Ellen Shinkle lies on her stomach in the middle of her studio, surrounded by eight sweaty students. Today, the strength skill focus is strict pushups. As the class takes a breath, Shinkle demonstrates different varieties of the pushup. Then she hops up with a smile, and encourages the group to try each one.
Slowly spinning to observe each person’s form, she shares a few facts about which muscles are being targeted. Now it’s time for the day’s workout: cardio, gymnastics and weightlifting.
“Programming is fun,” Shinkle said. “I like to teach a lot, so there is always some sort of skill we are working on. I’ll come up with four or five things we are going to work on for six to eight weeks, and then shift it.”
The owner and founder of Evolution Gym, CrossFit Cortez has always been an athlete. Growing up in Charlotte, North Carolina, she competed in gymnastics and soccer. However, when she went to college, she discovered rock climbing and fell in love with the sport. Her passion to stay active, combined with her new love for the outdoors, led her to the West. She first worked for the National Outdoor Leadership School Program, before moving to wilderness therapy at the Aspen Achievement Academy in Loa, Utah, the first licensed wilderness therapy program in the state.
She enjoyed working with at-risk teens because she was one herself, she said. In Utah, she met the people who started Open Sky Wilderness Therapy in Durango and left Utah to work there.
“I helped start that program,” she said. “I eventually was the field and operations director for four years. And then it was time to do something else. It’s a lifestyle, working in that field. It is amazing; so it is hard because nothing is as good as that.”
After leaving Open Sky in 2012, Shinkle said she needed to reinvent herself. She worked for a few guide companies and as a mentor and substitute teacher for Southwest Open School, then got the job as coordinator for Montezuma Inspire Coalition.
“She’s a very open person,” said Matthew Keefauver, director of Southwest Open School. “She completely meets people where they are at, and educates them.”
She continued to share her fitness knowledge with others while working at another gym in Cortez before friends pushed her to open Evolution Gym, CrossFit Cortez in April 2017.
“I went into it thinking ‘Oh, I’ll just rent this place for six months to see if I can make it,’” she said. “It was very scary, and very nerve-wracking but very exciting.”
Shinkle started to work with about 10 clients. After six months, she looked at her operating expenses and decided to give it another six months. Word spread, and soon she had more people participating each month. By spring 2018, she knew she had made it.
“I think the coolest thing is I get to come to work every day and love it,” she said. “There are some days where it feels like a lot, but it is totally worthwhile.”
Today, Shinkle’s gym has 55 members. There are an average of five classes a day, and clients meet with Shinkle or one of her five employees for personal training between classes. Though 75 percent of her gym members are female, she takes pride in providing a space for everyone and every “body.”
Shinkle encourages people to worry less about a number on the scale, and more on liking the way they look. To reach that goal, she creates personalized programs for every person. And with each client’s success comes some personal success for Shinkle.
“I want to be the place that you can go if you’re nervous about working out. You can feel comfortable and not intimidated in a gym,” she said. “Everyone starts out the same. We set goals and make plans.”l