In Part 2 of our series, O2 sat down with Juliet Starrett - former whitewater world champion, entrepreneur, author, philanthropist, and co-founder of The Ready State with her husband and business partner, Kelly Starrett.
Thanks for joining us, Juliet. You have an incredible story, rooted in your beginnings as a whitewater rafting champion. Where are you from, and how did you get your start in the fitness community?
I grew up in Boulder, CO, and my dad was a big outdoors person. We didn’t have a ton of money, so we didn’t take fancy trips as a family; we spent our time doing outdoor activities. I was lucky enough to take a few long river trips with my dad as a kid. So, I think I have to go way back in time to, like, 7 years old - to spending time on the river - to make a connection as to how I ended up in this weird fringe sport that is whitewater rafting.
I ended up moving to southern California in high school and joined the crew team. I was on the crew team all through high school, and I went to UC Berkeley as an undergrad and was also on the crew team there.
During my freshman year of college, I was with some friends of mine, and were trying to figure out a cool summer job we could do.
We all came up with this idea of trying to go to river rafting guide school and become river guides. We found this company run by this legendary whitewater guide named Bill McGuiness who did all these first descents on California rivers and rivers around the country. We were like, “We gotta go to this guy’s whitewater rafting guide school.”
I did that as a summer job all through college. Fast forward to not long after graduating college - I find out there’s a tryout for this whitewater rafting team. I didn’t know much about it, but I thought, “Hm. I have this athletic background as a rower, so I know I can pull hard on a paddle, and have been working as a Class 4/Class 5 river guide for the last few summers …”
So I turn up at this tryout, and there’s about 30 women there, and they’re all vying for a single spot, because the team had already been formed, but one of the members had to roll off.
This team was full of these legendary women of whitewater: Julie Munger, who’s in the Whitewater Hall of Fame, Beth Rypins, who made some of the earliest rafting and kayaking content out there, Kelley Kalafatich, who was Meryl Streep’s stunt double in The River Wild, Sue Norman, who was the 1980 kayaking world champion ...
These were some serious women, and they were looking for just one spot. And, I made the team! This was 1997. I made the team in early June, we were competing in our first national championships a month later, in two months we won that event, then two months after that I was on a plane to Zimbabwe to compete in the world championships on the Zambezi River.
I fell in love with it, and for the next five years I did odd jobs in the off-season to help support my training. And, all these races took place all over the world, so I was able to see the world, travel, and have this insane experience as this extreme whitewater athlete.
But after five years of doing that, just before I met Kelly, I decided that I wanted to go to law school. That, as fun as this was, I knew it wasn’t how I wanted to spend the rest of my life.
So, I was ready to move on, move to my next phase of life. I was lucky enough to do well in law school, and so I got a job at a big international law firm called Reed Smith, and I ended up working there for 7 and a half years as a complex commercial litigator.
“These were some serious women, and they were looking for just one spot. And, I made the team!” - Juliet Starrett, The Ready State
I was litigating between 2002 and 2009, and we opened San Francisco CrossFit in 2005. So, I was running the business side of San Francisco CrossFit as a side hustle to my very full-on lawyer job for quite some time. Once MobilityWOD came onto the scene I was doing three jobs, and by this point we also had two kids.
This is one of the most important parts about my story: I decided to take this sort of professional left turn, you might say. At that time I was making a lot of money, I was on the verge of being up for partner at a big law firm, and my career path was set.
So, it took me a while to really come to terms with this hankering to try my luck at being an entrepreneur full time. I had this very stable, very good job that had a very clear path forward, and I said, “I’m opting to pursue my original passion, which is health/fitness, as a profession.”
That was a big moment for me in my life. I just sort of jumped into the deep end of being an entrepreneur and running two businesses.
You’re a co-founder of The Ready State, but TRS isn’t your first or only foray into business. Can you describe some of the rewards and challenges of entrepreneurship?
Personally speaking, one of the greatest things about being an entrepreneur is it’s given me the space to be the kind of parent I want to be, which I don’t say lightly. Part of my decision to leave law practice is that I wanted to be an available parent to my kids. If my kid had band practice at 11am, I wanted to be able to go.
I don’t want to give the impression I’m just fancy-free, and not a hard worker. I think I work more, and harder, as an entrepreneur than as an attorney. But, I think I work differently. I can work when I want. I can work on my schedule.
The other really cool bonus is all the amazing people. All the cool connections we’ve been able to make over the span of the past 15 years; starting with the community we created at San Francisco CrossFit, some of whom are still part of our lives in a meaningful way, and the work and travel we’ve done around The Ready State, and the feedback we get from the community.
I think for me, that’s what lifts me up and keeps me doing what I’m doing; hearing that the work we do matters to people, and helps people feel better.
The challenge, especially in running a digital business, is making sure that we’re staying relevant. When we started MobilityWOD, and now The Ready State, we were making videos on our iPhone and uploading them to YouTube and that was kind of it.
Now, the technology is changing faster than you and I are having this interview.
The social media channels, the marketing strategies - it’s just a constantly moving target. I struggle to make sure we stay relevant as a company and up to date with our technology; everything that is the platform underneath the content we’re bringing out to people.
Part of the challenge is knowing what matters. I think a lot of it is noise. Oftentimes, the fundamentals continue to be true even if the technology’s changing.
“Now, the technology is changing faster than you and I are having this interview.” - J. Starrett, on the challenges of entrepreneurship
I’ll tell you a funny story. We went to this big marketing conference; this big keynote speaker. There’s a thousand people in the room and he has these mega-screens behind him. He’s running all over the stage, then he kind of gets to the point of his whole presentation, and really he boils it down to, “The new marketing trends are … have a blog.”
My point is, you can get lost in all this. It’s easy to be in a constant state of, “Oh my God I should be doing this and I’m not.” It’s important to be able to step back. A lot of the fundamentals do not change.
We continue to produce good, engaging, high-quality content. If all else fails, we have that going for us. Part of that challenge is making sure you’re not getting lost in the weeds, [and asking] what should I be implementing to stay current?
You’re also a writer, and co-authored Deskbound, a bestselling book warning of the perils of sitting on our asses too much. Can you talk about those dangers, and what we can do to save ourselves?
I should go check and see if Deskbound is having an uptick in sales in this pandemic; since none of us ever leave our houses, and our movement has been downgraded.
The point I want to make, and I think we did a good job of in the book, is that we’re not moving enough as a human species.
There’s this Ted Talk, and this guy talks about this creature called a sea squirt. While it’s swimming around in the ocean it has a brain and a nervous system. Then, at a point in its life it finds a rock and attaches itself, and then consumes its brain and nervous system. And, the point the guy’s trying to make is that we have a nervous system to move. That’s the primary function of our nervous system. It’s not to think smart thoughts, or whatever it is we like to think the nervous system is for.
Sitting in and of itself is not bad. In fact, sitting is awesome. Standing is also not bad. What is bad is not moving enough.
We’ve told people, “You just need to get to the gym once a day and work out for an hour!” And, people have listened. They get it. Gym memberships in the last 20-30 have exploded. In the 80s, nobody went to the gym. That wasn’t a thing people did.
But, what’s also exploded are the rates of obesity and diabetes, and other diseases. We’re not doing well as a species.
We think one of the problems is we’ve told everyone, “You gotta exercise.” And they say, “Okay! I joined a gym! I go once a day. Or five days a week.”
But then they sit for the remaining 16 hours of the day. Literally. “I commute. I sit all day in a crappy, slouchy position at my desk. I sit at lunch. I sit on my commute on the way home. Then I sit and watch three hours of Netflix every night.”
Somehow, the message has gotten lost that you also have to move around, a lot, in addition to working out. I would argue that if you’re going to choose between moving around a lot during the day - walking, and getting constant movement all day - over a one-hour workout, the movement piece is more important.
“In fact, sitting is awesome.” - J. Starrett, on the benefits of sitting infrequently, for very short periods of time
If you sit more than six hours a day, you are considered a “sedentary person.” Ninety percent of CrossFitters would be considered sedentary people! Yeah, they CrossFit for an hour, but then they go and sit at their desk jobs all day for 12 hours.
The message Kelly and I are trying to get out into the world is: smashing ourselves doing a 1-hour workout 3-5 times a week is simply not enough movement. It’s not working.
We’re trying to help people realize and value the importance of moving throughout their day. There is every kind of wearable device out there that can track your heart-rate variability and innumerable other fitness metrics, and I still believe the one thing everybody should be tracking is their footsteps every day, and they should be getting 10,000 of them every day.
O2 and The Ready State are currently partnered to promote the importance of hydration and mobility. What is your can’t-miss mobility tip? The one thing we need, even if we never wise up to the importance of an organized mobility routine?
You should be walking 10,000 steps a day. I’m serious. Try it. Try it for a month and tell me how you feel.
I think the one thing people should do in addition to walking a lot and tracking their steps, is sit on the floor every single day, and get up and down off the floor at least once a day. And, here’s why: just the act of getting up and down off the floor is a mobility exercise because it’s taking your hips through their full range of motion.
We have a gigantic explosion of orthopedic and musculoskeletal injuries in this country. It’s the #1 reason that people see their primary care physician.
“You should be walking 10,000 steps a day. I’m serious.” - J. Starrett, on the interviewer’s poor posture and admittedly sedentary lifestyle
There’s strong data to support that cultures that sleep on the ground, toilet on the ground, and eat on the ground, have dramatically fewer orthopedic injuries and joint replacements than we do in this country; in Western countries where we sit with all of our joints at a 90-degree angle in chairs all the time.
We would be a different human species if we sat on the floor. Just watch a half-hour Netflix show sitting on the floor, get up and down off the floor at least once a day, and walk 10,000 steps. It’d be a different ballgame.
We started with speaking about your history. March is Women’s History Month. You’re an entrepreneur, a business owner, an author, a mom, a corporate attorney, a pro sports champion. What advice do you have for the rest of us who would fall to our knees in thanks for having just one of these accomplishments under our belts?
All that sounds great on paper. It’s nice, and accomplishments are nice, but neither Kelly nor I are really that enamored with status or accomplishments on paper. We really like to work with and spend time with people who care about their communities, give back, know what’s going on in the world, like to be engaged …
Those are the values I really care about. Those are the things I’m trying to pass along to my kids.
Are you nice to the people around you? Are you nice to the people you love? Am I taking care of my employees? Am I taking care of my marriage? And my kids? To me, those qualities matter way more than any world championship.
“Are you nice to the people around you?” - J. Starrett, on how to find the answers that lead you to good places
How you show up in the world is all that matters in the end. Especially how you show up for the people you love.
I am an ambitious person. It is important to me that I am engaged, and have a deep, rich professional life. But, as I reflect on all those things, I think all this fluffy stuff matters way more.
Catch up with Juliet's husband Kelly in Part 3 of our series where speaks in more in detail about hydration and mobility.