Name: Caleigh Rykiss
Job title: Founder and CEO, BOLO
Currently lives in: Toronto
Education: BA in political science, University of Toronto
First job out of school: Teleprompter operator at eTalk
Necessity is the mother of invention, as the saying goes, and that was certainly the case for Caleigh Rykiss when she started BOLO, her gym-cum-café-cum-beauty bar two years ago. A little before then, her life was a busy mix of freelance writing, personal training and working out. “I felt really frustrated because my daily checklist had me running all over the city trying to get all my needs met,” she says.
When she couldn’t find a place where she could train but also write, eat and socialize, she decided to create it herself. BOLO is a boxing-focused gym (Rykiss was a competitive boxer throughout her 20s after a single class got her hooked—“It was love at first punch”) but has a variety of other classes too. It’s a place where you can stay all day if you like—do a Pilates class, have lunch, work and even get a blowout and brow shaping before you head out.
BOLO—which is short for BodyLove—is an apt name given the ethos behind it. Rykiss felt that too many fitness spaces had an “icy” atmosphere, and she wanted to tweak the model and build a place that was warm and welcoming. “It was my intention to create an environment for people who wanted to seek wellness but in a healthy, happy way and not in a way that was prescriptive or demeaning or that felt like it was with the goal of something superficial,” she explains.
Rykiss didn’t start her career in fitness. After university, she spent a decade working in media—she was a producer at eTalk and was part of the team that launched The Social—but was forced to take a step back when she had a health crisis. “It sounds counterintuitive because I was sick, but I feel like it was a privilege to have some time off to really think about what I wanted my next chapter to look like,” she says. “And I knew I wanted to make an impact and offer something unique.”
That next chapter started with her launching a freelance career with the goal of becoming a go-to on-air “expert” in fitness and wellness. Part of her strategy was to get certified as a personal trainer to acquire the knowledge and expertise she needed; she never intended to actually take on clients. But she slowly started working with the odd client and teaching classes, and she realized how much she loved it. Training people and educating about fitness and wellness became her side hustle while she was freelancing in the media industry until she decided to make it her focus—and BOLO was born.
While women are still in the minority among entrepreneurs, Rykiss is happy to note that there are four other female business owners on her downtown Toronto corner alone. “As women, we’re still struggling to find a seat at the table where investors are concerned,” she says. “We’re often underestimated. But I believe that we’ll work on that issue and it will work itself out as we continue to be the most badass and do incredible things.”
As for what’s next? “I have a lot of ambition for BOLO,” says Rykiss. “In a year or two, I want to be focusing more on community events—that’s a really big passion of mine. We’ll have talks with business people, fitness people, mental health advocates. We’re moving towards expansion, so figuring out what that looks like takes time.”