Please note: This story touches on topics of body image, sexual harassment, and substance use.
“Because we all have a story.” That’s what reads above the doors and walls in and around the main gym room at CrossFit Lanier (CFL). The tagline is a new addition for the high-intensity, high-interval training gym, one brought in by its equally new owner, Amanda Thompson Wright.
Whether an entrepreneur came to business ownership by random chance or family ties, their stories are all unique—and for Wright, or Coach Wright, as she’s known by CFL members, how she became an entrepreneur is no exception.
“A few years ago, I was looking through photos after the holidays and didn’t recognize myself,” she says. “I was struggling with my weight and with my relationship to alcohol, and I decided it was time for a change.” Shortly after, Coach Wright saw an ad on social media about a six-week health and nutrition challenge CFL was hosting, and she decided to take the plunge. “Initially, I felt so self-conscious, but when I got there I found I was surrounded by people my same age with my same struggles, and I just felt this sense of community.”
Coach Wright completed the six-week challenge at the Forsyth County, Georgia gym and soon became a full-time member. “I had gained a lot of muscle, with a substantial fat loss and was doing things I never thought I could, like climbing ropes—I was in the best shape of my life,” she says. “But more than that, for the first time in my life, I felt like I belonged somewhere.”
However, Coach Wright emphasizes that while all of this was happening, she was still struggling with her relationship with alcohol. “I went through a divorce in 2018 and backed away from CFL and turned to the bottle to cope,” she says. “But in March 2020, I looked in the mirror and was disgusted with myself, so I said ‘no more.’” After a period away, Coach Wright returned to CFL that May, but says she felt guilty and ashamed of all the progress she lost in the interim. “But when I went back, they welcomed me with open arms once again.” It was then that she told CFL’s then-owners, Bruce and Louanne Henderson, that if they ever wanted to sell the gym, she’d be glad to take it.
A year into her sobriety, the Hendersons reached out to Coach Wright and told her of their intent to retire and sell the gym. “They said they wanted me to take it because they felt I was the right person who could keep the family atmosphere going,” she says. “It meant so much to me because CFL was my home.”
In April 2021, Coach Wright started the process of purchasing the gym, but her path to ownership was far from easy. Coach Wright was denied loans from banks because she did not want to list her husband on the loan, since this was her dream, not his. She also struggled with finding an attorney. “I went through multiple attorneys and one even put his hands on my thigh and stated that I had ‘well-developed thighs.’ I faced a lot of sexism and harassment all while trying to get a loan for this already well-established business.”
It wasn’t until her advisor, Dan Hudgins, at the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center (SBDC) pointed her to Access to Capital for Entrepreneurs (ACE) that the process of buying CFL started taking off. “I wish I had found ACE sooner,” she says. “It was refreshing to work with a team who respected me as a person and business owner and who I could count on.” ACE is a Georgia-based Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) and CornerSquare Community Capital lending partner. Learn more about ACE and CornerSquare’s partnership here.
In October 2021, Wright’s loan closed and she was the new owner of CrossFit Lanier. “The folks at ACE kept every promise they made to me, and now I can finally move on to what’s next.”
And what exactly is next for Coach Wright? “Build community and change lives,” she says. “If CrossFit Lanier can change my life, it can change someone else’s too.”