I first met Ashleigh when I started working out at Sal’s Gym in Flint last year. She and her husband Jake Saldaña are the owners of the gym, but they do so much more than train athletes. Ashleigh and I have had many conversations, just the two of us, talking about life, goals, losses and gains, and what really matters. She has inspired me during the hardest times in my life and been a grounding force that reminds me to keep going no matter what happens. My hope is that after reading this you are as inspired by her as I have been. If you’re looking to start your own business or have already done so, I hope her advice is as meaningful and helpful to you as it has been to me. Ashleigh, thank you for sharing your story with us and inspiring me and so many other people who have come in contact with you.
“The reward for conformity is that everyone likes you, but yourself,” is a quote that Ashleigh Saldaña reminds herself when she is overwhelmed or discouraged while running her gym, loving her husband and best friend, and while raising her four kids.
“I think that we worry so much about what others think and I know that in the beginning, that's what I was worried about in the back of my head. I could feel people around me think like ‘What the hell are these people doing?’ But I couldn't stick to a normal lifestyle. I won't do that. I won't work a 9 to 5. I won't. I won't sacrifice the time with my family or the people here that I love. It would be easier sometimes and probably a little bit more cost-effective to hire people and have an outside job, but this matters too much.”
People impact us differently by the ways that come in and out of our lives. There are specific people who leave lasting and powerful impressions on us. Ashleigh Saldaña is a woman that few of us meet in a lifetime.
Ashleigh has repeatedly chosen to be outside what society has said is the way she should live her life and instead has chosen to live bravely, free and with an endless dedication to her dreams.
Ashleigh started her coaching career when she was in her early twenties coaching middle school cheerleaders. “I loved it. And I think that's when I kind of realized that I wanted to coach. Watching the girls grow was so damn cool. Then Jake and I started doing CrossFit together probably 10 or 11 years ago.”
Jake and Ashleigh started working together as coaches at Crossfit gyms and began to see different holes and gaps in the industry that motivated them to find solutions.
“I kept seeing things that needed to be different and needed to be changed. And I thought we could do better, and that kind of is what has got us to where we are now.”
The energy and space that Ashleigh has facilitated at Sal’s gym is the biggest good gang energy. Ashleigh coaches her athletes with authenticity and experience. The best days at the gym are when her two boys are skateboarding and laughing while members are deadlifting to the best hype music. Ashleigh will walk by, holding one or both of her twin girls, and remind you that you can do hard things. She will remind you to push yourself and she does it by example.
“I think everybody needs a place where they can feel like they can grow, get better at something. And it needs to be specific. You can’t find that everywhere, but I think you can find that here,” she said.
Ashleigh has learned to trust her inner voice on what matters to her and is unwilling to sacrifice any of them to conform to what society deems as a normal and successful life. Ashleigh has reminded me time and time again that I can do hard things. She has reminded me that being true to myself and my values are all I can really hold myself accountable towards. I was once told we are the product of the five people we surround ourselves with. Who do you surround yourself with? What other women are inspired by your unwillingness to conform?
The best words of wisdom Ashleigh has given to me has applied not only to my business but also to my life. Ashleigh once told me that sometimes when you are pursuing your dreams you are going to lose people, but you are going to lose all the right people. That really spoke to me because loss can be overwhelming and painful, but her words have kept me focused. Her words have reminded me that you can not sacrifice your dreams for anyone or anything. I continue to repeat this to myself while I build this life and dream I have now.
Fear, shame and guilt keep so many of us as women cornered and caged. When we set ourselves free from what we think others want from us, when we set ourselves free from what we think life should look like, we become free to experience life in a way that is truly priceless.
Written and Photographed by: Jenifer Veloso