Featured Guest: Christi Beth Adams, Owner, Fleet Feet Nashville

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Today, I’m joined by Christi Beth Adams, the owner of Nashville’s Fleet Feet sports stores. In this interview, she shares her journey from starting out as a 4th grade runner in small-town Kentucky to earning a collegiate track scholarship to managing her own successful athletic shops. She also explains how the shared experience of putting one foot in front of the other connects runners everywhere and discusses what led her to make Fleet Feet one of the first supporters of the Heroes 6K race series, which celebrates addiction and mental health recovery across the country.

As Adams began enjoying the team element of running in high school and college, she formed a common bond with her fellow runners that grew beyond simply training together for races. “It’s accountability, it’s encouragement, it’s ‘you understand me,’ we’re in the same boat,” Adams explains. “It’s not the day-to-day that makes you on a team or the same, it’s the shared experiences that make you a part of a team or part of a community.”

After college, however, Adams wasn’t planning to have a future in athletics and instead saw herself start down the path of corporate America before taking a job at one of Nashville’s Fleet Feet locations and ultimately being encouraged by her bosses to pursue store ownership. “I’ve been super fortunate to have people in my life who recognized my skillset before I did,” Adams says. “They saw the work I was doing here…and recognized that to own the store was something that they thought I was capable of.”

Her leadership role at Fleet Feet and her desire to promote recovery awareness in her community also led her to become an early corporate sponsor of the Heroes in Recovery 6K races, which bring together communities across the country to celebrate life in recovery. “I have some mental illness in my family…and it’s something that isn’t often brought to light,” Adams shares. “To actually say that we’re going to have this event and it’s more of a celebration…it’s out in the open – that’s symbolic of what the whole process is.”

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Podcast Transcript: David Condos with Christi Beth Adams

Female Speaker: Bringing unique perspectives from inside the world of addiction and mental health recovery. This is Recovery Unscripted.

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David: Hey, guys. Welcome to this episode of Recovery Unscripted, a podcast powered by Foundations Recovery Network. I’m your host, David Condos, and today I’m joined by Christi Beth Adams, who talks about her journey to owning Nashville’s Fleet Feet athletic stores and explains how the shared experience of putting one foot in front of the other connects runners everywhere. Through Fleet Feet, Christi Beth has also been a long time supporter of the Heroes 6K races, a nationwide series of run walk of events that celebrate recovery. If you want to hear more about the Heroes 6K mission and what races they have coming up stick around to the end of this episode when I will be joined by their senior national race director. But now, here’s Christi Beth. Welcome, Christi Beth Adams. Thank you for being with us today.

Christi Beth: Thank you.

David: I thought we’d start by having you tell us a little bit, first about your personal story and how you became interested in running.

Christi: Sure. Well, I grew up on a farm in Kentucky, there’s not a lot to keep yourself entertained, when you grow up in the country, except for little physical activity and I tried my hand at a little bit of everything from basketball to cheerleading to softball, and I was very terrible at all of them but I loved sports. I just fell into running because I watched my older brother do it and I thought that was something that I might be good at. It was my identity really early on.

David: You did it in high school and then in college as well, right?

Christi: Yes, and I actually– So where I’m from we don’t have middle schools. It’s so weird, but you go from elementary school to high school. I actually started running in fourth grade but on the high school team. A bus would come pick me up every day at the last period of school from fourth grade on and would bus me to the high school, so–

David: Didn’t you seem a lot smaller than the other high schoolers?

Christi: I was. I actually have this great picture of the track team when I was in fourth grade and how everybody is about the same height and then it like stair steps down the my head, but it was cool. I was the little sister, everybody took care of me and treated me really well and I just felt like I was a part of the team even with that huge age gap it just never crossed my mind. I was just out there competing in the same race as they were.

David: Yes. I was going to say, part of that team element, it seems that’s a lot of like what draws people to running is the community and meeting new friends and having that support, actually much like the community of people in recovery from addiction and mental health as well. So how much of that was part of what drew you to making running such a big part of your life?

Christi: That’s great that you asked that because I don’t think anybody’s ever pointed that out before. You think of sports like basketball as team sports, you look at running and people don’t think about it as being a team sport. During my early years, we didn’t have a full team. I was just going to meets by myself and I loved winning, I loved being competitive, but over the years as the team developed then definitely in college when there was legitimately a team, it’s just a game changer and you make that comparison with the Recovery Network. It’s all the same things. It’s accountability, it’s encouragement, it’s you understand me, we’re in the same boat–

David: Going through the same stuff.

Christi: We’re going through the same stuff and probably, again, through the Recovery Network I look at girls that I ran with in High School and College and they are still my best friends. That’s just because we would always joke, we would see runners running down the street, we’d be like, “Common bond”. I don’t even know that person, but we have something in common. It’s not the day to day that makes you on a team or the saying, it’s these shared experiences that make you a part of a team or part of a community.

David: Absolutely. Yes. And so you finished running in college. When did you start viewing, running or athletics as a possible career path?

Christi: I never thought of running as a career path. For me, I knew people ran professionally, that was the only thing I had in my head as a career path, I knew that I was not good enough for that. I was really going down that corporate America path, with a business degree I was just looking for something along those lines and running as a career prisoner to itself to make kind of accidentally. Just as a– trying to figure out what I want to do with my life, ” Okay. Well, here’s this position open at Fleet Feet Sports. It’s a running retailer. Running has been in my life. I know what I’m doing so I’m just going to hang out here and work here until I figure out what’s next.”

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David: At what point did you decide that you wanted to take your level of running to the next level and eventually be where you are now or you’re owning and managing an actual Fleet Feet store?

Christi: For me, I’ve been super fortunate to have people in my life who recognized my skill set before I did. There are two gentlemen, Jeff Phillips and Tom Rayner who were executives at Fleet Feet Inc. They saw all the work I was doing here in Brentwood,[ Tennessee, and they just really recognized that to own the store was something that they thought I was capable of. I just didn’t think that about myself, but people who start businesses from scratch, I’m just like “You are so brave. You are just–” I don’t have that. I’m a very conservative, calculated– I don’t take a lot of risks, for me, it really did take them to say, “We think you’d be great at this.” and they helped put me in that position to pursue ownership. I would not have done that on my ow., I’m very grateful for them to have recognized that within me and to communicate that to me.

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David: As you took on more responsibility and it became your store, did you feel pretty successful in that role right away?

Christi: No. [laughs]

David: Where there some speed bumps? How did that work?

Christi: I had been managing the store. I had all the responsibility that I could have, but when I went from employee to owning the store– It’s comparing babysitting to having a baby, you could say, “Yes, feeding the baby and I’m changing the diapers. I’m doing all the things that babysitters get to turn the baby over at the end of the night.” As an employee, I was hiring and developing people, interviewing, training, helping our customers. I was doing all those things, but when the switch flipped and It was like, “Okay. Now I’m the owner. holy cow.” Just the responsibility– It’s your baby, you’re responsible for everything. You do all of the decision-making.

There’s no safety in that. I don’t think there are logistically from day to day any speed bumps. I think it was more about myself building confidence in that ownership role. People have heard me say this before, but I cried every day the first six months of ownership. I just saw everything in my mind that was going wrong and I had so many people in my life that were like, “Did to the store burn down?” I’m like, “No.” and they’re like, “Okay, then you’re doing great.” I was like, “Okay, that’s a good perspective.” I just had to change my perspective of what success looked like.

David: At what point did you finally get to a place where you thought, “Well, gee, this is it. I am doing well, I have a story that people love–?”

Christi: Well, you’re assuming that I’m there.

David: Yes, maybe.

Christi: I think it just changes all the time. Like any journey, there’s no like end point at the time when I first owned the store. I was married. My husband, Matt, was a partner in the business with me and I had confidence with that.

Recently, I went through a divorce a couple years ago and that changed the whole dynamic. I had to take on more responsibility on my own and over the past couple years, I would say that I’m still working through the confidence of being a sole owner versus being in a partnership at the store. It keeps changing what success looks like, so every day, I just try to keep working at it.

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David: We caught up to today, where you are right now. Could you tell us a little bit about your current day to day role at Fleet Feet?

Christi: Sure. Well, I can even look at today, started this morning with leadership meeting, my store managers. I’m actually working on a third store North of town in Hendersonville and was doing a lot of just logistic things, approving the exterior sign that’s going up over there. And I helped actually a military customer, we got really busy and so I just popped out on the floor, got to fit him for shoes which is how it all began, so that was really cool, but I still have some moments where I’m on the fifth stool. It’s just really great back and forth mix of sometimes being on the floor then sometimes putting on the ownership part, then being a mother, it’s a little bit of everything.

David: Would you say there’s a certain part of your role that you enjoy the most like that with the employees, with the customers?

Christi: Absolutely. I still love my customer interactions, but I tell people my new customer are my employees, some of my best friends are customers, that link is still there, but ultimately if I’m not developing my employees, there’s nobody else in that role to do that. I consider that my most important role right now. And what I love is, hopefully, I get to do a little bit of what Tom Raynor and Jeff Phillips did for me. If I see somebody who is passionate, than I get super fired-up about developing that person. And creating opportunities for them. And I try to tell my staff all the time. I want to make Fleet Feet Sports Nashville financially successful because if we grow and we’re financially successful, that creates opportunities. I had an opportunity that I feel like it was just handed to me. And I want to keep recognizing people who have that same passion for people in the running industry like I do. And I want to create jobs for them. It’s the hardest. The hardest part, and it’s also the most rewarding.

David: What’s the hardest part about it?

Christi: Well, I would say the hardest part is I have to recognize that Fleet Feet is not everybody’s passion. I might have an employee in my store, and Fleet Feet is a stepping stone. And that’s totally okay. And then we have people that think that Fleet Feet is their career. And it’s not. And I think that’s the hardest part. And I think retail is often an industry where people are in-between. In-between decisions, in-between the stages of life. And I get that. That’s where I was when I started at Fleet Feet. But I really try to push them to which direction they are looking for. So, sometimes there can be some hard conversations.

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David: And so now, you are managing employees at two locations. Were both of those locations part of the plan when you were on that ownership track?

Christi: They weren’t, no. Just Brentwood was a part of that plan, and then I opened the Green Hills store, the way a traditional franchise would open a store.

David: So what led you to make that decision, to say, “Well, I don’t just want to have this one store that I started in, maybe I’ll have a second store, a third store?”

Christi: Well, I mentioned earlier. I’m competitive. So there is a little bit of that going on. Nashville, as we all know, is kind of exhausting. It’s just this booming market, and there are so many health conscious people and so many people just in need of what we do in Nashville. And I just felt that my team was best equipped to meet that need. We have folks who drive from Kentucky to get fit in our Brentwood store. It was important for us to become more convenient to folks and really to get the word out more to people who might benefit from what we have to offer.

David: Help more people.

Christi: Yes. Absolutely. It just means more locations.

David: Yes. So I imagine even though you are busy with all this, you still get to run. Is it every day, or–?

Christi: Lord! You’re generous. No, not every day. It’s kind of a joke within the industry that once you become a running store owner, you quit running. It’s interesting. The balance of like, “Here’s something I’m passionate about and now it becomes my career.” You do not want to lose that passion of when something’s a hobby. But I recognize that I am so lucky that my passion is my career. So actually, my nearest resolution is to work out four days a week. I hope I will always have running in my life. But I’m just like everybody else. It’s hard with kids and school schedules. So I’m not a superhero, I’m not a crazy runner. It’s a part of my life to have a lot of reverence for, and I hope it’s always a part of my life in some form or fashion.

David: Yes. But you have gotten to run all over. And we’re talking before recording about running at the Grand Canyon. What is one or two of your favorite places that you’ve gone to run?

Christi: That’s hands down, just like I was telling you, a couple of years ago, I kind of invited myself on a trip that my boyfriend and some of his friends from Indianapolis, they were going to the Grand Canyon, and they were attempting to run from rim to rim, back to the original rim. So two years ago I had the pleasure of running/hiking. Rim to rim to rim. I do think the beautiful thing about running is you get to see things differently and at a different pace. You get a different perspective. And, so I kept saying that about the Grand Canyon. I just said as we were going down, down, down into the Canyon, you could see the walls of the Canyon change color. You know, as you’re going deeper into the rock. And I’m like, “People who don’t walk down this path or don’t run down this path, don’t see that.” But I love that about any place that I travelled to. Any time I go somewhere new I love being able to explore on foot. And just see a different part of the city or different part of the country. Have that different perspective.

David: Absolutely, yes. S, you mentioned earlier that you have kids as well, right?

Christi: I do.

David: Do they like to run? Are they old enough to like that?

Christi: That’s a great question. I have a four and a six-year-old. My six-year-old son is Mason. He definitely likes to run. My daughter, Noelle, she’s four. She doesn’t, but she kind of has a mind of her own. I don’t know what her sport is going to be, but I’m not convinced it’s going to be running. Sad story. My friends Cory and Sam came over a couple of Sundays ago, and my son Mason was like, “I really want to run with you”. And we are just talking about this, our kids are at the age where, if you go on a hike, they are not old enough to do it on their own, and so, Mason is not old enough to go for a six mile run. But just the fact that he was like running to change his clothes from his PJs and get his running shoes. My heart was broken, but at the same time, I was like, “I can’t wait for the day when I get to do a race with Mason. I will just be elated.”

David: Yes, absolutely. I do not consider myself a runner, personally, but my wife is. And a lot of her side of the family is as well. So I can absolutely speak as to the family element of doing that together. And even if it’s at various levels, you still can go out and run, just to have something to get out and do that together, even if you are at different levels. I think that that can be very special.

Christi: I think it’s awesome. I hope to be able to do that with my kids and like I said, my best friends are primarily runners. I feel like– I don’t know, right or wrong. I surrounded myself with a lot of runners. But, again, you have that community, you have that bond, you have a lot of similarities on top of the running, that kind of draws you together.

David: Yes, like the community we were talking about earlier.

Christi: That’s right.

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David: I did want to touch a little bit on Heroes in Recovery. Heroes is something we’ve featured on the show before, loved what they were doing in Grassreeds recovery community. And I know you and Fleet Feet have been involved with some of their 6K races pretty much from the beginning, right?

Christi: Yes. From the very first year. Absolutely.

David: So how did you get introduced to Heroes and all of that start?

Christi: A good friend of mine, Lee Pepper, who works for the company, and I don’t know if it was his idea for the races, but he’s a phenomenal track athlete and so I imagine he probably had something to do with creating the race series as a part of building awareness. I think what you find in most parts of the country is that running stores are really integral part of the community. And especially in Nashville, where there are so many non-profits, and there are so many phenomenal organizations. Five case, ten case races are used to, again, increase awareness, fundraise, and the idea of it being on the Leiper’s Fork which is a beautiful area, and it was just a no-brainer for us to be involved. Also, what I love is that there are some charities that are working off really minimal budget and they have to put together an event that maybe isn’t the most sound event. But that’s something from the very beginning Lee communicated, that we wanted to have this world class experience at our races. And you just don’t hear that. People saying that. That was his desire. And so, I think that’s why it has been so successful over the years. As people see that it’s just this consistently fun, phenomenally run race. And it has just grown and grown every year.

David: Yes. And I imagine another part of the draw is tapping into that recovery community. And I know part of the Heroes’ mission is breaking the stigma. So not just people in recovery, but everybody has something they know or a family member and gives them this day that celebrates all of that.

Christi: I have some mental illness in my family. And talking about stigmas with recovery, it’s something that is not often brought to light. It’s kind of hidden. And so, to say we’re going to have this event, and it’s more of a celebration or a coming together of the community that’s out in the open. That’s symbolic of what the whole process is, I think. And I hope that it has been a really great edition to the mission of the company to have those events. I think it has been successful.

David: I guess we’ll finish up with this last question. What’s next for Fleet Feet? I know you mentioned a third store.

Christi: That’s what’s next, so in Hendersonville, Tenessee, is a little Northern town, like I said. And, again, it comes down to, we feel like there’s a community that has a real desire to have a running store and has a need that we feel like we can meet. And then, like I said, there is not a finish line. I say stores are like children. Right now I have two kids and almost three stores, and I think that might be enough for me. Then it’s just really a matter of looking at, maybe, things we could do better. One thing, I have a goal of this year is being much more intentional with our giving within our community. I think we’ll just continue to look for what needs the community has, in what way Fleet Feet can fulfill those. That’s been really fun so far, this year. I think that will continue for the rest of the year.

David: All right. Well, that’s it for today.

Christi: Great. Thank you so much for having me.

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David: Thanks again to Christi Beth for sharing her story with us. Now, I’m happy to introduce you to Sarah Shearer. The Senior National Race Director for Heroes 6Ks. If you heard one of our Hero of the Week segments in another episode, you already know part of what Heroes in Recovery does and that’s facilitate community through sharing and reading personal stories of recovery. Another big aspect of their mission is to bring that community into cities across the country through their series of sober events built around a 6K run walk.

Their next race is coming up this weekend. Sarah has been kind enough to come on the show and tell us a bit more about what they do. Welcome, Sarah Shearer.

Sarah Shearer: Thank you. I’m excited to be here.

David: All right. How are you doing today?

Sarah: Good.

David: Good. For anyone who’s not familiar, what’s the overall mission of the Heroes 6Ks?

Sarah: The Heroes in Recovery 6Ks are a community platform to be able to talk about recovery in a positive light, to be able to celebrate it and also to be able to support a local recovery nonprofit. Each location has a charity beneficiary unique to that area. We’re able to financially support them through the events and impact the community through the just general positive vibes.

David: Yes. Bringing the whole community together. All right. I know you guys are always growing and I know you’re always adding new races. Where all do you have races now?

Sarah: Yes. We’re very excited. We just expanded in 2017 to 12 races. Last year was 10. Our newest locations are Austin, Texas and Portland, Oregon. The whole list is Palm Springs, Orange County, Memphis, South Florida, Charlotte, Atlanta, Leiper’s Fork, Malibu, San Diego, Phoenix, Arizona and then, of course, Portland and Austin. We go to locations that have strong recovery communities that we think can make an impact in. We also go places where we have presenting sponsors that want to share the Heroes’ movement.

David: Awesome. You’re really covering a lot of ground. I know your next race is coming up this weekend and that’s in Orange County, California. Could you tell us a little bit more about that event and any updates since last year, which was the first year, right?

Sarah: Yes. The first year started small and it was a trail race, actually, in a place called Mara Canyon. It was beautiful but it actually had a limit. We went over the capped limit on participants which is such an exciting problem to have. We scouted around, found a bigger park that can accommodate a bigger crowd. We’re hoping for more growth. We’re in Mile Square Park this year, which is a beautiful green park with ponds, pedestrian walkways, which makes it perfect because we have family-friendly events where we encourage people to bring their kids.

People can run with strollers. People can bring their dogs. This makes it accessible for everybody.

David: Awesome. Well, yes, looking forward to that this weekend. For anyone who is either in Orange County or in one of the other areas that you mentioned and is looking to get involved or potentially run or volunteer at a race, where can they go to find more information?

Sarah: heroes6k.com.

David: All right. Perfect. Thank you, Sarah, for being with us.

Sarah: Thank you for having me.

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This has been the Recovery Unscripted Podcast. Today we’ve heard from Christi Beth Adams, owner of Fleet Feet athletic stores in Nashville, Tennessee. For more, visit fleetfeetnashville.com. Thank you for listening. Please share this podcast and leave us a review on iTunes. I’d love to hear what you think. See you the next time.

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