Ellen Renk has always been a strong competitor.
She was a standout basketball player and track and field athlete at La Salle-Peru before continuing her track career at Illinois Wesleyan University.
Renk has continued to compete after graduating with a marketing degree.She’s competed in CrossFit and also went 3-0 in kickboxing fights.
Aside from competing, Renk works in social media with fitness and nutrition companies and does her own podcast on health and fitness.
The NewsTribune caught up with Renk to discuss her career and competitions.
NewsTribune: What do you do for a living?
Renk: I currently do my own thing. I work for myself. I work with Performance Fuel. They are one of my clients, but it’s almost a little bit of a partnership. Performance Fuel is a nutrition company based out of New York. I do their organic social media and do some sales and administrative work with them. I work with a couple other businesses in the fitness industry and a couple gyms. I potentially have another client coming on that sells grips for CrossFit doing organic social media and helping with product and program development.
NT: How did you get into that?
Renk: I got a degree in marketing and moved to Duluth, Minn. because I wanted to train and compete in CrossFit. The gym I was working at, I also did their marketing. A large part of it was social media. For a couple years I trained there and worked there doing email marketing and social media and helping with a lot of administrative work. Then I moved to the twin cities and took a job doing social media at an advertising agency. It was short lived because I realized I didn’t really like sitting in an office. I sort of fell into it. None of what I learned in college had anything to do with social media, but when I got to the workforce social media was on the rise and it’s what marketing is really becoming. Because I grew up with it, it was something I could start doing and learn more about how to actually apply it to businesses.
NT: Why do you work with fitness and nutrition companies?
Renk: I found when I worked at the advertising agency I really liked the people and liked working there, but the clients I worked with had absolutely nothing to do with what I cared about. One of the social media accounts I ran was for a tool company. I don’t care about wrenches and saws. With social media, you have to be so present and have to have a voice where people feel like you care about what you’re talking about. It felt weird faking that. When I split off and decided to do my own thing, I thought if health and fitness was such a huge part of who I am in my life, why would I not want to work with companies that yeah, I’m working for them and posting on their behalf, but I still share a passion for what they’re doing. We have similar values for the content we’re pushing out. That’s why I primarily work with businesses that have to do with health and fitness.
NT: How did your podcast get started? What’s it about?
Renk: I do social media for other businesses but I’d really like to do health and lifestyle coaching and eventually get away from having so many different clients and running their social media. Something I realized is I love having conversations with people. I think the best way to learn is through other people, their knowledge and experiences, so I was like, ‘Hey, I’m going to start a podcast because it will be great content I can put out, it will support me in terms of giving value and hopefully gaining an audience when it comes to coaching. It also gives me an opportunity to connect with other people, hear their stories and learn from others, but also share that knowledge. Last year I bought a bunch of equipment and sat on the idea for a while. I’m a perfectionist and a lot of times I use that as an excuse to not do anything because it’s not perfect. I decided messy action was better than no action, so I contacted a bunch of people, put some posts out asking for anyone who wanted to talk about their experiences in health and fitness. I banked up a bunch of episodes and have them scheduled through the summer. It’s going well. The majority of people who listen are friends and family and people I know, but they seem to have good feedback.
NT: Where can people listen?
Renk: It’s on iTunes, Spotify and it should be on pretty much any podcast app you have on your phone. You can just search Lean In podcast and throw my name in there and it should pop up. I alternate between long form interviews and shorter solo podcasts of 5-10 minutes of me talking about something I thought was interesting and felt like sharing.
NT: How did you get into CrossFit?
Renk: I started CrossFitting in college because I loved lifting but wanted to lose weight. I didn’t really understand what I was doing at the time. I wanted to find a way to still lift without bulking up, which I realize now didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Senior year I started doing CrossFit. I ended up interning at a CrossFit gym and doing social media for them, which is probably a gateway to what I’m doing now. I picked up CrossFit and I was pretty good at it. I knew I would be graduating soon and wouldn’t be triple jumping. I got hooked because I’ve been an athlete my whole life and I love competing. I thought it was something I could do after I graduated so I could still compete and train for something. I fell in love with it for several years.
NT: Do you still compete?
Renk: I compete off and on. I herniated a disc in my back and had to take a bunch of time off. I got really burnt out. I ended up segueing from CrossFit to jujitsu. I fell in love with it. It challenges your mind in a way I don’t think any sport ever has. When I moved to the cities I joined a martial arts gym. I wanted to fight. I totally changed my goals. It was something I’ve never done before. I started kick boxing and doing muay thai. I did a couple kick boxing fights. I was deep into that then I ended up moving. I no longer live close to that gym so I started doing CrossFit more because it’s closer. I just finished a qualifier for the Dakota Games. I’m on a team of four with my boyfriend and two of our friends. In September we’ll compete in that in Fargo, N.D.
NT: What did you have to do to qualify for the Dakota Games?
Renk: We had two weeks to do four different workouts. You can do them as much as you wanted. I did them one time. You do the workouts, tape it and submit it then there is a leaderboard that ranks everyone according to your score. We were ranked second to qualify to compete in the pro team of four division.
NT: How many hours do you spend in the gym?
Renk: It’s a lot less than it used to be. When I was training for martial arts it would be twice a day and I’d be in the gym 5-6 hours total. After I moved I decided I wanted to take a step back from being there so much and focus a little more on my lifestyle and getting outside the gym and using my fitness for life rather than just inside a box. Currently, I train 1 ½ to 2 hours at most. I’ve really been trying to monitor how often and how long I’m there so I can focus on my business and my coaching and my relationships with other people. That’s really important and I neglected that a lot of times in my life to work out. I don’t want to do that forever.
NT: What was fighting like?
Renk: It was so cool. I miss it a lot. It challenges you in ways I have never been challenged before. In track and CrossFit, besides being mentally strong to train, there isn’t much thinking involved. With fighting, when you’re in there it’s almost like a puzzle or a game because you have to react to what someone else is doing. It’s not only about what you’re doing. The challenge that it was physically and mentally was exhilarating. I would love to get back into it at some point because it was a great seven months I spent training for it. When you watching fighting, it looks like just throwing punches, but it’s so much more than that. It truly is like a game. It’s one on one. There really is no other competitive feeling like it. Going head to head with another person in such a brutal way, as someone who is really competitive, it was very satisfying.
Kevin Chlum can be reached at 220-6939, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsEditor.