For some, going to the gym is a dreaded chore akin to grocery shopping or washing a comforter. But Kim Schwickrath doesn’t share that outlook. As Planet Fitness’s facilities director, hitting the gym isn’t just a healthy pastime—it’s the center of her career. It’s her job to create and maintain safe, well-equipped, and motivating spaces for people to achieve their fitness goals, no matter how they might feel about them at first.
According to Schwickrath, her passion for delivering a healthy experience for gym-goers across the United States is entirely motivated by her own personal affinity for fitness. The facilities director grew up in what she describes as a “healthy household,” where sports participation and nutritional eating were encouraged from day one.
“I’m a child of two athletes; my father was a baseball player and my mother was a basketball player, so I was, of course, an athlete myself. My parents always encouraged us to play outside often and to eat well—we only had soda on very special occasions. Otherwise, forget about it,” she recalls with a laugh.
“In my opinion, honesty and empathy go hand in hand.”
Schwickrath’s childhood influences eventually transformed into personal drivers for her physical and academic pursuits in young adulthood. In her teen years, she was a standout shot putter for her track and field team, and in college, she went on to get a degree in physical education.
“I enjoyed being physical and active, but I soon realized that maybe teaching physical education wasn’t really for me,” she explains. While she pondered what her next career move might be, Schwickrath began competing in powerlifting competitions. “I was working out in some real grungy gyms, but I absolutely loved it. They were exciting, motivating environments, but I was still figuring out what I wanted to do long-term,” she says. Eventually, Schwickrath’s personal interests segued into professional interests, and she landed a job at a well-known chain of gyms based out of greater New York City.
“I found a job in the paper, way back in the Dark Ages, as a club manager. I thought, ‘You know what, this sounds like exactly what I’m cut out for,’” she says. And it certainly was. Schwickrath stayed with the company for nearly 25 years. “I worked my way up to director of facilities, and honestly, that’s where I learned everything. When it came time to leave, I knew that I wanted to stay in the health club business because it fits into my personal and career interests, and it’s what I truly love.”
“Kindness is not equivalent to weakness, and showing your employees empathy doesn’t make them see you as a weak leader.”
Now, at Planet Fitness, Schwickrath continues to use her decades of experience and passion as a dedicated director of facilities for 105 corporate clubs across the United States. “I am responsible for the physical plant of all of those clubs as well as the physical equipment,” explains Schwickrath, who also notes that her team of 12 in-house technicians tackles any equipment issues. 2020 was a particularly challenging year, especially for her team. “We had to adopt some radical changes into our cleaning and operations schedules, but Planet Fitness did an incredible job of ensuring that we could open gyms and operate safely.”
Sometimes the amount of work can be overwhelming, but Schwickrath believes that leading by example helps keep her team motivated and ready to face any challenges that come across their table. “Being a good leader, to me, means doing the work that you expect your team to do. If our team needs to pick up equipment, I’m ready to pick it up; if we have to clean out awful, dirty shower drains, I’m ready to do that too. It might sound overdone, but I want my team to know that I respect them and wouldn’t expect them to do anything that I wouldn’t do myself,” she explains.
Schwickrath also places a huge emphasis on honesty when it comes to good leadership. “The people that work for and with you know when you’re being disingenuous, and that erodes any trust or respect that you might have in your working relationship. And, in my opinion, honesty and empathy go hand in hand,” she explains. “Someone once told me that kindness is not equivalent to weakness, and showing your employees empathy doesn’t make them see you as a weak leader. It makes them view you as an equal and as someone who has their best interest in mind. This is what I want to be as a leader, because people will follow you and do as you ask when they know that you truly understand and care for them.”
In addition to her love of health and fitness, Kim Schwickrath is also a passionate animal rights activist and volunteer. She has her hand in a few different volunteer organizations, but she spends quite a bit of her time with the ASPCA. “My volunteer work with the ASPCA mainly deals in legislation, so I make phone calls and send emails to representatives, but I have done some foster work through other opportunities,” she says, adding with a laugh, “Of course, I have one foster failure.”
When she’s not at the gym, either for work or play, she can be found taking her three pups out for some exercise with her husband.
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