I realized that the time is now to live the life we always wanted to live. The pandemic really made me realize the fragility of life and how short it really is. My husband and I decided that we wanted to live in Wyoming and raise our kids away from the city. We realized that we could work very effectively with the peace and quiet of Wyoming while traveling to cities frequently for business.
With the success of the vaccines, we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel of this difficult period in our history. But before we jump back into the routine of the normal life that we lived in 2019, it would be a shame not to pause to reflect on what we have learned during this time. The social isolation caused by the pandemic really was an opportunity for a collective pause, and a global self-assessment about who we really are, and what we really want in life.
As a part of this series called “5 Things I Learned From The Social Isolation of the COVID19 Pandemic”, I had the pleasure to interview Rebecca Balyasny.
Rebecca has always been an athlete. From her earliest sports experiences to days playing tennis in college and moving into adulthood, fitness has always been a source of joy and fulfillment. When the COVID pandemic hit, Rebecca — like so many others — yearned for connection and inspiration. As a working mom, she needed to make the one hour a day she had to herself count. After trying countless fitness programs, Rebecca found herself still missing the connections she had formerly enjoyed in person, working out with the instructors and friends she loved. bande was born from Rebecca’s desire for connection and community in this ever-changing world. She created a beta version of the concept and invited some of her best friends from all over the world to attend a virtual barre class with one of her favorite instructors. Then something amazing happened:
“There was a magical micro-moment in the beginning of class, where I waved to my friend and knew we were sharing the same experience. Then more magic came when the instructor called my name, taking a real interest in what I was doing and helping to push me along and coach me. At that moment, I knew I was on to something that was going to change the way people experience and connect through fitness.”
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers like to get an idea of who you are and where you came from. Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where do you come from? What are the life experiences that most shaped your current self?
I grew up in a suburb of Chicago with a close-knit family. Sports were a huge focus. My Dad would go out and play baseball and basketball with my two little brothers and me every day. I ended up being the only girl on the boys’ soccer travel team. I was the underdog and always had to work really hard to maintain my starting position. I got pushed around and teased a ton by the other teams — one game, all of the boys on the other team kicked me in the handshake line. I jumped up to deflect and accidentally kicked their coach as I was swinging my leg back. Their coach confronted me, and I held my ground and didn’t waver. I knew that my team had my back and this feeling of connectedness through sports is one that I’ve taken with me through life.
At 12, I started getting more serious about playing tennis and started playing tournaments. I remember getting beat 6–0, 6–0. After that, I knew I had to work harder. I asked my parents if I could take more lessons, and my Dad said that I needed to write out my goals for the next four years in order to justify the lessons. I wrote them out and we discussed these goals, one of which was being top 8 in the state my senior of high school. One match sticks out in particular and I continue to use this as an example to my husband and children. I was playing a girl who had beat me numerous times over the last six years. It was the state tournament and she played for New Trier, a rival school, though they would never call my school the rival. I was clearly the underdog and was down 6–2, 5–2 (40-Love). I played my heart out and won the second and third sets. Never give up has always been my mantra. I ultimately finished #6 in the state my senior year and went on to play tennis at the collegiate level. I have always been an underdog, and am again in that role starting bande, but I know that my team and I are building an amazing product that our members love.
Another key feature of my childhood was my family’s strong commitment to the community. My parents were involved in numerous ways, but one particular journey sticks out. In 1989, my parents left my brothers and me (ages 10,8,4) to go to the Soviet Union to help refuseniks leave Russia. At that time, the more people who came to visit these refuseniks, the greater pressure the Soviet government would be under to let these Jews go. Many were subsequently let out through the work of many US citizens like my parents. When these immigrants came, they spoke no English and left the country with nothing. We worked to give them clothes and helped with tutoring in a country where they didn’t know anyone. In a strange twist of fate, my husband and his family immigrated from the former Soviet Union. While I always had a commitment to improving the world, this cemented my view of how closely interrelated we all are. I know that bande has huge potential to improve people’s lives by combining great workouts with a real camaraderie and connection. As one of our members says, “bande is better than therapy.” In addition, we plan to give 1% of revenues to non-profits who share our vision of giving all people access to fitness (our first non-profit of the quarter was the amazing Kyle Pease Foundation).
Are you currently working from home? If so, what has been the biggest adjustment from your previous workplace? Can you please share a story or example?
I’m currently working from home. Our whole team is virtual and several people I’ve never met in person given the COVID restrictions. However, I have had the opportunity to meet a bunch of our team members and spent extended time getting to know them (also likely due to the COVID environment). For me, this has been a huge positive that we’ve really had the chance to bond. My colleagues came out to Jackson and we had some great adventures. One of them and her family came to Wyoming for three weeks and one particular adventure sticks out. We were with our families on the Snake River on what was supposed to be a calm one-hour trip down the snake. It all started very mildly and boring. My son Luke, in a kayak with my husband, said about 45 minutes in, “this is so boring!”. The next moment, the rapids struck. My husband and son capsized. My colleague’s 8-year-old who was in her own kayak proceeded to capsize multiple times in the rapids. Her 6-year-old daughter in the boat with her and her husband started crying hysterically and said she was done. My colleague took her daughters out of the river and proceeded to scale the canyon walls to get out. I sped down the river with my almost hyperthermic 5-year-old on my paddleboard to get him safely out of the water and warm. We ultimately picked my colleague and her kids up on the side of the road as darkness was fast approaching. Forming these types of connections would have been hard to come by in the traditional office setting and are something that really excites me about the opportunity presented through working virtually. This will provide the opportunity for more frequent meaningful in-person connections and then we can go back and crank on our work stuff and still feel very connected and inspired by our solid relationship base.
What do you miss most about your pre-COVID lifestyle?
I miss the ability to be with family during significant life moments. My niece, Josie, was born in February and under normal circumstances, I would have held her during the first week she was born as well as helped out my brother and sister-in-law.
The pandemic was really a time for collective self-reflection. What social changes would you like to see as a result of the COVID pandemic?
COVID accentuated the educational disparities in this country. I’ve always been passionate about giving all kids opportunities to get the best education possible. During COVID, my husband and I started Atlas scholars which gives full scholarships and internships to high school students who want to pursue careers in business. I continue to want to improve the educational and work opportunities for kids who don’t currently have access.
What if anything, do you think are the unexpected positives of the COVID response? We’d love to hear some stories or examples.
The innovation in health and wellness has been a bright spot. The rapid adoption of video connectivity and other technology has given people flexibility and access to health and wellness that they’ve never had before.
How did you deal with the tedium of being locked up indefinitely during the pandemic? Can you share with us a few things you have done to keep your mood up?
I started bande and a scholarship foundation. There hasn’t been time for any tedium. In the early days of the pandemic, pre-bande, I took a class with Bergen, my favorite instructor, every single day. That was the bright spot in most of my days. Hence, why I started bande (she is now our lead instructor!).
Other bright spots were hiking up the local mountain with my five-year-old (all the lifts were closed due to the pandemic), getting about 1000 feet up, and him skiing down and just loving all the turns he worked for.
A mountain bike ride with my husband was the only way we could actually go on a date. While I didn’t like mountain biking pre-pandemic, I grew to love the sport.
Aside from what we said above, what has been the source of your greatest pain, discomfort, or suffering during this time? How did you cope with it?
There was a time during the pandemic where I noticed my kids being affected negatively by social isolation. I was naturally really concerned about them, but this compounded my worry about how COVID would affect these younger generations to come. Reading the paper caused waves of anxiety for me.
How did I cope? I poured all my energy into starting bande and helping people feel connected.
Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Learned From The Social Isolation of the COVID-19 Pandemic? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Connecting with friends and family on a regular basis is critical and needs to be part of a routine. This is part of my “why” for starting bande. I realized the importance of consistent social connectivity and the joy it brought to my life. As a busy working mom of two young kids, I had missed connecting with friends even pre-pandemic. But these connections are critical to health and wellbeing. They are a time to laugh, to reflect, and to get outside your own world. They give you context for why you do what you do, and are literally the most pleasurable times.
- I learned to focus on the positive and where I could make an impact. At the beginning of the pandemic, I was totally obsessed with COVID statistics and read everything COVID-related I could get my hands on. I went so far as looking for classes in epidemiology and considered a degree in the field. At the same time, I was also getting really curious about the fitness landscape and saw the whitespace in social fitness. I went the route where I said, it’s now or never, and I can truly make an impact on society with this concept.
- I learned more about my kids and what kind of parent I wanted to be. During COVID, my 5-year-old son started his conglomerate, Luke.com, which encompassed his virtual yoga company along with his tea company, I was inspired by what he was doing and building. This was also a driving factor in starting bande. I wanted to be a role model for my boys of hard work, achievement and building something meaningful. Now, my 5-year-old constantly asks when bande is going public and if we have beaten Apple yet in the fitness game. When I told Luke and Caden that I have tons of work to be done before that happens, they start a chant that makes me cry “bande is going to win, bande is going to win”.
- I realized that the time is now to live the life we always wanted to live. The pandemic really made me realize the fragility of life and how short it really is. My husband and I decided that we wanted to live in Wyoming and raise our kids away from the city. We realized that we could work very effectively with the peace and quiet of Wyoming while traveling to cities frequently for business.
- I learned how to love barre! I have never been a dancer and never did barre until the pandemic. However, this is the class that ultimately influenced my starting bande! From these barre classes, I could skin up mountains so much faster than ever before and was able to keep up on a mountain bike with my husband.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you during the pandemic?
“Trust yourself. Create the kind of self that you will be happy to live with all your life. Make the most of yourself by fanning the tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement”—Golda Meir
I’ve always tried to do my best in whatever I set my mind to, whether that was playing tennis, trading bonds, investing, or raising kids with good values. During the pandemic when life was thrown into chaos in the early days, I focused on what I could do both for our family and others that would enable us to get through this time. I continued to be self-reflective as the pandemic progressed and decided that it would be important for both myself as well as our family, for me to go after my idea for building a business. I knew that in the end, this outlet and going after my passion would make me really happy as well as those around me.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Whitney Wolfe Herd, CEO of Bumble
She has created a female-driven social network that enables people to form meaningful connections. There are many parallels to what I’m trying to create, albeit in the fitness realm. Plus, I love that she was an underdog who crushed the market. Great story.
How can our readers further follow your work online?