On the afternoon in early September when I go to visit Emily Schromm at her future gym, rain is threatening. The industrial-looking space would blend right into the grey gloom if it weren’t for the health and wellness entrepreneur herself, who’s wearing a shirt the shade of a watermelon Jolly Rancher that reads “Good human.” Her eyes can’t seem to decide what hue they want to be; the dim light colors them a sharp blue one second and a soothing green the next. When she sees me, her lips part into a wide grin, revealing absurdly white teeth. Her jaw looks like it could hoist a 100-pound barbell by itself. I’m generally attracted to men, but—there’s no other good way to put it—damn, girl.
I try not to come off as a klutz as Schromm shows me around her latest passion project, dubbed Platform Strength. At the time, the gym is still under construction (it opened September 22), but she points out the locations of coming-soon features like the infrared sauna, the showers, (Schromm, weirdly—her word—cares a lot about shampoos, and she picked them out today and is super excited), and the tea and espresso bar, which will be stocked partially with blends from Herbal Element. That’s Schromm’s line of teas, just one of about seven billion other things she does. We pass a tall stack of tiles in the corner, and I ask what they’re for. She tells me they’re supposed to make up the counter for said bar, but they’re actually the wrong size, and they’ve been sitting there for two days waiting to be picked up, and it’s been a hot mess. The smile remains on her face the entire time she’s relating this frustrating situation, and I temporarily imagine her as the shrugging emoji, who understands that life sometimes gives you delays and you have to figure out how to make a company out of them.
I see all this before we actually get to the gym part of the gym, which makes sense given that Schromm’s vision of wellness stretches far beyond fitness (hence the teas, her certification as a nutritional therapy practitioner, and her Meathead Hippie podcast covering everything from regenerative agriculture to quality skincare to adrenal issues.) But the rest of it is just as intriguing. Platform Strength will be open 24/7, an unusual concept for most boutique fitness studios. Schromm has come up with three membership options: unlimited open gym time ($119 a month), unlimited classes ($149 a month), and a combination of the two ($199 a month). I suck in my breath a little at the price; similar local gyms tend to top out at $119 for no-holds-barred memberships. But, I think as we continue to walk around, it’s also open all the time.
The classes are a departure from the norm, too: They start out with a strength training move, but then participants get to break off and choose whether they’d like to focus on cardio, Olympic lifting, or bodybuilding for the rest of the session, a decision based on ability level, fitness goals, mood, or maybe even, as Schromm likes to say, a lady’s “moon cycle.” “Sometimes you just have to say, ‘Not today,’” she explains. “[The industry is] constantly saying, ‘Do more, it’s going to give you results,’ but my philosophy has totally turned around.”
She’s referring to a shift in her mindset that’s taken place over the past few years. In fact, the last time I talked to Schromm (by phone in 2014 right after she’d won the Women’s Health’s Next Fitness Star title) she was a rising star in the CrossFit world. A year or so later, though, she became overwhelmed by exhaustion, never-ending muscle fatigue, ulcers, IBS, and hip pain so intense it prevented her from snowboarding—the passion that initially brought her to Colorado from Missouri. “I finally had the understanding that being passed out on the floor for 30 minutes after a workout is not good,” she says.
Around the same time, Schromm finished her nutritional training program and realized the food she was eating was contributing to a lot of her problems. The solution involved eliminating gluten and dairy from her diet; focusing more on fundamental power lifting moves like squats and deadlifts; and incorporating more recovery elements into her workouts—changes she credits for the staggering number of ventures she’s now able to manage. “I wouldn’t be in this place if I didn’t know how to feed and supplement my body so I could have this output,” she says.
This comment steers the conversation toward the EmPack, the backpack-cum-weight-training-device that Schromm invented a few years ago. It’s a backpack that has the capacity for four full 15-pound water bladders, so you can turn it into a dumbbell, barbell, kettlebell, etc. while traveling or wherever you don’t have access to your standard set of weights. When she launched a Kickstarter page for the product, she had a goal of raising $18,000. Almost 1,000 people ended up pledging a total of $140,556. Then, this past April, Schromm launched another version called the EmPack Nomad, a more rugged, trail-worthy version, again asking for $18,000. It was funded in a matter of hours.
Part of her success stems from her reach; Schromm’s got about 295,000 followers on Instagram alone. Some of that stems from her celebrity status; back in 2009, when she was 20 (she’s 29 now), Schromm starred on The Real World D.C. Predictably, the show focused on many of the more scintillating aspects of her life, including her religious upbringing (she grew up as a Christian fundamentalist, although her family left what Schromm considers a cult—“The best analogy to visualize it is M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village,” she says—when she was 13), and her bisexuality (she came out to her sister on the show). Since then, Schromm has also participated in several seasons of MTV’s The Challenge, including Rivals II, which she won.
I ask her about whether she feels like the reality TV experience has held her back as an entrepreneur. “I will always have that stigma,” she says, “that I am just a ‘fitness personality.’” A steely glint comes into her chameleonic eyes. “I appreciate the exposure from MTV, but it’s not my audience anymore. I’ve outgrown them, and that felt good. I wanted to outgrow them.”
At this point, we’ve been sipping one of Schromm’s teas, called Victress, a hibiscus blend she developed with 15 teenagers from Girls Inc. of Metro Denver, for almost an hour. It’s one of the ways she’s tried to give back to the people who need it the most, an idea she hopes will continue with plenty of community events on the rooftop of her building. She now looks pensive, likely reflecting back on her almost three decades of ups and downs. “In this journey of ‘oh, shits,” she says, “everyone’s trying to solve a problem, and there’s not enough people appreciating humanity. My goal is to flip the script and help people love who they are again.”
With that, I let her go deal with her never-ending to-do list, even though she says I’m her last appointment of the day. The clouds are as ominous as ever, and I try to outrun the raindrops, dropping my phone in the process. The corner of the screen ends up cracking, a miscue that would typically bother me for at least a couple of days. For whatever reason, I’m not swayed. Strength, I’ve learned today, is more than just a physical attribute.
Check it out: Platform Strength is located at 3198 Blake St.