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These fitness trainers make it their business to lift apartment life in Kansas City

Luke X. Martin
KCUR 89.3
Flexy co-owners Aja Radel, left, and Mallory Jansen on the viewing deck of Power and Light Apartments in downtown Kansas City. It was one of the first apartment buildings to hire the company to program and lead fitness classes in their facilities.

Apartment complex gyms are often well-stocked but underused. Aja Radel and Mallory Jansen want to change that — and help people maintain healthier lifestyles in the process.

Aja Radel isn't usually as bold as she was that day in 2016, when, in a moment of confidence, she reached out to Mallory Jansen about starting a fitness venture together.

Both were already working in the Kansas City fitness industry, and both had business degrees, but neither of them knew each other.

"She reached out on Instagram — which is hilarious because she's very introverted," Jansen said. "I responded and was like, 'Yeah, let's do the things.'"

Radel's moment of confidence turned out to be fleeting.

"It was like, 'Never mind! I don't want to talk to a stranger anymore,'" Radel, 30, recalled with a laugh.

Still, the two found ways to collaborate and realized they were good at it. The next year, they founded Flexy, a company that pairs their own fitness trainers and yoga instructors in apartment complex gyms.

"Most complexes, like, the treadmills get used (and) the cardio machines get used. But then you see the dumbbells and they're all dusty, and the cable machines — nobody knows how to work them," Radel said. "It's intimidating."

Now, at more than 70 locations across the metro, Flexy's 18 instructors help residents use the training facilities they're often already paying for.

"They're just putting the coolest things in these gyms now and we want to make sure people use them," Radel said.

Entrepreneurship and experience

Both Radel and Jansen, 32, acknowledged that striking out on their own came a little easier for them than it might for others.

Jansen’s parents are entrepreneurs in their own right, and encouraged her to follow in their footsteps. Radel, the daughter of former Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Sly James, grew up watching her father break racial barriers and start multiple law firms.

“When you have people to look up to, and people that have created stuff on their own before — and it goes really well for them — it's like, ‘Oh yeah, I can do something like that,’” Radel said.

Still, Radel said being half white and half Black in an industry that is overwhelmingly white is complicated. Analysis from the career site Zippia found that 77% of personal trainers in the U.S. are white, 10% are Latino and 5.7% are African American.

Radel’s biracial background has opened her up to racist and insensitive comments from clients and coworkers, especially at previous jobs.

“Someone that worked there told me that there was no way that I experienced racism or discrimination … especially since I'm half white,” she said.

Radel’s experience as a Black woman has also been questioned because of her family’s economic privilege and the fact that she went to private school.

“People forget that, like, just because you're Black doesn't mean you had the same experience as someone else,” she said. “I love all the kids I went to school with — this is not against them — but I went to school with a bunch of rich, white kids. So I mean, the stuff that I heard and I didn't even realize was slightly racist and microaggressions — I'm thinking back now, and, well, it's probably not that good.”

A new way to be 'of service'

These days, the Flexy co-owners rarely step in to coach a fitness class — “we try to focus on the behind-the-scenes stuff,” said Radel — but they still get a kick out of watching people accomplish their goals.

Luke X. Martin
KCUR 89.3
"She is the gas and I am the brakes," said Aja Radel, left, describing the workplace dynamic between herself and Flexy co-owner Mallory Jansen. "So we meet in the middle really well."

“One of my favorite parts of being a personal trainer,” she said, “is when someone realizes that they can do something you've been telling them they can do the whole time.”

In the coming months, Jansen and Radel are planning an expansion into event planning at apartment complexes, and cashing in on the years-long relationships they’ve built with property management companies.

“We know the residents, we know the people who work there, so it's just like a natural transition,” Jansen said.

The new direction offers another opportunity, Radel explained, “because only a portion of (a buildings’ residents) are going to be coming to fitness class. … But we can meet so many more people, and we can be of service to so many more people, if we are doing all these other events.”

For Radel and Jansen, who started their journey trying to create a healthier lifestyle for themselves and their clients, that possibility has proven too enticing to pass up.

As culture editor, I oversee KCUR’s coverage of race, culture, the arts, food and sports. I work with reporters to make sure our stories reflect the fullest view of the place we call home, so listeners and readers feel primed to explore the places, projects and people who make up a vibrant Kansas City. Email me at luke@kcur.org.
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