. But, at the same time, it gets a little old, you guys. It gets a little old. We know you worked hard for that, but come on. But, just...
Tony: All right. I'll keep my shirt on.
Jillian: Yeah, Tony, I'm talking to you, put a shirt on, my gosh, it's a podcast.
So, talking about there's this like stereotype of runners and what they are, and I love that you're taking this thing for so many people that might be like, "Oh, well, I can't run because my body looks like this or I, identifies that." And it's like, yes, you can and you can do it on your own terms. And a group of us are going to do it on those terms.
So, there's even more of that feeling of I belong in a space that maybe, before people wouldn't feel like they belonged. And I think that's beautiful. Like I said, as an ex-runner, probably, just slowly trying to get back into it, but struggling because it's a lot of work.
Kelly: It's hard. It's not very fun.
Jillian: I've been riding my bike and loving life.
Kelly: Oh, nice.
Jillian: Yeah, but I just love that you're creating... It's just opening the access in a way and challenging that norm of like to be a runner, you have to run a step nine, and you have to do this and that. And yeah, what are you training for? And it's like,"We're here to make friends and have fun." I love it. I think it's fantastic. I want to join.
Kelly: Just do — or like, I hate so much of what I've been a part of, and truly, I think the running industry is like ass-backwards. I really don't understand it. They are always like, everyone's welcome. And then, I'm like, "You're everything that you do and say and your messaging does not at all support that. I love that you guys spend all this money on marketing to that message. But, when people show up, that's not the experience they're having." So...
Jillian: They market the registration fee. Yeah, everyone is welcome to pay and register.
Kelly: Yeah, and it's definitely like you said.
Jillian: I did a half marathon where they had like...
Kelly: Everyone gets hurt.
Jillian: ... I was so slow. Yeah, I did a half marathon. I'm slow, like I'm just slow and I will always be slow and whatever. And that's fine. But, I remember, it was a second half marathon I'd ever done. So, it's a big deal to me. And I was really slow, it was a lot of vert. So, I was dying, and I crossed the finish line, no one was even there. Nothing like the tents were gone, everything. And I was like, "Glad I spent 150 bucks to feel like crap."
Kelly: Yeah, like the New York City Marathon, the people that like the most fun part of the New York City Marathon, obviously, the race is fun. It's like, when you go back after the official race has ended, there's like a post period where they have hosts now. And like, they support all the people who are taking like seven, eight, nine, 10 hours to finish the marathon. That's a long day.
Jillian: That's beautiful, yeah.
Kelly: Those people deserve like, fanfare not like the apocalypse, scattered cups on the floor and no one's out, and the sun is setting and they're like being moved to the sidewalk. It's like, "What the hell is that?"
Tony: When you think about it, like somebody who's run a bunch of marathons and they finished it in three hours or whatever like, a fast time is, they do the marathon...
Jillian: Yeah, they're fine.
Tony: ... and then they go to lunch. Somebody who's done it for ten hours, seven, eight, nine, ten hours like that's...
Jillian: That person saw their soul.
Kelly: Yeah, yeah.
Tony: That is a life changing odyssey for them. That deserves more fanfair. Absolutely.
I think what you're describing Kelly, is really important because something like running—and one of the threads actually, that we picked up on an interview earlier this week, another conversation we had is this idea of where there stigma, there seems to be opportunity that there's a bunch of people who may be wanting to try to get out and move their bodies, but they don't feel comfortable or welcome or accepted in the existing community. It sounds like that's what's resonating in yours.
Kelly: Totally. And that's not to say that I'm the only one doing it. I think there are a lot of people now who are working really hard to help people understand that running looks different on everyone. And, I know this is something I work really hard on.
The amount of work that I have to do with my athletes who are like a part of our paid team membership, helping them understand that a 10-minute run or a 15-minute run or a 20-minute run is like a perfect workout. And that you don't need to have this concept in your head of like, if I'm not running 30 minutes, or 45 minutes or 60 minutes, and if every weekend, I'm not out there running 90 plus minutes, then I'm not working out enough and I'm not strong enough. That's what's backwards. And it's the pay stuff, right?
People feel so ashamed of how slow they are. And it's like, I love walking, I take walking breaks all... If I see someone I know, I am stopping for 20 minutes to talk to that person, not because I really want to catch up with that person, just because I want to break. Yeah, it's really, especially now, especially after the pandemic, I take all that... Any chance I can get to get outside and move my body in a way that feels good after very rarely during very, very, very, very rarely during.
But, I'm always, almost always. I will not say always, sometimes, I'm like, "That was an awful idea." I should have just slipped in. But most of the time, I need it for the mental benefits or for the connection of the community, part of it of like, seeing people. Today, when I was running, I was on the Manhattan Bridge. And like, sure enough, right beside me comes one of my really good friends who I haven't seen in like six months. And I was like, we both were like, "Aahhh," screaming. And I was like, "Yes."
I'm like, I can't keep up with her, but we ran together for five minutes. And it was like, "Oh, this is what I love." Being able to run into people or experience things or see a city differently. All things I had no idea, or even options before I became a runner. I never thought I could run. I never thought I would be one of those people who could like one day maybe do a 5K Turkey-Trot.
A 5K sounded ludicrous. Absolutely, ludicrous. It was never something I ever thought I would do. When I saw those families doing Turkey-Trots. I'm like, "You people are nuts." But, also I wish I could experience that. In a way, I always had that, that sounds so cool. But, that's just not my... That'll never be for me, I'm not a runner.
So, it just bums me out that so many people think that they can't do it because they just immediately envision a half marathon or a marathon. It's like, that's not running. Most of the majority of people who run will never run an organized race. They just do it two, three times a week for 10, 15, 20, 30 minutes a day.
Jillian: I think too, it's just like culturally. It's a mind shift, right? It's like, "Oh, I want to get..." And this is what I did, in my 20s I was like, I don't run, I hate running. But, I'm going to start, anyways, because I'm crazy and stubborn. And so, immediately the goal is like, a marathon. That's going to be the big thing. And when I get to that goal like, whola, I'm a runner. I've never run a marathon. I've run in my opinion, worst things and really crazy hilly long runs...
Kelly: Up a mountain?
Jillian: Yeah, literally over a mountain. Just dumps... It was amazing. It was one of the most beautiful things. I cried like five times...
Kelly: That was such a runner thing that, it was the worst ever. It was also amazing. It was the best day of my life.
Kelly: But, really awful...
Jillian: It was beautiful.
Kelly: I do not recommend.
Jillian: I try doing it again next year.
Tony: Exactly, yeah.
Jillian: I will say, because I will never do this run again.
Kelly: So, she said, "No."
Jillian: Yeah, we'll see. I will definitely let you know if I turn on that. But, yeah, there's just something about like it doesn't have to be... And this was something for myself when I was running and in that competitive mindset and unhappy. What I figured out was, I actually love running outdoors. I hate treadmills, but like, outdoors, I feel like when I'm on a run, my mind goes into that place where all my problems, I can figure out all the solutions.
I stopped using a heart rate monitor, I stopped using all the tech, and I would just go and run and like reconnecting with that piece of being outside and focusing on my surroundings and my breath work. It's just like life changing. And honestly, I rarely, if I do go running now, I'm sporadic at best. But that's what I focus on because I'm like, that's the joy. That's the part of it that matters to me. It's not like, "Oh, I hit whatever minute mile," because it's never going to be what I'm like, secretly want it to be, right?
Kelly: That's the best part about it. And that's really all the work that we've done the last year and a half. The only gift that came from locked down and shut down was that so many people were forced to stop running from problems or stop signing up for race after race after race that they didn't want to do. And were asked, like, I need you to choose to move when you want to only because you want to. That needs to happen.
And it took a lot of people like a year to go through that hellhole of like... I mean, really, it's kind of an identity crisis, and it was beautiful to have so many people then be like, "I now I'm choosing to do this because I like it, I'm intrinsically motivated." And I am in a place where like, "I don't want to run any races this year." And I'm like, "Yeah," because you want to move for life.
Our culture is really bad at aging. We do not prepare ourselves to age to be able to move well in your 80s and 90s. So, to chart to get everybody thinking, you need to be moving in ways that like, one you enjoy, but two, how can we age with strength and grace? And that doesn't mean running an hour and a half on the weekends, every single weekend, please go live your life, find balance, my God. What do you say no to so much?
Jillian: So, when the pandemic hit, and running is one of those things that depending where you lived, you could probably do it, if you really wanted to, but how did you navigate with a fitness community that was about going out together and experiencing things together in a way? How did you navigate all that?
Kelly: It was pretty easy because our group is, they already know that they're there to talk. They're there to talk about what they're going through with other people. So, it was really a big gift to take that 30, 40-minute experience because we talk for 30 or 40 minutes, and then we run for maybe 15 to 20. And then, we normally spend another hour talking. We go somewhere and talk. Maybe, it's a coffee shop. Maybe, it's a bar or a park. We're really just hanging out, like that is our group. We find a moment of movement, but mostly, it's talking.
So, having that place, we started with coffee and chat where like, two times a week, we would have designated times where everyone would hop on Zoom. And it was like one of those things where you're like, "Oh, shit, there's like 80 of us, how do we do this?" It was hard.
And then, I launched challenges. So, we would do a three-month summer series where it wasn't about virtual races because the idea of a virtual race to me is so bonkers. It is so sad to just train by yourself, and then have the day by yourself, just to get the medal. Obviously, some people have much more tied to it, but that community element is gone. And that's the best part where you get to do something incredible with a bunch of people.
So, finding ways to make the weekly call, the exciting thing of it where people could come on and talk about their experience. It's really just like, it's just a group, a place to come together to talk about what you're going through whether it's self-doubt or predefined limits or that you're going through a divorce, or that you're a mom and just like don't have enough time having a place to get validation or just be seen and heard. A place to come cry like a really safe place to really cry in front of a bunch of strangers.
It was really nice. It's so weird. We're like the only place that most people like love the Zoom. It's the only Zoom that I'm happy to be a part of. No offense to you guys, but we're not on Zoom.
Tony: Yeah, technically, not on Zoom.
Jillian: It's totally different. That was a close one.
Tony: It seems like so much of it's about context that we're all beyond burned out on Zoom, many of us were burned out on Zoom, about five minutes after the pandemic started. And, but with the right people and the right context, I'll get on a call with people that where I feel like, I can be vulnerable, where I've been vulnerable in the past, I care about them. I know their story.
And, I think that's the other piece of the equation, I think that doesn't get accounted for as much when people are trying to figure out, how do I get people to show up to my thing?
Kelly: It's nice, and it's all structured. It's like, we just hop on, and I'm like, "What's going on, gang?" There's really structured, we start with questions. There's always like, everybody grabs a piece of paper and a pen. And we do, there's normally, 10 questions of journaling. And then, you read them aloud. You have to read them. And it always starts with my name is, and it always ends with I am, dot, dot, dot.
And it's like, one of those things that if you want to leave a question blank, you can leave a question blank, there are no rules to it. But, it's really nice to have that structure, and then it goes in a certain direction.
Tony: So, you have people start with journaling, and you give them like a prompt of some kind, like a specific invitation? Yeah.
Tony: It's awesome.
So there's even this moment of everybody is being silent journaling together and introspecting before they even start talking, before they even start running, or walking?
Tony: So cool.
Kelly: It's fun. I mean, that's really what I thought was missing from most stuff was fun. And I was seeing few communities do it. There's another community that I love and that I was a part of for a long time called November Project. And one of the co-creators of that, his name's Brogan Graham.
He was like, for two years, like, "What are you doing? Why are you only online? Why is your community only online? Get your ass out there. And I was like, "It's mostly because I see how hard you work. And I don't want any of that." And he was like, "No, dude, you caught lightning in a bottle, and you need to bring this into the universe, you need to create this space." And he's like, "Steal everything that we've done that works for you. And then, shift and create what doesn't."
Jillian: I think too, that's why I so strongly believe in that, the mantra. A lot of people in entrepreneurship, entrepreneur-ness stuff has, which is, like, there's enough room for everyone. And, there's a zillion running groups out there. And that's great because that means there's probably one for you, that will meet you where you are, and aligns with your goals and your situation, and all of that. And that is what's great.
And so, having, like you said, having those friends in this what some might consider a competitive industry. But, in reality, you're attracting totally different people. So, you might as well work together in a way. So, it's like, yeah, steal everything we've done. And that's how it should be. I love that so much. I think we all... If I want to take a course on something, guarantee there's a 100 people with a course on it, but there's probably a handful of people that I'm like, "I want to be the friend." And so, that's the one I'm going to go do. And likewise, for all the other people doing the course. It's great.
Kelly: Yeah, and I mean, our chapters, they're free. It is free to go to. So, it's so fun to me, like being a member of November Project. I don't go as much anymore but like, it's so fun for me to see people at November Project wearing Badass Lady Gang gear and vice versa. Seeing people from the gang in November of project gear, like there's so much cross, like crossing over and they go to both because they're at different times or it's fun when you're in a different city and that's what's cool.
It's like, the communities are stronger when the net is wider. So, just because you belong to one doesn't mean that you can't belong to another. I hate that tribalism of like, "You run with us or no one," and I'm like, "Oh my, God, no, please run with every single women focus group if that's what you're after. Make all the friends. There are so many incredible people in this community. Go find them."
Tony: Now, especially, I mean, as we're recording this where we're heading in the direction of the cold weather season, COVID winter part two.
Jillian: Winter is coming.
Tony: Winter is coming and finding that...
Jillian: And the leaves are changing here.
Tony: Yeah, and finding that group, finding that group, finding any outlet and being able to be outside and moving your body. It's just so healthy in so many different directions. So, keep up the amazing work.
Kelly: Thanks, guys.
Jillian: Kelly before we wrap things up with some really, oh, we didn't warn you about the lightning round, but don't worry, it's really fun. So, tell everyone where they can find you speaking of like, winter is coming, and I'm sure there's people listening that might want to learn more about your community because it might sound right up there, Sexy Runners Club value system.
Kelly: We need to make shirts.
Kelly: I was just driving the other day and I saw graffiti that said, "I make it look easy." And I was like, "Oh my, God, I need to put that on a shirt that says like, I know, I make it look easy."
Jillian: I love it.
Kelly: Because I always look like I'm dying. I'm moments from death.
Jillian: Me too. Me too.
Kelly: They're like, "Are you okay?"
Jillian: I think I have to do that.
Kelly: Are you okay? And you're like, "No, I'm not. But, thanks for asking."
Jillian: I'm making myself do this. I'm fine.
Tony: I'm like, "I'm not okay." I'm like, "I'm not okay. But, thanks for asking."
Kelly: How are you? That's really the truth. That's what you mean here, I need your therapist's number, for what you're on. Look around. They can find us at BadassLadyGang.com or if you want the online community, you can also find it there. But, it's BALGCommunity.com.
Kelly: To get in the Mighty Network, get in the network. Get on in here.
Jillian: That's a great platform.
Kelly: The water is fine. Come on in.
Jillian: It's the best. I mean, I took everyone on Facebook like early 2020. And I was like...
Jillian: ... I thought that was going to be the biggest issue that I had that year because it was mutiny. It was like full on mutiny. People did not want to get off Facebook and I was like, "Facebook is garbage and trash and the worst, and we got to get off here." Mutiny, mutiny, mutiny, and I'm like, "How could anything get worse than this? This is the worst thing that will happen. Nope."
Jillian: So, wait, we got to circle back real quick because Tony knows my disdain for Facebook. And I'm a huge advocate, especially for paid communities for people to knock it off right now.
Kelly: Get off.
Jillian: And get off Facebook and invest in a real community platform.
Kelly: Oh, my God, best decision.
Jillian: And we use Circle...
Jillian: Mighty Network is up there on my list of recommendations as well. And, but yeah, it's a process to get people over. I've helped a few people get off Facebook because that's my...
Kelly: It was hard. It was awful.
Jillian: ... passion party. Yeah. Any just quick, high-level lessons learned for anybody trying to do that?
Kelly: It is exactly what we talked about earlier. It is quantity versus quality. And I guarantee you that the people who come with you are quality people. They are going to make your community special. Play the long game, let go of the people who don't want to come. I guarantee you, they will be joining you in six months to two years. I get it all the time. “I was in the Facebook group and miss it.”
Jillian: Oh, that's amazing. That says a lot about your community.
Tony: I'm just realizing I feel like we could probably cut together a compilation episode by just adding five minutes to every interview, asking people their opinions about Facebook, and then just have like an epic...
Jillian: That's not a bad idea. As long as I can stand on my soapbox and make my points that I already made, but make them again.
Tony: We could just record like an hour of you ranting about Facebook and just no intro, no outro, just like, all right, Jillian...
Kelly: Here's your time to shine. Time for the lightning round, who's excited?
Tony: Time for the lightning round. All right, question number one, what is your least favorite community platform and why? No, no.
Kelly: Facebook. Facebook, it’s Facebook!
Tony: All right. For real. Okay, we're going to go back to your childhood. Back to when you were a wee little one and had no idea that you were destined to become a founder of a women's running group. What did you want to be when you grew up?
Kelly: This is awful, but I wanted to be Shamu trainer.
Tony: You want to be a what?
Kelly: Shamu trainer. I wanted to be a killer whale trainer at SeaWorld.
Kelly: It's all I wanted.
Jillian: You can't be mad at like an '80s, '90s dream that was before Blackfish that way before...
Kelly: Way before.
Jillian: ... we knew...
Kelly: And I grew up in San Diego.
Jillian: Yeah, we're innocent. We didn't think about that living in an aquarium wasn't ideal. Was it because you just wanted to play with killer whales?
Kelly: Oh, yeah. I love the ocean. So, now I know that I can just like go look at them in the wild.
Jillian: You could try to swim with them. I don't know how that would end, but...
Kelly: Oh, no, thank you. Not after Blackfish.
Tony: Kelly, next question. How do you define community?
Kelly: Oh community, a group of humans who want to be around each other.
Kelly: That's how I would honestly, define it.
Tony: Delightfully, concise. I'm here for it. Onward to your bucket list. First off, something from your bucket list that you have done. It was on your bucket list, and it got checked off.
Kelly: Oh, my goodness. I was on the cover of a magazine. That was... I mean, I would say that was on my bucket list. I always wanted something like that.
Tony: What was the magazine?
Jillian: Tell us more.
Kelly: Women's Running.
Jillian: That's amazing.
Tony: Oh, what?
Kelly: It was awesome.
Jillian: When was this?
Kelly: Seventeen. Maybe, '16, '17. Maybe, it was '18.
Tony: I haven't seen it out. I'm not sure.
Kelly: It was awesome.
Tony: Was it not super wild that month to just walk into any Barnes & Noble or...
Kelly: We went to all of them up.
Tony: There's my face.
Kelly: We went to all of them. And it was fun because I have a pretty big New York City community. So, they were sold out everywhere and I was like, "Ahh, this is crazy."
Jillian: That is so cool.
Kelly: But, I got to like, go to the airport and be like, "That's me."
Kelly: It was cool. It was very cool.
Tony: That's an awesome bucket list thing. What about something on your bucket list that's still on it? Something you haven't done yet?
Kelly: Oh, something that's on my bucket list that I have not done. I would really love to like, go... We didn't take a ton of vacations growing up as a family. So, something I've always wanted to do is like with my mother, my father and my sister, like my immediate nuclear family go on a trip together. It doesn't matter if it's even where we live or not just like together the four of us go somewhere and experience something, but they also never really have left the country. So, it would be even more cool if we were to go somewhere special.
Tony: That sounds so beautiful.
Kelly: I think it will be fun. Then, a lot of fun.
Jillian: What an opportunity, if the pandemic ever, I don't know stops, to go and like,
that's the greatest time to be like you guys, let's do this. I don't know if they'd ever go for it. But, maybe, I hope they do.
Kelly: Me too.
Jillian: That's sounds like a wonderful idea.
Tony: Kelly, what is a book that you are loving right now?
Kelly: Oh, my God, I just read, What Happened to You, Oprah and, my goodness. Oh my gosh. Why am I forgetting his name? Is it Bruce? He says his name a 100,000 times. So, I'm so ashamed that I don't know the doctor's name. Oh, I don't know. I just finished it. It was so, so good, that book and How the Word Is Passed by Clint Smith or like, the two books I read this year that blew my mind and I read them twice.
Jillian: Is it Dr. Bruce Perry?
Kelly: Yes, Dr. Bruce Perry. He is such a... I did audible too. Oh, my Lord, his voice. He is such a good like audio. It was so good. Sometimes, when you do an audio book and like you're like, "Oh, I hate this person." Obviously, Oprah shines but Dr. Bruce Perry like really is her equal.
Jillian: Ooh, he's got like a buttery voice?
Kelly: He's really good.
Jillian: Check it out.
Kelly: He was really good.
Jillian: So, just for everyone listening, I Googled it. It's What Happened to You, conversations on trauma, resilience and healing by Bruce D. Perry, MD, PhD and our favorite person, Oprah Winfrey.
Tony: Okay, so we're going to talk about where you live and where you would live, if you could live anywhere other than where you currently live?
Kelly: I live in Brooklyn, New York, which is pretty rad. Not going to lie. I don't think there's like a day that goes by, especially since I run that I don't like look up and be like, "Oh, my God, I can't believe I live here."
Tony: Wait. But, where in Brooklyn, are we talking about?
Kelly: I live in the slippery slope in Park Slope. It is stroller central. And I love it.
Jillian: I have no idea what's going on right now. But, I love that the New Yorkers are like, "Oh, yeah."
Tony: I too used to live in stroller Central Park.
Kelly: Did you?
Tony: It was lovely. Yeah.
Kelly: The slippery slope.
Tony: Prospect Park is great. Yeah.
Kelly: It's the best. I love Prospect Park. We're very lucky. If I could live anywhere, I would live close to my mother and my father and my grandparents. I love spending time with them. So, it's tough, that flight to San Diego is tough.
Tony: Okay, last question. How do you want to be remembered?
Kelly: Someone who makes people laugh. That's how I want to be remembered. Done.
Kelly: Thank God I could die happy.
Jillian: Yup, you're good. You did it.
Tony: Kelly, this has been just an absolute pleasure.
Jillian: This is so fun.
Tony: Thank you so much for taking the time to hang with us.
Kelly: Thanks for having me.
Tony: Keep up the amazing work, bring in ladies together, giving them a place to move their bodies and talk to each other and journal.
Jillian: You're making the world a better place. Yeah, I really appreciate the work you do.
Kelly: I'm working on taking compliments. So, my therapist would just tell me to say thank you.
Jillian: It's okay. So, Kelly real quick before we go, where can people find you on the socials? Obviously, not Facebook. You do Twitter, Instagram, where the people follow along?
Kelly: We're there. We're on the Facebook, but it's not updated often. You could find me personally, Kelly KK Roberts, Kelly with a Y, the way it's supposed to be spelled. I'm just kidding. Kelly with an I is like, excuse me.
Tony: We just lost all of the other Kelly's.
Kelly: EY. Or you can just follow @BadassLadyGang, where we're pretty much everywhere.
Jillian: Excellent. Thank you so, so much for being here.
Kelly: Thank you, guys.
Tony: Go find your badass gang and go for a walk or a run.
Kelly: Yeah, yeah, yeah, or a dance.
Jillian: Go get outside.
Jillian: Agreed. All right.
Tony: All right.
Kelly: Bye, guys.
Tony: Kelly, thanks so much. Bye!
Jillian: All right. That was so much fun. I just want to hang out with Kelly in real life right now. I'm very envious that you both live in New York.
Tony: I mean, if there's one thing... We might have really intense yoga people here in New York. But, we do have people. We do a lot of interesting...
Jillian: You have super chill people.
Tony: ... driven, exciting people here. And Kelly's one of them, man. She's got so much to offer.
You brought up an interesting thing, which we haven't touched on yet, but maybe, in the future conversation. But, there's a real phenomenon around people who have gotten to a certain level, who struggled to find people who take it as seriously as they do. And that's a whole other kind of angle to it, as well..
Jillian: Give us a tweet. We'd love to talk that side of it as well. But, for now, let's talk about our new BFF, Kelly and the Badass Lady Gang, and just key takeaways. I mean, I just loved everything she's doing. I think you can tell that Kelly has something really special, because her in person running club/community has survived the pandemic, and from what it sounds like, is thriving. And I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that she focuses on fun first.
Tony: Yeah, she wants to make it accessible because that's what she craves herself in terms of her own community, that she created the community she couldn't find. And I think, as a takeaway, thinking about where are the barriers in your particular area of interest? And where might there be people who feel left out or don't feel like they have something that fits them? Is potentially, an area where there's a lot of opportunity for exploration.
And you know what? I'll also venture that you probably see this becoming an entry point for people who do want to get good at running, and end up really, learning how to get good at it, just by being in this group. And Kelly, herself mentioned, she ran a marathon. She doesn't identify as a runner.
Tony: So, something worked, something clicked for her and I think being in an environment where she felt safe was probably, a big part of that.
Jillian: I also think something that Kelly just does so well and she's so intentional and thoughtful about, is to really help people feel seen. And it goes back into just making people super comfortable. Like she said, they talked for 30 plus minutes before any running and there's intentional icebreakers. People are wearing name tags.
So, if it's your first time and you don't know anybody, that's a really easy thing to never go do again because you just felt a little out of place. But, she puts a lot into making sure you feel in place. And I love that.
Tony: Actually, one of my best friends ever, who was a customer at my co-working space for some time, and just an incredible supporter throughout my life came to an event that I was hosting before I met her, and was feeling socially awkward, didn't talk to anybody and left without having talked to anybody. And it wasn't until later on when I was hosting something else that we actually, connected and she ended up being an incredible member in my community.
But, that first event that I was hosting, I failed to create an environment in which she was feeling like she could feel comfortable connecting and meeting new people. And that could have been a huge loss for me, if she didn't feel willing to try again. And this is actually, something a lot of people talk about.
Priya Parker talks about this too, that a lot of people don't come back to gatherings because their initial experience isn't good. And so, then they just stop bothering to try. And that contributes to this loneliness epidemic. So, all of this is to say, designing the experience for the trepidatious first visitor is hugely, hugely important.
Jillian: Yeah, it's funny because as you're talking about it, what it reminds me of in the
digital space is onboarding. So, having a strong onboarding system set up checks and balances, so that when someone comes into your digital space, and they don't know anybody, and they're checking it out, they have a path they can take that's teaching them how it all works but also is making them feel a part of it. It's kind of funny.
Tony: I'm also a really big fan of how she approached the idea of new chapters. It's a very common challenge for people, when they create something and it becomes successful, where they start getting recognition, maybe they get written up online, or in a newspaper or something. And the next thing you know, you have people all over the world saying, "I'm going to start one in my city, or you should start one in my city," or something like that.
And all of a sudden, it's like, "Whoa, I just did this to solve my own situation. And now, I'm trying to figure out how to run a global enterprise here. I don't know what to do." And so, the fact that she has, it seems very gracefully rolled out a way of scaling, but has created this little barrier.
And it's very wise for a community leader to do this, to say, "Look, don't even try to license, don't try to join my club and license my name yet. Just go find people. And if you start building momentum, and it looks like you got something, then let's talk." And I think that that just really helps to frame people's mindset where so often, people get into... They want to do the thing, but maybe, they want to... It's more like they want to think that they want to do the thing, but they don't actually, want to do it.
And so, there's just that, like that application process of just go do the thing, and if you actually did it, and it works, then you're probably in. I think it's just a very clever way of approaching it.
Jillian: Yeah, I like it a lot. And then, from a from a time perspective, it really frees up her time because when someone wants to start something like that, you have to invest all sorts of time into it. And like you said, Tony, a lot of times, people think they want to do that. But really, they just want to be involved in some way. And really, have no intention or awareness of the kind of work it takes.
And I think that's, honestly, just such an efficient way to one divide the cloud chasers that are just kind of think they want to do it, but really, they just want to say they're doing it from the people who are actually going to run a group in the way that the organization runs. It's beautiful. I love it.
I think it also leads into just the people that do, for lack of a better word, make it the leaders of these groups. If someone's going to put the effort into running one of these in person groups, and they are affiliated, that really investing in those people is crucial.
And, sometimes, that investment even include saying like, "Hey, you seem kind of burnt out or this doesn't seem like it's working for you. Maybe, you should just retire from it." Just being completely okay with starting that conversation when someone's maybe struggling to run a group well.
And, I'm a huge fan of volunteer programming. You just have to be careful that it doesn't turn into an actual job.
Tony: Yeah, absolutely.
Jillian: Yeah. But, yeah, overall... Oh, my gosh, just so much fun. I just want to do another episode with Kelly just so we can hysterically laugh some more. Thank you, everybody for listening in to The Community Experience. I'm Jillian Benbow with Tony be smooth, Tony Bacigalupo.
Tony: You did it. You did it.
Jillian: I did it. I did it. And we will see you next Tuesday!
Tony: This has been The Community Experience. For more information on this episode including links and show notes, head over to SmartPassiveIncome.com/listen. You can find Kelly Roberts on Twitter at Kelly KK Roberts on Instagram at Badass Lady Gang on YouTube at Kelly Roberts and the website is BadassLadyGang.com.
Our executive producer is Matt Gartland. Our series producers are David Grabowski and Senior Producer, Sarah Jane Hess. Editing and Sound Design by Duncan Brown, music by David Grabowski.
Jillian: See you next time.