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Darby Brender: “No Dream is Ever Too Big!”

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Darby Brender’s motto is, “Don’t sweat the small stuff or you’ll miss the big stuff.” But “perspiring” has led the Prairie Village, Kansas, resident to huge success as she has created her own brand of workout called Fusion Fitness and established five facilities in the KC-metro focused on sharing her passion.

More than a decade ago, Darby opened her first Fusion Fitness studio in Overland Park, Kansas. Over the years, the company expanded to include three more locations in Corbin Park, Mission Farms and the Crossroads. She ventured into the digital market by adding her first fitness videos, and every year more were included in a catalog with a global audience. In addition to her studio classes, she started the Fusion Fly indoor cycling studio, which is housed in the Overland Park facility. Darby also added specific programs and workshops to cater to groups of women who wanted additional fitness, nutrition advice and accountability. Fusion’s Weight Loss Bootcamp and AmpCamp were created to assist clients looking for a more personalized approach to diet and exercise.

Targeting Strength
“We’re a high-energy, results-driven, group exercise facility using the functional fitness method. These exercises focus on strengthening the body for the long haul so we can move with grace and ease,” noted Darby. “We focus on keeping core muscles engaged while targeting glutes, legs, arms and abs. We’re about achieving optimal results while keeping clients safe.”

The clientele at Fusion Fitness ranges from teenagers to those in their 60s. Classes cater to women of all ages and fitness levels, and instructors demonstrate modifications that allow everyone to participate. Most work out four to five days a week in hour-long classes concentrating on cardio and toning the female body. Because instructors mix up the exercises and their sequence, a client never takes the same class twice.

“We’re focused on hitting the whole body but doing it in such a way we maintain a feminine physique. Instructors also ensure the safety of the participants. The heaviest weight we use is ten pounds, and we alternate between using those and doing higher reps with lighter weights,” commented Darby. “Cardio is a huge part of the workout because it’s important for our bodies. The endorphins released during cardio sessions help with our mental wellness to decrease depression and anxiety. It’s the body’s natural form of medicine to keep us happy.”

Always Fitness
Darby’s path to success was founded by her upbringing in an entrepreneurial family in Gering, Nebraska. She was accustomed to venturing out and creating her own career path. To top it off, she was always active in exercise, sports and gymnastics. After graduating from the University of Nebraska with a business degree, she married her husband, Nate, who was from Kansas City, where they eventually settled. Children Dossi, 12, and Will, 10, soon followed. But after the birth of her daughter, Darby decided to get into fitness. She achieved her ACE certification and trained clients at a local gym. But she knew she wanted more.

“I was teaching classes and wanted to specialize in more intense classes with a large focus on music and muscle burn-out to maximize results. I collaborated with a friend, also a trainer, and we decided to open a fitness studio together,” she recalled. “We spent months combining our methods to create Fusion Fitness.”

But two years into the business her partner moved, and Darby bought her half of the business. That original location was at 80th and Metcalf in downtown Overland Park. “We’re still here, although over the years I’ve expanded four times and now have the entire upstairs of the building,” she noted. “In the first year, we had only four instructors teaching all of the classes; now we have more than 39 instructors.”

Darby describes Fitness Fusion as a system to transform your body by lengthening your muscles, decreasing body fat, improving cardiovascular stamina and increasing flexibility. She’s also very conscious of the positivity her work can bring to women in the team environment Fusion Fitness provides.

Body and Mind
“We’re serving women with all-important ‘me time.’ Many clients are stay-at-home moms and need time to get back to themselves, build confidence and gain a greater sense of purpose. It’s life-changing for so many people. We see confidence build in women who’ve been able to get to a healthier, stronger state. For many, it can be a complete paradigm shift in their whole life,” she noted. “We touch lives in so many different ways. In fact, many of our instructors are women who stepped out of the workforce to have children and then decided to join with Fusion Fitness.”

On a daily basis, Darby estimates her five Fusion locations serve 400 to 500 clients with 15 instructors leading them through workouts burning approximately 600 calories in an hour. Staff is also driven by the motto that everyone deserves to look and feel their best by strengthening the entire body through exercise. Many clients discover muscles they never knew existed in their bodies, she adds. Classes emphasize merging muscle-building toning with high-energy cardio. The regimen alters the heart rate on a continuous basis to produce powerful physical and mental results.

“One of my very favorite programs we’ve created is the Weight Loss Boot Camp. It’s a wonderful program for those who are looking to get healthy and fit. It’s geared to help people understand nutrition, exercise, give them a safe environment to work out and the education necessary to get on track and take care of their bodies,” remarked Darby. “Over the past nine years, we have helped Kansas Citians drop over 75,000 pounds. On average, clients lose 25 pounds and drop double digits in their fat percentage during this 12-week program.”

Inclusion and Engagement
While the workouts are strenuous, the staff at Fusion Fitness concentrates on making every client feel welcomed and involved. “Group fitness can be intimidating, so we have very friendly staff and instructors to help you get engaged and feel like you belong right from the get-go,” promised Darby. “Truly, it only takes that first time to learn the rhythm and shed the anxiety of going somewhere new.”

But for those who work out at home or while they’re traveling, Fitness Fusion features hundreds of videos as part of its Sweat Lab Fitness. Beginning in 2011 with a set of seven DVDs, the service now functions as a digital download from the website. New videos varying from 15 to 30 minutes in length can be downloaded and used whenever and wherever the client desires. Sweat Lab also offers a variety of meal plans, grocery lists and recipes for purchase.

When you examine the business landscape, fitness centers and trainers are prolific in the Kansas City metro. “What sets Fusion Fitness apart is the sense of a healthy, caring community that’s created inside and outside of the facility for the clients. Fusion Fitness is so much more than a workout. We offer experienced instructors who care about your well-being beyond our studio classes,” she said. “We take pride in the fact that we lift up women by fostering an environment of self-love and self-acceptance.”

Further Afield
After building her empire, from being the co-owner of one facility to the leader of multiple facilities and a huge video network, growing beyond Kansas City is on Darby’s mind. “I’m always looking for opportunities to grow, but I want to do it responsibly while delivering the most effective workout for our clients. Our community is really important to us,” she shared. “As we look at other cities or locations, we want to ensure we can cultivate this same type of community and atmosphere outside of Kansas City.”

With more than a decade as an entrepreneur and with an experienced family offering advice and counsel, Darby’s learned much about the art of doing business. She’s keen to surround herself with an excellent staff who carry her passion of helping others.

“My number one piece of advice is to hire smart people and empower them to make their own decisions. When you own a business, a huge benefit is being able to control who you hire to work it. You hire people you enjoy being around. You hire smart, like-minded people, and you won’t have to micromanage,” advised Darby. “I try to manage my time wisely to make every minute count. Carving time for self-care is also very important because running a business can be stressful. Self-care for me includes exercise, meditation, walking, travel and reading. Also, do what you’re passionate about. You’ll work long hours, and you’ll do things you never thought you’d do, good and bad. When you love your work it makes the great days wonderful and the bad ones not so bad. Just remember, no dream is ever too big; you just need to believe in yourself. Whether it’s your health, family or career, manifest your own destiny through hard work.”