Mother-daughter gymnast instructor tandem stepping out of the business and into new opportunities
By Christian Weaner
About 19 years ago, Bo Whitley's middle daughter, Chantel, came to her with an ambitious idea.
"[Chantel] graduated [from high school] and she told us one day, 'I think I am going to start my own gym,'" Bo remembered. "And I thought, 'Oh no, please no.' Because I had been running gyms, and I didn't want her to have that responsibility and that life." But despite Bo's admonition, Chantel had made up her mind, and there was no holding her back.
"She was adamant that that was what she thought was God's will for her life," Bo explained. "And that's how S.T.E.P. got started."
Now, after nearly two decades running the most successful gymnastics and circus arts gym Sandpoint has ever had together, Chantel and Bo recently sold the business they started together—S.T.E.P. Training Centre—and are stepping out into new opportunities.
Chantel grew up learning to dance from her mom, but when she began gymnastics at 6 years old, she knew she had found her passion. "Dance was great, but gymnastics was way better," Chantel laughed.
The origins of S.T.E.P. Training Centre trace back to a summer camp that Bo, Chantel and the Whitleys’ youngest daughter, Autumn, ran together at Oden Hall in June 2005.
"Our camp was definitely the spark that lit the forest fire of S.T.E.P.," Chantel recalled.
The mother-daughter duo called it the "Stepping Out" camp, and participants came for a week of practicing gymnastics, making crafts, cooking together, learning a foreign language, and competing in the Whitley's famous obstacle course.
Shortly after that inaugural camp, Chantel began to feel a calling that she could not ignore.
"God laid it on my heart that I was going to start a centre where mentorship and life skills were really fostered," she recalled. "I wanted to make [S.T.E.P.] a place where kids could not only learn a sport that I loved but also learn some life skills that went along with it."
To her surprise, Chantel was able to secure a lease for a small building that was owned by a lumber company, and on September 11, 2005, S.T.E.P. Training Centre opened for business.
Chantel and Bo set themselves apart with their disciplined training style, "The Whitley Way," which focused on training the mind as well as the body, and they used encouragement and meditation to instill confidence in each athlete.
"[Our training style focuses on] taking pride in what you do," Chantel noted. "Whether that's a kid who has a forward roll, and that might be their best skill that they ever get, or a kid who is at a highly competitive level and is going to be a state champion."
In addition to the rigorous gymnastics training, S.T.E.P. athletes were required to participate in community service. Each year, Bo and Chantel ran a fundraiser called Cartwheels For Cancer, allowing their gymnasts to raise money for their competition season and donate to cancer research.
Over the years, the Whitleys found a lot of success, coaching numerous successful gymnasts and winning many team state championships, most recently in 2022 and 2023.
While working hard to grow S.T.E.P. and giving it everything she had, Chantel also bought several horses and developed a passion for horse jumping. Over the last several years, she began praying and considering her future aspirations, and she ultimately decided to sell her business so that she could move to Seattle and pursue her goal of taking her horse to the Grand Prix level of competition.
Bo supported her daughter's decision, and she is now preparing to open the Northwest's first vibration and bungee studio in Sandpoint, allowing her to continue teaching people to stay athletic.
Working together to grow S.T.E.P. Training Centre was a life-changing experience for Chantel and Bo, and they are both extremely thankful for the many memories they made and lives they impacted together.
"It was super sweet," Bo described, referring to a recent conversation with Chantel. "[Chantel] was like, 'Mom, do you remember when … you said when [my siblings and I] were 18 that it's time for you to let us go?' And I was like, 'Yeah, because I did my job and now it's time for you to find your own way.'
"And [Chantel] said, 'Guess what, Mom, I raised this training centre [and] I have had S.T.E.P. kids for the last 18 years of my life … and it's time for me to let it go.’"