Amy Lawson makes running, swimming and cycling accessible and fun for “regular people.” The head coach and chief motivator at Kennebec Valley Coaching in Augusta, Lawson launched the business in 2011 as a way to reach out to active men and women in the community.
“We pride ourselves on catering to the needs of the average Joe/middle-of-the-packers,” Lawson says. “We like to say that most people are average, so it’s a great target market. So far this has proven to be true.”
KVC offers personal and group training, coaching for running and triathlons, individual and group swim lessons, and plyometric strength conditioning. In 2015, she added a Women’s Running Camp and triathlon training programs, in addition to a 5K For Newbies running group and an advanced running group.
Lawson operates on the philosophy that there’s collective power and motivation to exercising in groups. “It’s not all about me. It’s about the customers, their goals and the group dynamic,” Lawson says. Programs and workouts at KVC are group-oriented, with a focus on group workouts and training. “That’s a difference that I’ve noticed in my coaching style. No one is ‘my’ athlete, and KVC is not ‘my’ gym. We need each other to stay motivated and keep KVC vibrant.”
KVC clients train together for races throughout the year, including the UMaine Black Bear 10K and Half/Full Marathons, the Ironman 70.3 Maine triathlon, and the Maine Marathon and Half Marathon.
Lawson, who has a bachelor’s and master’s in public administration, is a certified USATF Running Coach, ACE Certified Personal Trainer and, as of February and after completing the Ironman Lake Placid in 2016, an IRONMAN Certified Coach. She was a standout runner in high school and went to college on a running scholarship. After working for Nike’s Green Mountain Running Camp in the summers, Lawson says she “wasn’t fast enough to make a career of it, and had no intention of working in the sports industry other than helping my husband grow his office.”
Lawson initially opened KVC out of her husband’s sports chiropractic office, Kennebec Valley Chiropractic. “I came up with the idea of offering a 5K for Newbies group using the Couch to 5K method. We thought it would be a great way to let active members of the community know that he was there.” After launching her initial 5K for Newbies, Lawson added a program called “Train for the Trot,” to help clients train for the Thanksgiving Turkey Trot 5K at Cony High School. As her client numbers doubled, she quickly realized KVC had long-term potential.
After six months, Lawson moved KVC to its current location on Front Street in downtown Augusta. “I can’t imagine being anywhere else. It’s ideal for us, and the rent is very reasonable.” KVC is conveniently located near the Kennebec River Rail Trail, Cony High School Track, Riverfront Park and roads with sidewalks and large hills for training. KVC clients also use the indoor pool at The Alfond Youth Center in Waterville and Maranacook Lake in Winthrop for outdoor swimming.
Lawson’s biggest challenge running the business is staying organized. “As a creative thinker, I’m not naturally prone to keeping things straight, and I can lose almost anything,” she says. To remedy this, Lawson uses Google Docs to keep track of clients’ weekly training plans, accounting rosters and T-shirt orders. She also keeps a paper planner at home and updates it each morning. “The key is, my planner has to stay on the kitchen counter, otherwise, I’ll never see it again.”
One source of pride for Lawson is keeping her prices affordable, and making sports like running, swimming and cycling appealing and accessible for ordinary people. “Some people are reluctant to join our group for fear that we’ll all be underweight, intensely competitive people in Spandex and mirrored sunglasses. We’re not,” Lawson says, alluding to a common perception of endurance athletes.
“Of course we have motivated, talented people and friendly competition, but we are not what you might assume. We have people who’d like to lose more than 50 pounds, and they’re not waiting to hit a magic number before they sign up for a race, they’re doing it as part of their process.” Often in races, there is a group of KVCers who finish last. “They’re out there, they will generally have a herd of teammates running them in and we make sure they absolutely get the most applause,” Lawson says of the group’s motivational dynamic.
When she needs support, Lawson looks to her clients for help. They often encourage her to take a day off and will substitute for her classes. They also get their friends to sign up, which helps grow the business organically. It also helps that KVC clients “have been able to lend a hand with questions about the nuts and bolts of the business like banking, accounting and even bike mechanics,” Lawson says. “Our in-house bike mechanic, Casey Beaudoin, started with our 5K for Newbies program in 2012 and now maintains most of our equipment. We did Ironman Lake Placid together last summer.”
At KVC, the saying “A rising tide lifts all boats” helps to keep the ship running smoothly.
Mercedes Grandin is a freelance writer, editor, English teacher and tutor. She lives in Brunswick with her husband Erik and their chocolate Labrador Fozzie.
NOTE ABOUT AT THE HELM:
At The Helm is a monthly column featuring women who’ve launched businesses in Maine. If you are or know of a woman who fits this bill, please send your leads/ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.