Jennifer Pattee is ready to upend a lot of notions around what fitness looks like after 50. The CEO of a new outdoor fitness company called Public Recreation has learned in her own life’s journey just how important it is to follow her instincts and challenge expectations.
Pattee had always been active growing up, but after graduating from college in the mid-‘90s and commuting to desk jobs in Silicon Valley, she found it hard to maintain. “Our bodies are built to move, but our world is built for sitting.” Pattee says. “I didn't fully understand how big this problem was until I experienced it.”
“I tried every fitness fad,” she says. “It took me almost 10 years to find a workout I looked forward to.” Pattee, who was a designer for IDEO, and later, Apple, noticed her fitness fall away bit by bit. “I traded my bike for a car to get around, because I was commuting 120 miles a day. I traded personal time for longer hours at work, because I could barely keep up — there was so much to learn. Then, I started chasing other life goals — getting married, buying a house. I had so many competing priorities. I didn’t know that my health was actually the most important.”
In the meantime, Pattee’s health suffered – she gained weight, and lost her enthusiasm for fitness that had once come so naturally. She eventually connected with a personal trainer who gave her gym workouts and nutrition advice, but Pattee longed to get back outside. She asked her trainer if she could do their workouts outside and he said something that has stuck with her ever since: “Yes. That’s where real athletes train.”
It was all the incentive she needed. “I set out to meet those athletes and train the way they trained,” Pattee says. “It changed my life dramatically. One of my trainers was an officer in the British Special Forces, another played for the New York Jets. We trained at the beach, in the mountains, in national parks. I saw the sun rise more times than I could count.”
Her body grew stronger, and her confidence soared. She left her corporate job and started her first outdoor fitness company in 2008, to fill a void she saw in the industry. She also joined a women’s triathlon club, and then took up ultra running, which led her to compete in races all over the world, and helped her finally find her tribe: adventurous women breaking barriers in the outdoors.
Now, nearing 50, Pattee has teamed with co-founders Adam Green and Emilie Lincoln and launched Public Recreation, a Y Combinator-backed startup. Public Recreation is a new type of gym, all outdoors, offering unlimited classes -- like strength training, boxing and yoga - for $60/month. And coming soon, digital classes and coaching.
Throughout her journey, Pattee met resistance – particularly among those who thought she should not be taking on such big physical challenges. “When I was running ultras in my 40s, I had to stop talking about it,” Pattee says. “Most people would say it was crazy and ask, ‘Aren't you worried about your knees?’ Occasionally, someone would say: ‘Wow, that's so inspiring. Tell me more.’ Only then would I have a chance to share what running through the Alps has made possible for me. How hard it was, and how I overcame it. How it gave me the courage to apply to YC. How it emboldened me to fundraise. How it makes me a better CEO today.”
Pattee wants Public Recreation to be a vehicle for changing the way people think about their bodies -- and for changing the conversation around what’s possible for women over 50. “We must change our thinking about fitness - what it is, where it happens, why we do it - in order to change our health,” she says. “And we must also change our thinking about women over 50 - what our bodies and minds are capable of - in order to advance society as a whole.”