The "Together We Rise" Story

They say entrepreneurship is like jumping off a cliff and building a plane on the way down. Pretty damn accurate. KAHA FITNESS opened in the fall of 2014. If I’m being completely honest, even though I had already been running a successful PR/Marketing business, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing when it came to this gym.
By Monica Hilton
April 20, 2020
The "Together We Rise" Story

[PREFACE]: Together We Rise Fitness used to be called KAHA FITNESS. It started when a girl from Wisconsin with a PR & Marketing degree decided that her calling was to help others through fitness. This is the story of why this place is different than all the other fitness options out there.


(Written by Owner Monica Hilton)

KAHA FITNESS opened in the fall of 2014. If I’m being completely honest, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. They say entrepreneurship is like jumping off a cliff and building a plane on the way down. Pretty damn accurate

Having worked in several gyms and having been a member at several others at least gave me an idea about policies and procedures: what not to do, what members expect, etc. My customer service guide was pretty simple: Be a good human.

When KAHA first opened, we offered three programs (BodyPump, BodyCombat and CXWORX) from Les Mills, a New Zealand-based company and the worldwide leader in group fitness. Our lineup also included a variety of Beachbody programs (P90X, Insanity, PiYo) and Zumba, but I learned quickly that once our members discovered Les Mills classes, they didn’t want to do anything else. So we grew from three Les Mills programs to six, then later to ten. At one point, we were the largest Les Mills studio in Indianapolis.

When I was naming the gym, I wanted to pay tribute to Les Mills and the Maori culture in New Zealand. I chose the word KAHA, a Kiwi word for “strong.” To me, there’s no other word to represent what we were aiming for: strength, in all of its forms.

On the day we opened, I set a goal of selling 50 memberships, although in my head, I knew I’d be happy with 30. We had a packed house of people coming to try us out. I made announcements about membership specials and all the great things we had planned. The energy in the building was through the roof. Then everyone left and not one person signed up. NOT ONE. I sat down at the front desk and cried... ugly cried... for about an hour. Maybe two. Did I do something wrong? How am I going to pay rent? What have I done?!

The following day, one person came in and joined. From that point forward, it was one membership... one person, one story... at a time. Slower than I thought we’d grow? Yes. But the perfect speed to show me the importance of every single person? Absolutely. I believe that was part of God’s plan.

For the first two and a half years, I also had a full-time career in IndyCar racing, traveling to races all over the country to earn the paycheck that would keep the doors open at KAHA. I can remember nights where my flight would land at 11pm and I’d head to the gym to clean until 2 or 3am. Vacuuming at 3am is exactly as exhilarating as you’d imagine.

I didn’t do it (and couldn’t have done it) alone. The incredible team of instructors amazed me every day with their energy, enthusiasm, humor, selfless acts, the list goes on and on. During those first two really rough years, on more than one occasion, I had instructors offer to teach for free to get us through the rough patches. They were my voices of reason, my rocks, my friends.

Late in 2016, I lost my biggest racing client and the paycheck the accompanied it. I had to teach BodyAttack one hour after getting the news, so despite feeling like someone had kicked my dog, I got up on that stage determined to not let anyone see the fear and stress I was now carrying. I’ll never forget the moment after class when one of the members approached me and commented that I had tons of energy that day. I confided the news with her and all she said was, “Here’s my number. Call me later.” She would later become my business coach and more importantly, a really great friend.

In January 2017, through coaching, I finally discovered the vision of KAHA: Building strong people (physically, mentally, emotionally) and then paying that strength forward into the Indianapolis community. Simply put, I wanted to build a community of strong people who would “be the ripple” to make others’ lives better too.

When people ask what makes this gym different, I believe it’s the culture. This is a very welcoming, non- judgemental space that offers results-based classes with modifiers for every fitness level. It’s the people that fill this gym’s walls that make all the difference. We joke all the time that we take our results seriously. But ourselves? Not so much.

When the vision was clear, KAHA thrived. Our membership doubled in six months and I would constantly hear things like, “This place changed my life” or “There’s just something special here.”

We started outgrowing our old space. It had one bathroom, parking was always an adventure and let’s just say that the people in our cycling classes got to be really cozy: “Is that my sweat or yours?”

When I began to explore expansion, something in the back of my mind kept presenting itself: Over the years at KAHA, we had so many women coming to class and mentioning that they wanted their fill-in-the-blank guy (husband, boyfriend, friend, etc.) to come to class with them but... “he won’t try group fitness.” It’s like a weird stigma in the United States. When guys think group fitness, the first images that pop into their heads are somewhere between Jazzercize and Richard Simmons. So for most guys, it’s a hard pass.

That played a factor in exploring options for the new space. Someone mentioned CrossFit and I quickly dismissed it at first. Have you ever heard the saying, “People have the most to say about things they know the least about?” That was me with CrossFit. I had a million reasons why I wasn’t interested without ever having done any research on it.

Reluctantly, I decided to put aside what I thought I knew and explore it a bit further. I watched videos, read articles and talked to coaches who actually knew what they were doing. I’m willing to admit when I’m wrong and WOW, was I wrong about what I thought CrossFit was. To make a long story short, through learning, doing and seeing people’s results in our own gym, I drank the Kool-Aid. I believe in CrossFit.

When I initially applied to be a CrossFit affiliate, the name I requested was CrossFit KAHA. Turns out, there’s a CrossFit KAHA already in existence in Brazil. Just to clarify, Brazilians have nice booties AND the name CrossFit KAHA. We get it, Brazil. You’re winning at life.

So our incredible team of CrossFit coaches got together and brainstormed. We knew that there were two things we wanted our name to convey: 1) The idea of community, and 2) the idea of bettering ourselves, both in health/fitness and in life. And so, Together We Rise CrossFit opened its doors in August of 2017.

I did a lot of brand identity exploration with TWR CrossFit because the vision didn’t come quite as clearly as it did with KAHA. Ultimately, I want people to know that, at Together We Rise CrossFit, we are here to do work and we are unapologetically fun. “Work hard, life hard” fits because we believe in balance. When it’s time to train, get your head in the game, be disciplined and push your limits. Outside of the gym, enjoy all the amazing things this life has to offer. Together we push our limits. Together we celebrate the achievements in and out of the gym. Together we support each other through gym challenges and life challenges. Together... We Rise.

There’s a popular quote from Pat Sherwood that I love: “The goal is just to get fit. Make it the best hour of your day. Stay safe, turn up the music, high five some people and blow off some steam. So remember that. Relax. Have fun. Work out.”

It’s that simple.

It’s hard to admit but I didn’t realize how much we were confusing new members who walked in the door when we were marketing ourselves as “KAHA FITNESS and Together We Rise CrossFit.” We had two different names, two different membership types, two accounts on each social media platform, etc. What is this place?! *GIANT FACEPALM*

I understand now that someone who’s new to the fitness world might not understand why CrossFit is different than what’s traditionally called “group fitness” because let’s face it: CrossFit is fitness in a group.

In the summer of 2019, I rebranded the entire entity to Together We Rise Fitness. One name, one unlimited membership, one gym family that is here to be better today than we were yesterday.

In the fall of 2020, in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, we found ourselves movin’ on up to our new home in Fishers, Indiana. Less than one month after that move took place, God started working (as He often does) in mysterious ways for us to open a second location in Westfield, Indiana. It’s the continuation of a crazy adventure that started years ago with a dream and a calling to help people live their best lives.

People ask me all the time what I recommend to get the best results. Here it is: I recommend challenging yourself and stepping out of your comfort zone. I recommend doing what makes you happy. I recommend grabbing a protein shake and hanging out with your friends in the lobby for a while. Talk about your workout and your goals, but also about your life and your stories. Meet a new person and reminisce with people you’ve been next to in class for years. I recommend stopping me in the hallway or out on the gym floor, and telling me your story. You aren’t a number here. I’m going to push you to be your best so help me get to know you.

No matter how you live an active lifestyle – at Together We Rise or otherwise – I just want you to be healthy. CrossFit, basketball, ballet... they’re all tools in making us stronger human beings. Do what works for you, enjoy doing it and then clap for your damn self on making an “effort investment” in YOU. It’s the best investment you can make, and if you’re part of the Together We Rise Fitness gym family, we’re thankful that you’re here with us.

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