By Colette Panchot
Hailee Bland-Walsh, a self-described “transformation junkie,” is on a mission to make the fitness industry more inclusive. She is the owner and chief executive officer of City Gym KC, 7416 Wornall Rd.
“My focus is creating safe spaces, emotionally and physically, for people to show up as the best version of themselves, which then ripples out into the community,” she says.
After growing up in the suburbs of Overland Park and Leawood, Bland-Walsh played soccer at the collegiate and professional level. She settled in California, where she felt she could live more freely as a lesbian.
Working at the Central Bay Area YMCA, she learned the importance of non-traditional locker rooms, which include all-gender bathrooms and private shower suites. These features assure the privacy of those with disabilities, parents with children of the opposite sex, and transgender people.
When her sister suggested that she move back home and open a gym in 2010, Bland-Walsh was skeptical. But she soon discovered how much more supportive the area had become of the LGBTQ+ community. According to the 2021 Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality, Kansas City, Missouri, received a perfect score based on its legal protections of the LGBTQ+ community.
Drew Smith, founder of The Union: A Midwest Transguy Coterie, had been to all the “big box gyms” and was looking for a more supportive place to work out with his friends who were in various stages of their transition from living as female to male. He found a staunch supporter in Bland-Walsh.
Smith collaborated with her on the creation of Momentum, a nationally recognized health and fitness program for transgender men, which helps this underserved group attain their fitness goals. City Gym KC will offer the eight-week program this fall.
“Members of the trans community are usually treated as outliers. Hailee is not a typical ally. She treats us like family,” says Smith.
“We have created a place for people with bodies outside traditional norms, which not only serves the queer community but anyone who feels insecure about going to a gym,” says Bland-Walsh.
She has sunk her roots deeply into the Waldo community. In January 2020, she purchased the building where City Gym KC is located from the Milens family, whom she says had owned it for nearly 100 years.
Stacy Porto was one of the first members of City Gym KC. She is an attorney, a former White House staffer, and currently a realtor with Selling KC.
“Hailee is positive and motivating. She brings all sorts of people together,” says Porto. “I think she should run for office.”
Bland-Walsh is also co-owner with Josh Guffey of Fit Truk, a mobile gym that provides outdoor group strength-training workouts. The business partners are marketing the prototype nationally.
Bland-Walsh makes fitness a family affair. Her wife, Tiffany Spriggs, is the marketing specialist for City Gym KC. She runs regularly with her sister, and she learned how to be an entrepreneur from her mother, Teresa Walsh, co-founder of Silpada Designs, Inc., a women-owned sterling silver jewelry company formerly based in Lenexa.
City Gym KC will celebrate its 11th anniversary in August. They can be reached at www.citygymkc.com.