Doreen Bolhuis began teaching sports skills to young girls in her backyard. As a fourth grader.
"That's when I discovered I have the heart for teaching, coaching and mentoring," Bolhuis said.
By seventh grade, Bolhuis knew she wanted to teach physical education, and that passion remained steadfast throughout high school, college and into her career.
Four or five years into her first teaching position at East Grand Rapids High School, however, she realized many of her high school students weren't confident performing athletic feats—that they weren't comfortable moving.
"We need to establish a love of motion early in life. Create a positive association with it. Teach skills," Bolhuis said. "I thought, 'I need to do this for kids.' I didn't know I had this entrepreneurial spirit; I just knew I had obstacles in my way and couldn't do what I wanted to do for my students."
In 1976, starting a business wasn't easy for women. Not only did women need their husbands in order to take out a business loan, but women were, per status quo, nurses and teachers. Not CEOS. "There were no models for me at all," Bolhuis said.
That didn't stop her.
Bolhuis grew up under the coaching of her father, a super jock with four daughters.
"My dad thrust us into every sport on earth," she said. Bolhuis and her sisters weren't just playing basketball, soccer and badminton: They were downhill skiing in winter, water skiing in summer and walking around on stilts in their backyard.
"I was a pretty cautious child. Without that environment, I could've been a very cautious adult."
"I happen to like a challenge."
In 1980, Bolhuis started her own business, Gymco Inc.—without a background in business and without taking out a business loan. She sold assets for the capital, started doing research and has been overcoming obstacles for 36 years in what can only be described as "extraordinary perseverance."
"There are too many messages about how other people and corporations need to change for women to be successful," Bolhuis said. "That's the wrong message. I learned how to be successful without other people changing for me."
In 2016, Bolhuis co-authored Stop Wishing. Stop Whining. Start Leading. with Cynthia Kay. In the book, the duo offers practical advice for women on how to be strategic about their careers. "Women can be successful in the current climate," she said. "Certainly, I face a lot of discrimination. But I think it's important for women not be distracted. Focus on where you need to go and what you need to do."
Bolhuis has a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt on her desk: You must do the things you think you cannot do.
"Sometimes," Bolhuis said, "our barriers are ourselves."
From walking around on stilts, to gym class to starting a business ... "Keep moving forward."
Want to hear more? Doreen Bolhuis is a speaker for West Michigan Woman's Wine Down event, November 9, 2016, at City Flats Hotel—Grand Rapids.