Walking around the city with Keighty Gallagher, it quickly becomes apparent that everyone knows her. And not in a passing, “Hey, shitty weather today,” way – they really know her. It’s a testament to her work at Tight Club, a boutique fitness studio that emphasizes creating community as much as working out, something Gallagher is fiercely proud of.
Gallagher’s enthusiasm is infectious and she’s passionate about the workout program she has built at Tight Club. As a track athlete who once had Olympic hopes, she knows that it takes energy, guts and drive to really excel at living a full-contact life, and she aims to make it all the more accessible with Tight Club. Back in 2012, Gallagher led training sessions at a public park in Vancouver before transforming her apartment into a studio – aptly known at the time as The Coach House. Word got out and before she knew it, the small studio space quickly outgrew the movement. And so she opened the Tight Club Field House just a little over a year ago. It’s a bright, positive space that is as inclusive and approachable as it is all monochrome walls, hard-hitting mantras and the only place you want to take a post workout selfie (something Gallagher would like to take credit for popularizing).
We met on a sunny autumn morning to talk about how the pressure of performing led her to her true calling, why it’s essential to occasionally switch off, and how working out is about one thing – having fun.
Kit and Ace: The pressure faced by young athletes is something that’s always interested us. Did you feel pressure to perform during your university scholarship?
Keighty Gallagher: My events were so high impact I always had shin splints and my knees hurt all the time. I was lifting a lot of weight, doing a ton of cross training and it just wasn’t good for my body or brain. I feel like you go through six years of something; every year you improve, and you live on this high, and the moment when things actually start to count – when your sport becomes your job – your advancements slow down or completely stop. And because of the crazy mental challenges you’re facing – whether that’s just trying to be a university student or trying to keep your scholarship – it was turning into a job that was not great.
KA: So you decided that life on the track wasn’t for you – what happened next?
KG: I finished my degree, a double major in marketing and advertising, and I tried my best to get a job in Portland, but it just wasn’t happening. I moved to Vancouver because my sister lived here, and I worked for a startup tech company. I wrote for the blog, did social media and lots of other stuff, but I didn’t really know what I was doing [in life].
KA: Did you feel that something was missing when you gave up track and went straight into a nine-to-five media job?
KG: Totally! I was having extreme identity crisis issues. Because, I was so attracted to creative people, I never hung out with anyone from business school; I was hanging out with skateboarders, painters and weirdos. I felt like track was my only identifier, so when I finally gave it up, I was like, well, who am I?
KA: How did you reconcile with yourself?
KG: There was a good three years of being so frustrated with who I was. That’s when people have insecurity – when you just haven’t found what you’re meant to do. I met my boyfriend and all it took was for him to say, “Keighty! Take a certification course.” In the back of my mind I always knew I wanted to be a personal trainer, but I was so concerned about my parents being mad that I wasn’t using my business degree. But, in the end, that’s what I am.
KA: You’ve brought it full circle with Tight Club – it’s more than just a gym, and more than just a business. It really feels like a community.
KG: From the actual logistical structure of The Field House, it’s not a place where you just come in, drop in and do your workout solo. Everything is group based. That’s not unlike other studios, but the program that I have created is all about connection, community and interaction. You can be so much more powerful when you’ve found your voice, and when you’re given the opportunity to find your voice.
KA: How do you encourage that at Tight Club?
KG: We always start with a check-in question. Something to get you out there. The questions can be funny and embarrassing, or cheeky in a way, but I find that at the end of the workout people stay behind and are like, “you over there, I like what you said – I get you, I feel you.” And that’s what I live for. That’s what it’s about.
Exercise puts you in a vulnerable position, and I just hate the idea of an instructor being unattainable. Like a god sent from the heavens that’s a drill sergeant. I think that’s a really great way to connect to your instructor – hearing them speak from the heart.
KA: Running a business, personal training, being a voice within the wellness community – how do you wind down?
KG: I’m so interested in meditation right now. I feel like my brain is wild and I need focus in my life. There’s the obvious – nutrition, fitness – but those are boring. To get real about it, it’s about trying to be present and really, really focusing on being appreciative of the things in my life, because I can forget so easily. Life can be an interval training class; you go hard and rest, go hard and rest. I know that I’m that kind of a person. I don’t have endurance – I’m a sprinter, a true sprinter. So I go hard and then I have to chill.
KA: Would you say leaving track behind and starting Tight Club was the biggest turning point in your life?
KG: I wake up every day with a purpose and finding that was the luckiest thing. Literally today, I trained with this girl and we did a very track-and-field-inspired workout. All the stuff that brought joy to my life when I was in track, and I didn’t have to worry about the pressure of competing or anything – I left the workout so hyped. I was so excited that I got to experience a little bit of who I was before Tight Club and how that can now share a space. I’m really stoked.