By Lisa Balschunat
Four years ago, Jennifer Ricupero packed her bags and her business in Tampa and headed back home to the Capital Region. With three degrees in hand–a master’s in education, bachelor’s in recreation and leisure management, and minor in business administration, and years of experience as a fitness director in Vermont, Florida and then Albany–Ricupero landed in Saratoga Springs with an intention and a business plan to help people feel better about themselves through physical activities and recreation.
“When I started RAW Fitness, I wanted to get people outdoors. Deep down we all crave to be outside,” she said. “It’s human nature. The idea of RAW was and still is being ‘ready and willing’ to find a physical activity that makes you happy, then weaving physical and mental goals into that activity to develop the body as a whole.”
At first, some of her classes were held in a studio, but most were held outdoors–on a path, in the woods, in Congress Park, in a client’s backyard.
In 2012, Ricupero, an AFAA-certified fitness professional, opened RAW Fitness on Beekman Street in a small rented garage space, that she transformed it into a workout studio. She offered only three classes at the onset, but as word got out about her energetic and down-to-earth style of teaching, her classes started to filled.
She outgrew the 300-square-foot space in six months. She moved in April 2014, and then again in September 2015 to her present location at 51 Caroline St. RAW Fitness now employs five part-time instructors and two-full time staff. All instructors are certified in CPR, First Aid and AED, and they complete a one-month RAW instructor training, Ricupero said.
“Most of my instructors were in my classes before they decided they wanted to teach,” she said. “When they begin teaching they follow the basic vision of RAW, but they can build own class personality.”
RAW Fitness offers 43 classes in fitness, boxing, suspension training (TRX) Pilates®, yoga, Zumba, hiking, snowshoeing and more. Ricupero recently created two new fitness options: Boxilates and Toboga. Boxilates combines boxing and pilates using heavy bags and gloves. Toboga is a tabata and yoga cardio, strength and flexibility mix. She registered both nationally as her own.
While many classes are held in the studio, Ricupero has remained true to her vision to get people outside.
Last month, Ricupero expanded her vision and opened RAW Space, at 80 Henry St., around the block from her corner studio.
"I am so excited about RAW Space," Ricupero said, "because it is safe place to explore movement without intimidation and to go to the next level to reflect on why we do what we do, both physically and mentally. People who come to RAW Fitness have become a community."
"People are afraid to move. It makes them uncomfortable," she said. "I have known all of my life that I know how to get people moving. Whether it's through Pilates or yoga or a hike in the woods."
Ricupero has introduced a rolling four-hour weekly Women's Wellness Retreat at RAW Space, from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., Monday to Thursday, that includes two days of movement and two days of reflection.
"Maybe someone is dealing with muscle stiffness, vertigo or arthritis. The retreat will focus on the physical at first, but then move into the mind. We will get into how to breathe through it, and how to not allow in negative self talk," she said.
Ricupero's business model is not trendy or expensive. She believes that a fitness class or membership shouldn't "be an obstacle" to getting healthy.
Ricupero said she is interested in reaching out to college students and millennials because many of them don't know how to deal with not being successful. "I want to help them work through the concept and them redefine success."
"I am like that moving train," Ricupero added. "I have hills to climb and no one is going to derail me. I want to help people who spend most of their days in cubicles to get moving. I want to help people be happy with life. We're supposed to be happy in life. Things are not well in the world around us, but I know I can make a positive difference through movement at RAW."
For more details www.rawfitnesssaratoga.com or www.rawspacesaratoga.com.