Athlete Hannah Eden would rather shoot and miss than sell her soul. This...is her story
Posted on January 10 2020
By: Genevieve Gyulavary
Hannah Eden: known for her fiery red hair, fierce personality, and enviable work ethic has spent the last decade growing her brand and multiple businesses in the fitness industry. A woman who learned through doing and sometimes failing with an unbreakable amount of grit and passion.
Hannah grew up in London in the small town of Maidenhead, Berkshire. She spent 16 years in the same house with the same friends before her dad was asked to relocate to the United States for a work opportunity. Hannah’s dad spent the entirety of his career in toy design and she speaks fondly of him bringing home toys for her to try out. Hannah’s entire family supported him wholly with the move.
“I was a very hyperactive child. I got into dance when I was seven but gave it up shortly after getting in to my teenage years. After that, I had zero athletic things going on besides gym class and the occasional odd running club.”
Unlike young Hannah, her parents lived in the gym. Both of her parents would regularly be up at 4 am to get an insanity workout in before heading off to work for the day.
“When I moved away from athletics my parents never really questioned me. They tried not to put too much pressure on us.”
When Hannah’s family arrived in suburban Massachusetts, culture shock ensued. Hannah barreled through her last two years of high school and immediately moved to Florida and attended the Art Institute to study photography. The pace of South Florida better suited her personality and career aspirations.
Hannah became part of the bar scene where she not only partied, but was also a bartender using the night life as her livelihood.
“I was being paid to party. It was 100% unhealthy. I didn’t need to go into any kind of recovery I just knew I was going down a slippery slope and I started to need things rather than just want them.”
As Hannah’s friends and monetary gains became more enmeshed in the South Florida party scene, it’s hard to imagine how she ever found her way back to fitness.
“One of guys I had been working with behind the bar started talking about an investment he had made in a CrossFit ® gym in 2012. No one at this time really even knew what CrossFit ® was, including myself. I tried it out with another bartender friend of mine and that was it. Game over. I was hooked.”
Hannah took an on-ramp beginner class and one of her first workouts was Fran. Fran is a 21-15-9 rep scheme of thrusters and pull ups alternating back and forth. “That was the first workout where I was like what is this sh*t. I couldn’t straighten my arms or tie my hair up for a week,” Hannah confesses.
Hannah divulges that she has a very addictive personality, which can be both a blessing and a curse. She identifies it and rather than letting it overtake her in negative environments, she tries to honor it with positive things such as fitness and work ethic.
Hannah began a deep dive into CrossFit ® she continued to bartend on the weekends. Her goal was simple- she wanted to become a competitive athlete. With this mindset she began to resent her work environment at an ever-increasing rate.
“I knew it was a great stepping stone to get to the next place. When I was at work I wasn’t drinking or doing drugs I was very committed to the lifestyle and becoming an athlete. I worked Thursday through Friday and the rest of the week I was committed to my training.”
In 2012 Hannah was a senior in college about to finish a degree in photography. Her school would routinely send her notifications about photography jobs in the area, which was very conflicting. She wanted to be a committed athlete, yet was about to wrap up a degree she had worked hard on the last several years.
“I wasn’t sure where I wanted to be, which is a place I think most of us struggle with after college. So finally, I was like ‘hey I want to be removed from this list so I can focus on my training.’ I was going to give myself a year to see what I could really do. That was in 2013 and after that things began to really pick up for me.”
Hannah honed her CrossFit ® skills and became a good athlete. She began attending local comps where she thrived. In 2013 she began training with a team with the intention of qualifying for regionals that year.
“We came in 14th place out of 16 teams. I was so pissed. I would have rather come in 100th. I think that was kind of the end for me. We [the team] committed our entire lives to becoming athletes, I’m not totally sure why looking back now, but when you’re in it, you’re in it and I honestly thought I was going to the CrossFit ® games.”
Soon after coming back from regionals Hannah injured her back. She had been in denial for a while about the chronic nature of her reoccurring back issues and how it was affecting her training. It forced her to take a step back and see where she could put this much energy and what might be the outcome for her professionally, while sparing her body from more serious injury down the road.
“That’s when my businesses began to really evolve,” said Hannah.
Timing is a crazy thing. While Hannah doesn’t necessarily believe in luck, she does believe you need to work hard in order for luck to appear. For her, lots of things hit the ground at once. Hannah had committed the last several years entirely to being an athlete. During this time, she was also coaching and an opportunity came up to start a boot camp class during a class time that wasn’t attracting much interest.
“The owner of my gym handed me this class to see what I could do with it. I had so many friends at the time who were afraid of CrossFit ® and thought it was a cult. I was still in touch with reality and in my head was like, ‘how can we take away all of the intimidating things?’ We took away the barbell, we didn’t prescribe weight, and we made things time based rather than rep based and that is how PumpFit began.”
Hannah pulled on the skills she had amassed through her degree in photography to market her new class. She became obsessed with trying to get people into the door to discover a program she had fallen in love with teaching. As momentum built and a buzz was created, having 40 people in a class any given Wednesday night at 7pm was proof enough that a need not previously met was being fulfilled.
Hannah began to realize this could become something greater than she had originally imagined.
“As the class became more popular, I began to butt heads with the owner. I spent so much time creating the programming and marketing the class there were many aspects of it that seemed really unfair. I felt like I was being undervalued and my work ethic wasn’t being recognized. I was being paid pennies. I had to coach three classes a week just to get a free membership. Anything else on top of that was 15$/ hour.”
As things came to a head, words were exchanged that could never be unsaid. Hannah was sick and tired of building someone else's business and overwhelmed by daily feelings of unsettlement. She wanted desperately to be doing this for herself and building her own business.
This was a pivotal moment that shaped the beginnings of what would bring Hannah closer to many very successful business ventures. Soon after, Hannah entered a competition to become the face of Reebok One with the encouragement of a friend in the fitness community.
“I was like, ‘Okay whatever, I’ll do it thinking nothing would come of it. I ended up making it to the top 12 and then to the top 4. All of a sudden, I was at Reebok HQ surrounded by all these people in the industry I had looked up to and I was eating dinner next to them. It was surreal.”
Ultimately, Hannah ended up not winning, which in her words, was her ‘favorite failure’. Had she won she may have walked away content but instead, she went home pissed. She went home wanting more, having come away from a weekend in the midst of such inspiring company.
“I would have been the face of Reebok One. You get a one-year contract, money, clothes, published in a magazine. But it didn’t happen and it was gut wrenching. I followed up with every single person I met. As soon as I got home, I decided I was going to open a gym. We found a space and began building it out.”
A few months later, deep into running a new business, Hannah received calls from Women’s health and Men’s health magazine tracing back to her involvement in the Reebok campaign. They were about to shoot a DVD and asked if she would be the background talent, which would ultimately lead to her own DVD as the producers were blown away by her positive attitude and energy.
“The seeds had been planted, some of them years ago. I didn’t just stop because I didn’t get that original opportunity, it just made me hungrier. It was just like a training program. I made sure I showed up every day with consistency and I followed a formula. The same things I did inside the gym I applied to things outside of the gym and it was like- ‘well I didn’t think I could do that but I did it anyway.’
Hannah adopted the mentality that most everyone doesn’t have a clue what they are doing when they begin anything, but she was ready to put the effort in. Not only did she have zero experience running a business, she truthfully had never had a real job going from bartending to opening up her own shop. Therefore, there was no road map as to how things were done on the inside.
“I had nothing to refer to when it came to running a business. A lot of mistakes were made. At the same time, it has become kind of this obsessive thing for me to learn how to run this business better.”
At this point I couldn’t help but begin to wonder- did anyone show up when she finally opened her doors?
They did. But not without a price. A hefty price. Hannah almost opened her business up in the red. All of the members she had attracted with her class, her programming, and her marketing had signed a contract at that facility.
“When I told the owner what we were planning on doing he obviously was not happy. I told him I wanted to bring my people with me and he said, absolutely, just with a really, really big price tag in the ball park of $10,000. I was so upset because he had already made so much money off these people, but if I didn’t do it, he would send me to collections with the rest of their contracts.”
Because this issue existed outside of the members and had absolutely nothing to do with them- Hannah paid him. She described it as one of the most painful experiences of her life. She did it without retaliation and without saying one bad word about him.
“I made all of my payments on time. Sometimes you just need to wash your hands of something and let it be done. Walk away knowing that you made the right decision and hope that you learn never to treat anyone like that.”
As a gym owner and mentor Hannah wants to elevate her people and encourage them to cultivate their own careers and open their own gyms, should they choose to do so. A job at her gym or in her business is just a stepping stone to another level of success for her team.
“That is something that I truly feel because I only wish I had that kind of support from my gym ‘family’. My decisions were never meant to hurt his business, it was meant to try and improve my life but it was a very painful experience.”
This decision allowed her to open the gym with 22 initial members. Her early success also stemmed from cultivating a name and subsequent brand for herself in the CrossFit ® world and the exposure she had gotten from Reebok.
“There were a lot of things that ran parallel with the hard work we had been putting in. Now my husband is 100% running the gym.”
Hannah has gone on to try to recreate their live class environment in a virtual space online. It has been almost ‘freaky’, in her words the impact that social media can have.
“I always used to feel like the computer eliminates human connection but now, I think it makes people more vulnerable because they feel safer in sharing certain things.”
Hannah has created an online community and app that can be used by anyone, anywhere with access to an Internet connection. In addition to workouts, members also receive access to a private Facebook community which is a safe place devoid of cyber bullying or negativity.
As of late it seems like many former athletes, Instagram influencers, and burnt out CrossFitters are looking to sell online programs via apps and social networking through Facebook groups. I wondered if this makes Hannah feel the need to step it up with her own online programming?
“I think we all need to stay on our toes because it’s becoming a very oversaturated market. If you’re in this for the right reasons you can create a sense of trust and loyalty but if you don’t care you won’t last.”
As an entrepreneur in the fitness industry Hannah stresses the importance of understanding the power that exists in social media. She is not selling six weeks to a six pack. Yes, she can write you a 14-week program, but what comes after that? If you want to stay in shape you need to do this forever and she isn’t shy about letting her clients know it.
“There is no quick fix and we need to stop pretending to sell that,” Hannah says. “I used to be nervous and look around at what other people were saying or doing, but that’s not a healthy thing to do.”
The same applies to nutrition advice. Anyone can sell anything with the exposure of a social media account. Instead of mindlessly scrolling, we need to make sure the information we are receiving is legitimate.
“I just had a call with Jen Widerstrom who said it was really cool to see me ‘just doing Hannah’. I’ve turned down other opportunities and working with other brands and athletes so I can focus on building a business that has longevity. A business for when I have kids and for our future. I don’t just want to have an Instagram page because when happens when I’m old and wrinkly?”
If Instagram goes away tomorrow, then what are we doing? With a business and platform that heavily relies on social media engagement, thisterrifies Hannah.
“Maybe I could have made a lot of money doing a pay per post deal because I have such a large following, but that’s just not my style. I would rather be real and give people real information and hope that in ten years they will still be in my tribe. It’s not just some quick fad.”
In such a disposable industry Hannah is always trying to promote growth for herself and her team in everything she does.
“Sometimes I’m going to hit it and sometimes I’m going to miss, but I would rather do that than sell my soul to social media or go work for someone else.”
These days Hannah devotes all of her time to working on her online platform. She has two different locations, one for her brick and mortar gym and the other for her online business.
Where did this self-described, ‘gross and weird’ work ethic driving Hannah’s entrepreneurial spirit come from?
“My dad worked for one company most his career and worked really hard to get to the top. I think confidence is the only thing that happened. I’ve also discovered that some people are really good at being told what to do and others aren’t. In that case they need to figure out what the next best thing is for them.”
Hannah isn’t convinced that what she has actually come from influence, rather it’s just who she is as a person inside and out. She can’t stop even when she sometimes wishes she could.
When it comes to other women in the fitness industry, I wondered how Hannah felt she was perceived.
“This is funny because I’m really not tough. I’m the most ever sensitive person ever. I overthink everything and I let everyone else’s emotions consume me. That’s just who I am and honestly sometimes, I hate that about myself.”
Although from the outside people may think Hannah has it all figured out, she couldn’t think of a statement further from the truth. That holds true for everything- her business, marriage, and the relationships that surround her.
“If someone can learn something from what I’ve experienced, that helps me because then it’s no longer just about me. Being a coach or even just being someone who wants to make people feel good by eating healthy and exercising has nothing to do with you, it’s always about the other person.”
When someone is sad all we ever do is try to comfort them, but sometimes we are internally begging for someone to come up to us and tell us to get our sh*t together. But they don’t because it’s like, we need to take care of this person. We need to be that person for ourselves. If we stay consumed within ourselves, we aren’t going to feel better, yet as soon as we try to help someone else it shifts our focus and we are out of it.
I understand why people may perceive Hannah as tough or unapproachable. Looking at her is never going to be a warm fuzzy feeling, but talking to her promotes the opposite effect. She is very warm and welcoming. Yet, the red hair, defined brows, tattoos, and lean stature creates the shallow perception of an equally tough persona.
I was originally prompted to ask this question because as an easily recognized and successful woman in the fitness, she may feel unapproachable to other women who are intimidated or jealous.
“I see what has been going on in this industry between females and the competition that exists. Nicole (of TheChestee) has collaborated with other female entrepreneurs and it’s so refreshing to see women working together. The jealousy sh*t is dead.”
Like an elephant in the room I just cannot leave her red hair unaddressed.
“Man, it’s been way too long now,” Hannah says. I have only really ever had dark hair except maybe one time when I dyed it ombre. I had a dream my hair was red, so the next day I asked my hair stylist to dye it for me. It was a six-month project to get it to where it is now and seven years later it’s still here.”
It’s quite possible that Hannah was branding herself at that moment without even meaning to. Her red hair, now so easily recognizable and deeply ingrained in her business she wonders, does success even exist in its absence?
“It just takes you back a little and stirs up all this fear in me about not being seen without my red hair.”
Which begs the question - shouldn’t people just value her coaching rather than the way she looks?
“I’m literally going through those emotions right now because my hair has become so damaged. I’m conscious about what I eat and the deodorant I use and I’m bleaching my hair every 5 weeks. So maybe I do need a change and I could really grow from it. I still have the fear that everything could go away tomorrow without it even though that sounds silly.”
We joke about getting off this call and her resigning herself to a New Year’s resolution of shaving her head or at the very least going back to more natural roots.
Photo by: Matt Roy