Creating Bridge & Burn required a leap of faith. Founder, Erik Prowell quit his job as a software developer, lit the proverbial match, and threw it—burning the bridge of working for anyone else behind him. With no formal training he trusted his smarts and his strong work ethic, and took the plunge. In that spirit, Bridge Burners is a series showcasing people who are taking a similar leap.
Alleyways in east Vancouver, BC, are not typically places where you want to hang out, let alone work out. Just off Main and Hastings—a corner infamous for addiction and homelessness— butting up against Chinatown, the Strathcona neighborhood is one of Vancouver’s oldest, and has historically been one of its grittiest. It’s exactly where Keighty Gallagher set out to establish her business, Tight Club Athletics.
“You’ll have a Chinese family pushing their baby stroller, crossing paths with a prostitute, and 12 sporty babes running by—and it ain’t no thang,” she says. “It’s cool that way.”
photos by Rachel Pick
On any given day, the detached two-car garage she lives above—aptly named “the Coach House”—is packed with sweating women, in a part of the city where many of these ladies might never otherwise set foot. Anyone familiar with the neighborhood knows this is an impressive feat.
Even more impressive? Keighty has managed to get Vancouver’s too-cool creative class excited about fitness. Like, really excited. Her 12-person classes—with names like Booty Luv, Morning Glory and Tight Jam Tabatas—book up weeks in advance; last year she designed a capsule collection for Lululemon; Nike has her on their radar; she’s been featured by national media.
With little exaggeration, people are clamoring to work out with Keighty. It’s not that her routines are magically easier, or less sweat-inducing. But they are non-intimidating, and with her impeccable blend of functional street style and nostalgia-inducing ’90s hip-hop, she offers an appealing alternative to traditional fitness. Her fashion rule is if she wouldn’t feel comfortable grabbing a beer in it, then she’d rather not work out in it. It takes down the barrier of cheezy lycra that many aesthetically-minded fitness enthusiasts can’t stomach. In fact, she says, “Most of the people coming here hate the gym.”
Even though she’s always been an athlete, Keighty gets it. To this day, she says with a tone of distaste: “I hate using fitness-y words like sculpt or lift or tone.” She never fully identified with the sporty kids she competed alongside for most of her life.
A track scholarship brought her from a small Vancouver Island town to the University of Oregon—where she competed in heptathlon, hurdles, long-jump and high-jump. But after a summer marketing internship at Bonfire snowboards she fell in love with Portland. She transferred to Portland State where she finished her Business degree, thinking her next step would be an agency marketing role in Portland.
But when her student visa ran out, Keighty landed in Vancouver, BC—working as a marketing assistant at a tech startup, and supplementing her income by hostessing at a popular East Van watering hole. She was wrestling with her desire to be back in Portland and her lack of passion for her day job.
Tight Club started as a weekly outdoor bootcamp-style workout she led for her restaurant coworkers. Somehow each week she gathered a crew of hip bartenders and servers and had them doing burpees and lunges in a nearby park. The classes took off and she realized it was exactly what she wanted to be doing, and exactly where she should be doing it.
“I was really nervous to switch career directions because my parents helped put me through my business degree. I thought, they are not going to be impressed that I don’t want to do anything business-oriented. But now I am actually putting what I learned to use running this business,” she says. “Even when I was working in marketing, I never felt like I could get a handle on what marketing was—and I’d just spent five years studying it! I never felt like I could speak in anyone else’s voice. Instead I found my voice in Tight Club—in bringing a less jockey voice to fitness, softening it up and making it appeal to creatives.”
And appeal it does. It wasn’t long before her classes had a wait-list. “Then all of a sudden I would open up the next month of classes and they’d get all booked up.” Two and a half years later it’s evolved into a committed community and a thriving business. Not that it doesn’t come with challenges. For Keighty it’s a struggle to keep workouts fresh for regulars, to stay on top of social media promotions, and above all to maintain a healthy balance. “I’m not doing it,” she says. “I’m injured. I’ve been sick for the past week. I sleep six hours a night and I only take one day off a week.”
But it’s worth it, says Keighty, at the end of each workout when people are excited to stick around, grab a beer (yes, they do) and just hang out. “The hardest thing about Vancouver is making good friends—and sweating with someone is being in your most most vulnerable state. It’s like going home with someone and then having breakfast together the next morning.”
It’s that level of authenticity that makes Tight Club impossible to replicate. Keighty offers an amazing workout, but she also makes fitness accessible and cool. She’s building a community—truly a tight one—where you least expect it.
Keighty's Perfectly Imperfect Tee is available in men's and women's styles.