Fatherhood — like athletics — is a physical and mental challenge with lifelong impacts, said Isaac Thibault, detailing the parallels at the core of his pandemic-pivoted career turn as a personal trainer.
Launched this summer, Thibault’s PushIT Fitness targets married men with children — a demographic that allows the 25-year-old Overland Park entrepreneur an opportunity to boost bodies and biceps, as well as families, he said.
“For me, that means being more alert and energized at home so that dads can play with their kids; so that they can have better conversations with their wives; so that they can have happier, active relationships that continue into their 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s,” said Thibault, who left behind a career in sales to pursue his personal passion after COVID restrictions shut down the startup where he worked.
His young brand is dedicated to pushing dads to become more resilient, more confident and stronger through strength training, he said of the fitness offerings, which stretch between virtual and in-person one-on-one workouts to group sessions.
Click here to follow Thibault on Instagram.
A new six-week PushIT program is specially designed to restart health and fitness goals in 2021, as well reconnect with and build family, he said. Ultimately, he aims to develop a community of dads who can support each other through the shared workout experience and beyond.
Click here to explore packages and programs from PushIT Fitness.
“Right now, people are thinking about the virus, but it could be something as simple as rolling your ankle while you’re on a walk with a dog or your kids — becoming a stronger person is going to make you more resilient when you face any physical challenge,” Thibault said.
And mental performance is just as critical, he emphasized, noting that a workout’s effects on a person’s emotional state — because they’re more confident, more energized or just naturally feeling better at a cellular level — can be even more important than physical gains.
“Your kids are going to notice that,” he said. “They notice everything.”
No better time
Armed with a degree in applied behavior analysis, Thibault thought he was going to be a life insurance salesman, he said.
“I don’t like wearing a suit and I don’t like talking about life insurance, so it was a natural dead stop,” Thibault said, describing the path that led him to other sales roles before scoring a job at Swell Spark, a leading Kansas City startup that specializes in experience-based entertainment.
Click here to connect with Thibault on LinkedIn.
“I wanted to go to a startup company to get a smaller, more intimate feel — to have more impact,” he said.
The position — which involved large party and group sales for Swell Spark’s Blade & Timber axe-throwing brand — offered unexpected professional development, Thibault added.
“The job really allowed me to build my network within Kansas City because I was grabbing coffee with people, going to networking events, reaching out to everyone on Linkedin to preach for Blade & Timber and Breakout KC,” he said of the sister companies operated by Swell Spark.
When COVID-19 restrictions forced Blade & Timber’s temporary closure in March, Thibault saw an opportunity, he said.
“I’ve made good money in sales, but I didn’t ever feel fulfilled or fully happy — like it wasn’t my calling or passion to be in sales. … I’ve always enjoyed helping people, connecting with people on a deeper level,” he said. “Fitness, on the other hand, is something I’m super passionate about. It brings me joy, brings me energy.”
He’d been researching personal training for years — asking people already in the business about his potential in the industry.
“I knew I’d be taking a big cut in a nice W2 salary, but when I got laid off, I was like, ‘You know what? This is a sign. I’ve been wanting to do this; I don’t have a consistent salary. There’s literally no better time,’” Thibault said.
A husband, but not yet a father, Thibault links PushIT’s focus on dads to the good it can bring to kids.
He’s always loved being around children, the Hutchinson, Kansas, native said, noting his mom ran a daycare when he was younger, he grew up with three brothers and two sisters, assisted with youth programming at the local Boys and Girls Club, and worked with a truancy program while attending the University of Kansas.
“I was working with kids who were skipping school and had a lot of issues just getting to school. And few of them had a father figure in their life,” Thibault said. “Working with dads is a way I can impact kids like these the most. By going straight to the source.”
PushIT also is intensely personal for Thibault, he said.
A travel and outdoors lover — whether hiking in the mountains or on a local run just to clear his head — he wants to maintain his athletic lifestyle even after he one day becomes a father, he said.
“I want to be a strong dad who remains active so I can lead by example for my kids and build that lasting relationship with them,” Thibault said. “I know dads out there who already have some of those same feelings. Maybe their career is going really well and they’ve put the health aspect on the side. Maybe they’ve focused on the financial aspect of being the rock in the support structure of the family.”
His own father spent Thibault’s youth working to support six kids, he recalled, explaining his dad missed most of their sporting activities because he needed to work nights to provide for the family. He provided a much-needed financial foundation (and love), Thibault said, but wasn’t necessarily the one to give tips on health, sports and general fitness. Coaches, Thibault’s older brother and his brother’s friends filled that void.
Thibault wished the situation had been different, he admitted, but is grateful for the perspective it provided. (In a role reversal, Thibault now is training his dad as a client with his brother’s help.)
“I want to make sure when I’m a father that I’m the one who my kids look up to when it comes to learn how to shoot a basketball properly, how to bench press, how to squat, how to go on a long run, how to work those different skills into their lives,” he said. “I want to be a mentor in a way as they approach athletics, so they don’t have to look to any coaches or older siblings.”
“And I want to teach other fathers the same thing, so kids aren’t looking outside of the family for these positive role models — they have that one in their household all the time,” Thibault said. “When they score at a basketball game, they can look at their dad and not the coach, you know?”
A missing puzzle piece
Thibault isn’t sold on New Year’s resolutions, he said.
Statistics show most fail after just a couple months, if not sooner, he added, noting people should lean toward challenging themselves throughout the year, taking small steps to build consistent habits.
“A big focus with the kettlebell and with my own personal fitness goals is just becoming more athletic. I got away from that for a while, not playing sports anymore, not playing pickup basketball like I did in college. I want to be an athlete my whole life. I want to be able to go on a run whenever I want. And the kettlebell allows you to do a lot of athletic moves while also being strengthened. It’s kind of a win-win.”
— Isaac Thibault PushIT Fitness
Click here to watch kettlebell basics from Thibault.
“If you are going gung-ho right at the beginning of the year, it does make it more sustainable — starting fresh with your mental standpoint,” he said. “But a community aspect is always going to hold you more accountable, to keep those small steps building toward your goals.”
“A lot of the men I’ve talked to are craving community, friendship, a bonding experience outside of their home lives,” Thibault said, adding that COVID-19 precautions have left many dads feeling isolated and left to fend for their goals — or ignore them — alone.
He plans to apply his own incremental approach to help bring them together — inching toward his own eventual physical gym space where dads from across Kansas City can stay fit.
“The idea is to build the community — taking it one month at a time — until I have it big enough that I can open a gym and have that big PushIT Fitness logo looking down on me,” Thibault said.
The goal: Open the space by the time he’s 30.
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His wife, Erin, a nurse at St. Luke’s Hospital on the Country Club Plaza, provides accountability on his ongoing entrepreneurial journey, Thibault said, emphasizing her role in helping him remember PushIT’s success also is about providing financial stability for their own family.
It can be a fun, but heavy lift, he acknowledged.
“In the beginning, you have the excitement and motivation from just the novelty of starting your own business, but now that I’ve been doing it for a few months, I know you’re also constantly finding something that you suck at,” he said. “And it can get really demoralizing, but it’s also a huge opportunity for growth — whether that’s figuring out the marketing and sales piece, the financial aspect of things, managing and coordinating clients.”
Overcoming those challenges makes the brand stronger and Thibault better able to support both himself and clients, he said.
“I’m not trying to be some fitness guru,” he said. “It’s all about learning how to understand and connect with people. You have to ask the right questions, figure out their why — how to get from them what they want and where they want to go.”
“I try to build a big picture,” Thibault continued. “I tell clients the same thing I tell myself: to picture what their life could be like a year from now, six months from now — whatever their goals are — and then we figure out the missing piece of the puzzle to get them there.”