4/27/2017 11:25:00 AM Entrepreneur finds home in fitness community
QUINCY, Ill. (AP) — Sam Karoll’s life experiences transcend his young age.
Karoll, 26, was born in Atlanta and adopted by Monty and Laura Karoll of Quincy when he was 6 months old.
“I was too young to remember when they actually started telling me,” he said. “I always grew up knowing. I would say most adopted kids, when they’re really young, have this mindset that when you start arguing with your parents they can’t boss you around because they aren’t your real parents. That was always a really mean thing to say, and I grew out of that pretty quick.
“I never found out who my birth parents are. I have no interest in them, but I did find out that I have two older brothers. I think about it all the time, what it would have been like growing up with brothers. It would be cool to meet them at some point, but what do you say to somebody you were supposed to spend every day of your life with for 18 years when you grew up in two completely different households?”
In a predominantly Catholic city, the Karolls fall into the minority.
“Growing up, I was one of like five Jewish kids in this entire town,” he said. “My nickname in high school was ‘Jew,’ because I was one of the only Jewish kids in high school. We lived in Israel for six months when I was a kid. I attended half a year of third grade here, dropped out of school and attended the fourth grade in Israel. The language barrier was the hardest thing. There were two kids in my class that could speak English that I could have a conversation with. Here I was the outsider because I’m Jewish. There I was the outsider because I’m American.”
Sports were always a positive outlet for Karoll. The field unified all involved.
“I played soccer until I was a freshman in high school, but I was always a lot bigger than the rest of the soccer players,” he said. “I actually ended up getting recruited by a couple kids on the football team. I was a defensive end, on special teams and occasionally on the offensive line. I liked tackling kids.
“When it comes to sports, I have an aggressive demeanor. I might be a little overly aggressive, but the second that practice was over, I would relax. I had that ability to just kind of shut things off. If I was able to take out all my anger on the football field or in a sport. I wasn’t taking it out on anyone else throughout the day. Still now, working out is a way for me to vent.”
After high school, his ideas for his future were endless. He considered going into the military, culinary school or following in the footsteps of his father and becoming a doctor. He chose Monmouth College and sought to continue his football career there.
“I tore my ankle the summer before going to Monmouth,” he said. “On our very first padded practice, a lineman fell on it and (tore it again). I went from being one of the top in the freshman class to going to the very bottom by injury. I thought to myself, ‘There goes freshman season.’ I’d already torn my shoulder and had just torn my ankle. It wasn’t worth it, so I just stopped playing and focused on school.”
“My junior year, I got to talking with the first entrepreneur professor Monmouth had. I told him I didn’t feel like I was learning anything about owning a business. He told me to take my money and go open one. I came home to help my dad open up his private radiology practice. I learned what not to do with that, what works and what doesn’t. I ended up dropping out of school.”
Monty Karoll was initially distraught by his son’s choice.
“In Judaism, the family of a child is supposed to do whatever it takes to make sure the child gets the highest level of education possible,” Sam Karoll said. “So dad got kind of mad about it, until he realized what you do learn from owning your own business is probably more practical than any degree you could ever get. I was confident in my decision, but I did feel like I was letting him down. I still debate trying to go to medical school every once in a while.”
Karoll tried to emulate his father and fondly refers to him as his hero.
“My laid back personality comes from dad,” he said. “I think I probably heard him get mad at another person twice in my life. He had a perfect ACT, SAT, got accepted into every Ivy League school in the nation. He did it all, and I was just the kid who wanted to drop out of college. He had really high expectations for me in high school, but there was no way I could compare to his track record.
“I knew intellectually I would never live up to his legacy, but I did strive to be who he was as a person. Never casting judgment on someone else or thinking I’m better than anyone else. He didn’t really tell me how to be. It was more observing.”
Having left college and spending much of his time in the gym, Karoll started to consider how he could parlay his pastime into a new career. In 2012, he began looking for jobs at gyms in Quincy. When he couldn’t find the right fit, he decided to start his own.
Shadow Crossfit opened in March 2013.
“It was weird being that 21-year-old kid going to start a company. Other people are worrying about getting paid, and I’m worrying about loans and interest and renting out a building,” he said. “Entrepreneurship is a mentality though, and there are a lot of advantages to being young. You have a lot more energy. When I started out I was leading every class. I was at the gym from 5 a.m. until 9 p.m. I used to sleep under my desk when I could. I did that for a year.”
“With that first building, I had a young, go-big-or-go-home mentality. It was massive — 17,000 square feet,” he said. “Making the decision to downsize was really tough. My lease was up, and my dad suggested this place. We set a move date for March 12. He got sick the week before that, and he passed away the day before we were supposed to move.
“Dad was always extremely optimistic but also realistic. He always taught me to be the same way. I was at the bedside when it happened. I had to make the call for the doctors to stop CPR after 40 minutes. It was just the reality of the situation, but I couldn’t focus on the move. I didn’t care if we had to close or they kicked us out. I just had to be with my family.
“The next morning I showed up at the old location to get something, and I saw a lot of cars and trailers. The members were moving about 20,000 pounds of equipment and flooring for me. They came out here and painted the new place. Everything in here was moved, installed and painted by a member of this gym. I saw that, and I just bawled my eyes out.”
Most of the members that helped him keep the gym open are still around, he said.
“Ever since we opened up, it wasn’t just about fitness,” he said. “The goal was always to create a community people could come to and feel safe in, a place where they were able to talk. I wanted them to feel a part of something bigger. I’ve had clients call me at midnight to talk. I could tell you all of our clients’ kids’ names and about their lives. When something happened after two years of taking care of people, they all flipped it around and took care of me.”
Karoll has started to develop a fitness web application named Xplore. He hopes to incorporate the community aspects of his gym into the app and offer users education on nutrition. The new venture, he said, is the result of observing what is lacking in the industry.
And he still wants to go big: He hopes to someday begin hosting international seminars through the new company.