Born@CSU company empowers females to live smart, fit

Chrissy Chard, left, and Kellie Walters started Smart Fit Chicks.

Each new year brings a fresh wave of individuals looking to satisfy their resolutions to get active and live healthy. But Smart Fit Chicks, a company born at Colorado State University, understands that keeping these resolutions isn’t always easy — and is here to help.

Kellie Walters
Kellie Walters

Chrissy Chard and Kellie Walters first met at CSU while earning their graduate degrees in the Department of Health and Exercise Science. Both women were intimately involved in the fitness world, and decided to start their own health coaching company by women, for women, with the mission of using research-proven techniques to empower others to create healthy lifestyles, both in body and mind.

They were accepted into the Venture Accelerator Program through CSU’s College of Business in 2012, while Chard was earning her Ph.D. The VAP provided them access to mentors and resources to get their sister organizations, Smart Fit Chicks and Smart Fit Girls, off the ground. Through the VAP and Charge!, the University’s crowdfunding site, Chard and Walters raised enough money to start all four of their Smart Fit Girls locations in Colorado, Wyoming and South Carolina.

Smart Fit Chicks

Chard and Walters originally started Smart Fit Chicks as a health coaching company for adult females. It is a Web-based service focused on motivational interviewing, goal-setting and behavior implementation. Clients from all over the U.S. work with coaches to set their own health goals, and the coaches provide clients with support, education and accountability in achieving those goals and guiding them toward sustained behavior changes.

Smart Fit Chicks’ coaching packages range from one to three months and accommodate varying needs for support and guidance.

Chrissy Chard
Chrissy Chard

“Our approach is a very client-centered way of promoting behavior change,” said Chard, now a faculty member in the Department of Health and Exercise Science and the Colorado School of Public Health. “What we know is that individuals are the experts in their own lives. They know what they want to achieve. We simply provide guidance and support them in their journeys toward healthier lives.”

In the spring of 2015, Chard and Walters took on their first intern, Dawn Dickerson, a CSU student in the Department of Health and Exercise Science and former Smart Fit Chicks client. After graduating in May, Dickerson was hired as a certified Smart Fit Chicks coach.

“As a former client, I’ve seen what this program could do,” said Dickerson. “The company is special because it’s powerful. Health coaching isn’t just a Band-Aid. It digs deeper into the ‘whys’ of human behavior, which provides the opportunity to create more long-term behavior change.”

Smart Fit Girls

After working with adult females, Chard and Walters began to realize that challenges with self-esteem and body image start much younger, and so Smart Fit Girls was born in spring 2014. Smart Fit Girls is a 10-week after-school program that empowers middle school girls to feel mentally and physically strong. Coaches meet with the girls twice a week to practice strength and resistance training and talk about issues such as bullying, confidence, positive body image and self-efficacy. Smart Fit Girls currently operates in two middle schools in Fort Collins, one in Wyoming and one in South Carolina, where Walters moved in 2013 to pursue a Ph.D. in parks, recreation and tourism management from Clemson University.

SFG-positive-affirmation-1While Chard and Walters are still actively involved in coaching, they also train practicum students from CSU and Clemson to coach at each SFG site. They plan to implement a “mom’s extension” to the program this spring to teach moms the skills to effectively communicate with their daughters about sensitive health topics.

Research conducted by Walters for her dissertation on Smart Fit Girls has shown a 12 percent improvement in body image for the 76 girls who have completed the program and significant improvements in self-esteem.

A look towards the future

While both Smart Fit Chicks and Smart Fit Girls have seen great success over the past few years, the team has some big things planned for 2016. Smart Fit Girls is set to attain nonprofit status within the next six months, and the team is planning another crowdfunding campaign to raise money to establish additional SFG sites throughout the country. They are also working to prepare official lesson plans and daily materials to give coaches from around the country the opportunity to implement Smart Fit Girls in schools in their area.

“I think the reason we’ve been so successful is that we’ve been really open,” said Walters, former director of adult fitness at CSU. “The more we talk about our organization and get other people talking about it, the more we are able to build. We truly appreciate all of the support we’ve been given these past three years.”

The Department of Health and Exercise Science is part of the College of Health and Human Sciences at CSU.