If you’re a gym rat, you’re probably familiar with conventional ways to get your body moving, sweating, and all muscled up. But today’s guest, Shark Tank success and public speaker, Sarah Apgar, is here to introduce something new to us. Joining Julie Christopher, Sarah shares her own innovation, the Steelhose, and how it poses as a tool for trainers, coaches, gyms, teams, physical therapists, and the general public, to keep them ready for their everyday mission. Through Steelhose, Sarah has impressed Shark Tank investors and has greatly expanded her market. Learn more as Sarah talks about her role as founder and CEO of FitFighter, and how the company redefines fitness with its imbalanced strength and mobility system.
Listen to the podcast here:
Shark Tank Success: The FitFighter With Sarah Apgar
We have Sarah Apgar with us. Let me tell you a little bit about Sarah and how powerful does being is and the work of service that she does every single day. Sarah is the Founder of FitFighter. A way of life that makes you mission-ready. She designed her signature strength training tool, the Steel Hose featured in 2020 on ABC’s Shark Tank to train firefighters better for the rigors of the job. FitFighter is available to all us to keep us ready for our everyday mission.
Sarah is an Iraq War veteran, all-American Khaleeji, athlete, fitness professional, former volunteer firefighter and mom of two little girls. In addition to her primetime Shark Tank debut, Sarah and FitFighter have been featured in Men’s Health magazine, Muscle & Fitness, ABC News, USA Sports Radio, Armed Forces Network and Oxygen Magazine. Performed for clients, The life of ESPN FDNY and the United States Military.
Sarah promotes and celebrates the power of teams, women leaders and public service contributing a portion of sales to the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation. Before launching FitFighter, Sarah was an executive at Warby Parker, overseeing the opening of the first 50 brick and mortar retail stores in the US and Canada.
Ms. Sarah Apgar, how are you?
I’m awesome. Thank you.
We in the world have a few questions for you because it seems like your story is so relevant for our women entrepreneurs but also all entrepreneurs that we can dig into your lessons and wisdom. You went through some phenomenal challenges that you were able to shift into treasure. Tell us more. What inspired you to volunteer first as a firefighter?
When I left the military, I felt this void as I wound my way through an introduction into civilian life and figuring out what was going to be my next chapter. I went to graduate school. When I left there, my first role in the professional world outside of the United States Army was at Warby Parker. I was immediately thrust into this beautiful mission-driven environment where Warby is donating glasses to people around the world who need vision services and, all the while, building this beautiful brand. I was driven to the ground floor of this brand. This was a great experience because it was my first introduction to how a business can be a charitable contributor and do well and do good at the same time.
During that tenure, I missed that community and the comradery of the military. I noticed that my local community volunteer fire service and the firehouse were right around the corner from the rental home we’d found on Long Island. I wandered into an open house, met the fire chief and realized this is a great way to bring that lifestyle, community and passion for being around people, the physical training, leadership and team-oriented work. I started training to be a firefighter in New York State EMT. That was the perfect way to get back some of that lifestyle that I missed from my first career.
When you said about the lifestyle from your first career, you’ve mentioned the community, the service, the giving back, I love that. I’m going to quote that, “Do well and do good.” It’s so simple, but often as I speak to a lot of entrepreneurs globally, it’s something that is talked about but not proven in action. The most powerful prayer in the world is action. You have proven it. That’s why I adore you. You take those steps of action. You could have gone the other way around. You could have said, “I don’t have time for that. I’m going to stay home and do whatever I need to do or get another job,” but you followed your intuition.The most powerful prayer in the world is action. Click To Tweet
The birth of FitFighter is entirely a story about having intuition and problem-solving.
What was the biggest challenge in your business?
I would be remiss if I didn’t start with a primary answer to this question being the COVID-19 pandemic that we’ve all lived through in 2020. The reason for that is because at that time, March 2019, I was one year into the launch of FitFighter. I had built the business with a strategy to serve first personal trainers, coaches, teams, gyms, studios and anyone who could use a steel hose and the FitFighter philosophy to serve their clients and the people who already trusted them as members.
You can imagine in March of 2019, what happened is that the entire professional industry virtually shut down. That whole industry of trainers, coaches and teams has been in their survival mode, much less, introducing a new philosophy of training and a true category creation into this market. What we did is came together as our Motley’s small team that we were at the time and said, “We always intended for a FitFighter and The Steel Hose, our signature training tool, to be something that would sit in people’s living rooms, hang on their walls, in their garage gyms or thrown into the trunks of their car.”
We always knew we had something special that could impact people and weave into the fabric of their lives. I didn’t imagine so soon launching a direct-to-consumer channel, where we would be immediately putting our home gym sets into people’s hands, launching an on-demand live training library and conducting training people in their homes. That’s what happened. Every small business owner who had to survive through that period had to pivot too.
The beauty of the story is that created opportunity for us to impact people at a time when they needed that strength. They needed the spirit of service and the hope of a different future. That’s what I feel like we deliver with the FitFighter experience. It’s a story where it’s the biggest challenge that ultimately turns into an opportunity for the people that we impact and for us.
The wisdom bomb that you shared is the key to your success. If someone understands this, it’s you. You’re a war veteran. You were able to step into that hot fiery uncomfortable zone and unleash your purpose to serve millions. That is amazing. FitFighter was founded on the simple belief that anyone can begin a journey to lifelong strength and embrace every challenge that comes their way. You remove our excuses. Fitness for us isn’t about measurement, metrics or competition. It’s about the freedom to live a happier and healthier life. It’s the story of the American dream. What are the benefits of FitFighter?
The bottom line is strength training. When I say strength training, I don’t mean high interval training or bodyweight exercises. Strength training with weight and resistance training tools is something that every single human age 8 to 80. If you’re lucky enough to still be breathing beyond 80, it’s for you too, all the way until the end for every single human. This is critical to our long-term, musculoskeletal strength, heart health and lung health. Weight training has benefits and advantages far beyond. “I’m looking to build a little bit of muscle mass and tighten things up.” That’s research evidence medical data that is not an opinion or philosophy of my own.
With that starting point, the benefits of The Steel Hose, I had to boil it down to three benefits. Number one, this is the safest strength training and resistance tool in the world. What I mean by that is this can be something that you throw around, lift, drag, throw, toss, drop, lay around on your body, holding a hundred different grip patterns.
This is a safe way for families and people of all ages to be able to experience a new category of strength training that allows them to feel their movements, their weight training and their work with weight on their body in a way that’s different than they ever have before. That’s a beautiful way in which we’re creating a new category of weight training, the way most people think.
The second thing is versatility, whether we’re a teenage athlete, a postpartum mom, a soldier, a firefighter or an endurance athlete who’s primarily focused on that cardiovascular conditioning but still needs that joint stability. The list goes on in the ways that FitFighter philosophy and our tools can help. The third is still a little visionary here. Believe me about the future. Rather than thinking of the next 40 minutes of fitness in my day, think of leaving the experience of strength and weightlifting into the fabric of your day. Create movement as an experience instead of something that is a workout. That’s what I want people to feel infused into themselves through what they’re doing with us.
First of all, I’m going to go get 1 or 2 because I have daughters. They’re are exercising. I’m a yoga therapist. When I teach my retreat, I would use the hose, the FitFighter. I can see my classes in the retreat. Everyone is having a hose and experiencing a different level of yoga. Thank you.It's ultimately about how you take the biggest challenges and turn them into opportunities. Click To Tweet
We have a lot of yoga studios with our clients.
Even at the desk, for entrepreneurs, I can imagine having that behind my neck and then doing my work out here or shoulder work. You are creating a solution for what didn’t exist before because we didn’t see the problem until you showed up. We see the problem. I tear up my muscle in 3 years, almost 4, heavy competition, CrossFit. I was competitive and all of that, then I tear. I had to quit. That would have been the best thing for me. Those three keys are amazing. How does working with a Shark like Daniel Lubetzky impact your life and business?
Daniel has come into my life and impacted me not only as an entrepreneur but as a founder, someone who has created something from scratch and is building a vision for the future of what that can be. Also, began to be a mentor who can help me to set that compass for the company and help me to prioritize what we need to be focused on in the immediate term, still both respect and indulge in what the future can bring.
That’s very powerful because as an entrepreneur, one of the hardest things is that you have to be a visionary. You don’t spend years of your life without taking a salary, trudging through the mud with the anchor dragging you down if you don’t have a vision for what you can be and what your company will be. Nobody is going to make that move and go through that unless they have this deep passionate belief.
Daniel as a founder himself, has been in my shoes multiple times in his life. This is not someone who sits upon a pedestal in a different place on a different planet. When we talk, we’re talking like people who at different times in our life have been equals. He understands what this feels like. That is special because I wasn’t sure what to expect from these conversations. I know that he’s also going to bring down a heavy gavel when there are decisions we need to make and places where I’ve gone astray. He has helped me to set that compass and continue towards that North Star while also understanding what those important critical milestones are.
What you brought forth to him as well has value. It’s a win-win situation because a lot of times, people see you on TV, on the set of Shark Tank like, “She’s beautiful. She’s got the muscle. She’s going to get a deal.” A lot of people think how easy is it for you to show up and get a deal but then those Sharks, those really successful entrepreneurs, see tremendous value otherwise, they would not partner up with you but it’s to say that you brought value to him in his life as well. I truly believe that.
It’s like you see somebody on Shark Tank and you bow down like, “They’re the financial god.” In my opinion, it doesn’t work that way. You are equal. You might not have the finance that they have but you are equal in leadership and being a champion of a cause. To me, this is the biggest ideal situation to find that team, person, mentor or collaborator with that you can co-create a reality that will expand your purpose, product and brand. What I feel about your connection is so beautiful. There is no fear. It’s not ego-based. There’s no limit with where you’re going. You deserve that success. If somebody deserves it, it’s you. It’s unlimited.
I’m grateful for the sentiment that this is something that is a partnership. I’ve spent my entire career as a woman in a man’s world and there’s no getting around that. I don’t in any way have any ill feelings or resentment about that. I have zero negativity but there is a reality to it. There’s a reality to the fact that you always start down in a hole when you’re a woman in a man’s world.
You’re immediately cast as someone who is one of these things as not like the other. That in itself comes with the need to bolster yourself up further than someone else who doesn’t start with that disadvantage and that’s a reality. We all know that. I have no resentment at all about it but I do think it’s something important to showcase.
What do you say to that woman who has this big idea, this big dream and is ready to make that step towards their commitment in action? What would be a believe, a step of action, any advice that you have for that woman? Let’s say that women have children at home and want to start something from home. You started it in your garage. You created something out of nothing, out of a piece of cloth. What do you say to that woman who has this fire in themselves where they’re like, “I’m supposed to do something big on this planet. I have a vision?” What would they need to do?
I have three pieces of advice. The first one is to be the most curious person that you know. That curiosity is something that breathes connection with people, energy and innovation. Always ask people questions. Get to know people and new ideas. Always be the one to ask the final question. Be the one to say, “What about if we do it this way? What if.” Other than somebody who’s a negative Nancy who likes to pull down anything. There are not that many people that are truly wired that way in the world. There are a few on Facebook but not many.
If you’re curious, you find yourself breathing energy in people and ideas. As moms, we spend exhausting days raising our kids, getting things done, multitasking and executing. Curiosity breathes something that’s a different energy in us. I feel strongly about that. I got that from my parents and my family that were always curious people. I am so grateful for that.Fitness isn't about measurement, metrics, or competition. It's about the freedom to live a happier and healthier life. Click To Tweet
Number two is to build a village around you. Not just a village where you have this unspoken, “We’re BFFs. I can call you.” Reach out and say to people, “I’m going to start something big here. I’m going to go after an idea and I might fail. I’m going to need those moments where I’m going to have to phone a friend because I’m staring at a white wall like during the COVID-19 pandemic, wondering what to do next. You’re going to be on my list of eight people who I’m always going to phone. Can you be that person for me? Can you always pick up the phone and know that if I’m calling at a weird time of day? I need you to drop what you’re doing.”
People in my life who were in that village know that with a 2:15 Wednesday call, they know who they are. They would call into you if this were like a call-in show and be like, “I’m on her list.” That’s a beautiful thing and it’s something that those people feel honored by that. I’m happy to do that in return if they would choose me. If not, no big deal. That’s something that needs to be proactive and deliberate rather than like, “We have lots of friends and acquaintances.” Those are the people that matter anyway.
You have a third one but it’s almost like without the second one that you spoke about, building a village, dies the foundation I feel as an entrepreneur. If you didn’t have that foundation, the other two would be good but weak without the village. What’s the third one?
The third one has two parts. These are the most practical ones. Number one is to be clear about money. You have to have clarity on where you stand personally and professionally with your partner, spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, partner, whoever it is, with your family, if you have kids. You have to be clear with whoever cofounders or business partners about where you stand. You have to think ahead and know what your runway is. You have to know that you’ve got realities in your life.
This is part two of the practical advice where you can’t compromise your family, your family time, your family’s needs and the things that you have to pay for, like your expenses. You have to decide, especially if you’re a mom entrepreneur. I can’t be 23 eating SpaghettiOs, working 19 hours a day for 7 days a week. That is not a lifestyle that will sustain my family and the people that I am responsible for.
This clarity around what your lifestyle requires and the capital and financial requirements that you have might sound dull and practical but some people get into this and don’t play that tape out to the finish line and the end the tape. You got to play the tape out to the end, says my friend, Damon West, who’s a beautiful person.
I always think about that with the practical nature of, “What are my life circumstances?” Everybody stares that in the face. If you come to the end of your runway, you haven’t made it and you got to shut things down, that’s okay because you played that tape out. You gave that best effort. You knew that was what you set out to do. That doesn’t mean that’s a failure. It means you succeeded at making that plan, knowing what you had to care for and what your responsibilities were.
You kept those responsibilities and promises. It would almost be worse if your business succeeded and you lost your family or, God forbid, your life. There are those stories out there. That’s the worst failure than to fail and make sure that you’ve maintained the responsibility. I’m not intending on being a Debbie Downer but I do intend to be real about it.
It’s so good that you are. It’s that ego complex of, “You want to be such an achiever and influencer and a master.” With that underneath your life is completely falling apart that you don’t even know who you are, you are trying so hard instead of doing what you did, which is being able to be so true to yourself. That is not the expectation of becoming something except knowing that you are already going with that solid foundation, even if it’s not a huge outcome, millions of dollars, a big home. That’s why I love your story because you demonstrate that any of us can do it and take those 3/4 steps of action.
Those steps of action are essential to an entrepreneur. It’s not just the new entrepreneur but I feel like I’m starting every day as an entrepreneur. Every day is something new and something that we create. It’s for everyone. You could even write an entire book and program around those three advices. They’re so powerful. Thank you for sharing that. If you could go back in time, what would you tell your younger self and why?
The first thing is that I grew up in a Baltimore suburb with a lot of very driven, successful, quite wealthy environment, a private school system and incredible opportunities. I always felt unconditionally loved and supported by my family. Sometimes what that environment will do to you is make you feel like you’re always needing to meet the next mark, like the grass is always greener. There’s always something more to achieve.
When I got older, in my college years and Army years, I finally realized that to immerse yourself in what you love and what you’re passionate about is where the grass is always greener. Achievement doesn’t have anything to do with some next arbitrary step for someone else, some group of people or demographic. We’ve created these tiered ways of thinking about success and wealth.Curiosity is something that breeds connection with people, and it's something that breeds energy and innovation. Click To Tweet
My friend Todd Durkin always talks about the ten forms of wealth. He’s a wonderful mentor of mine and you will love him when you look him up. He’s very much vibes our vibe. He talks about the ten forms of wealth. One of those is financial and one is your professional stature, then there’s all of these others, spiritual, love and passion. If we were to reframe the idea of what achievement means, then we would all be more wealthy people.
If I were to go back and tell my younger self, I would say, “Recognize that your wealth doesn’t come in the form of the next tier of achievement.” I realized the good news is that I started to realize that later in my life because I had an independent profession in the Army. I followed my callings. If I think about my early self and teenage years, I was on this path. I would have said, “That wealth comes in many forms.”
Do you have another advice for your younger self?
I’ve always wanted to be an ’80s rock star. You can see how I designed my FitFighter studio. You may have noticed I had this great photo of my friend where there are great guitars in the background and me. It’s been published a couple of times and I’m loving it because I’m sharing it with friends. I’m like, “The dreams coming true.” I’m planning on being a different form of a rock star with our Steel Hose performances. My goal is maybe 2022, 2023, FitFighter, Super Bowl halftime show.
The fact that you speak it out loud for the first time, not just for the sake of the show and the interview but you speak it out loud in existence. I know how powerful you are that you can manifest things. It’s already done. It’s in the universe. It’s in a bubble. You just have to know that it’s already in. That’s it.
I’m feeling like you were a person who I could like, “This is good. I can say this right here out loud and something going to spark.”
I’m good at holding space and when I see another light princess warrior that you are, I’m like, “Don’t hesitate.” This is powerful stuff. You have to speak in existence. When you come across somebody, that can be a mirror. Don’t hesitate. The background that you have speaks very loud and clear. I can see how you can have this as a show. You being the rock star leader but with your product and have a dance like a tribe thing going on. You can turn it into a song.
This is done. This is not an option. This is something that you need to do. Please don’t remove or clear that this is for your next life. It isn’t. This is what you’re born to do. You’re a multidimensional being. This is not for that next life. This is for now. I will make sure that it happens and in any form that I can help you with. What’s next in Sarah’s universe?
The milestone for me will be one, we have Steel Hoses in the hands of one million people because then I feel like we’ll start to make a dent. We are developing our platform for bringing people into our FitFighter universe, which they can access online. Every Friday at noon, I stand up on this stage and run my own FitFighter live, which is the precursor to the Super Bowl. We are going to turn that into the experience that I was describing.
It’s a great workout and movement experience. I’m teaching you about our product and my training philosophy. I’m sharing with you some exercises for your mindset. I’m going to turn that into an experience where people are living for Friday at noon. They’re so pumped to get to Friday and I’m like, “I’m coming on.” Throughout the week, you work with my FitFighter Pros. That’s what’s next on the direct-to-consumer side. You may have noticed that on our Shark Tank update, we launched DICK’S Sporting Goods.
Thank you. The demographic of people that go to DICK’S Sporting Goods matches what I described 8 to 80, every sport in the world, including fishing, fitness sport or whatever. That’s a perfect partner for us. We are going to treat DICK’S stores like the FitFighter stores. You’re going to see us all over the map with my pro-team doing demos and getting Steel Hoses in people’s hands. That’s what’s next and I can’t wait. We have so much work to do and I’m so pumped about it.
You and Daniel have a huge team on your side. You have the Fantasies and the support. You can at least relax. You’ve done all the groundwork for so many years. You can take a moment, enjoy and celebrate what you are because you so deserve it in a big way. I’m proud of you. You deserve success in this lifetime, not the next one.
Light up a candle and incense. Be like, “This is who I am. I am the light warrior princess.” You created that reality, Sarah. Can you believe the journey and where you are? The people, including myself, that’s going to go on your train to support you because 1 takes 2, 2 takes 4 and 1 million is so quick. It’s going to be like, “You reached one million.” I have no problem saying that. Final word, anything that you want to add that would add value to you? Any words? Anything you like to share that we can include or not?
To our FitFighter family out there, don’t be afraid of hard things and to reimagine your life. You’re building your own life. You are your own strength. As I say to everybody who I train, from the top of your head and to the bottoms of your feet and out to your fingertips, you got this beautiful, strong chemical and incredible powerful force inside of you. We don’t fully appreciate that. We think that we have limitations that are arbitrarily set on us. We don’t. We can always push so far through those limitations. Every single human I genuinely believe is so much stronger than they imagine. I’m here to prove it. That’s my minute.
You’re here to serve that full potential in being a mirror to others and an example to turn the key to unlock everybody’s full potential. Salute. Thank you with all my love, heart and soul for your presence.
- Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation – YouTube
- Sarah Apgar
- Daniel Lubetzky
- Todd Durkin