Lady #3 Nicci Lee
Occupation: Owner of Iron Empire, Co-owner of Prize Tribe, Single mom
Claim to fame: Despite life throwing her obstacle after obstacle, Nicci has managed to build three sucessful business, become a WBFF Fitness Pro and raise her two young daughters without any help from a partner… all before her 28th birthday.
Inspiration: Her kids. “I always wonder where I would be without them. Everything I do is for them.”
What makes her different: Despite being a beautiful, successful woman who could have her pick of the male litter, Nicci has kept her priorities consistent: daughters first, business second.
Like so many of us, Nicci Petraschuk was scared of judgement. Sitting at the hospital, in labour with her second daughter, Payton, at age 21, she looked over at her partner, the father of her soon-to-be two children.
“He was just sitting there on his phone. He napped. He yelled at me. Security was called at the hospital because he was yelling so much,” she tells me, her eyes devoid of any emotion. “He was hungover, like he usually was.”
Nicci said it was in that moment, she knew in her heart she was going to leave him…but it would be a while before she actually could bring herself to do it.
“When we first got together, I didn’t realize he had addiction issues,” Nicci tells me. “I got pregnant with Mikayla at 18, and that’s when things began to unravel.”
“He was drinking all the time, doing drugs, involved with the wrong people, constantly out partying. When Payton was born, I went back to work after just 10 days because I had to. He had gambled away all our money and I had no choice.
“I knew that I should leave him, but I was so scared of the judgement, so scared of my family being disappointed in me, so scared of that term… single mom. I didn’t want to be that.”
Despite chaos consuming her relationship with her children’s father, Nicci did everything she could to shield her girls, depleting herself of her love for life in the process.
“I remember my cousin telling me, Nic, you have to find something you love. So, I began to work out.”
Nicci started training at a local gym, three times a week, the refuge that those three sessions provided keeping her from falling apart.
“I was so depressed. My kids’ dad would disappear for 6 or 7 days at a time, clear out our bank account and I never knew what to expect on a day-to-day-basis. Those sessions kept me together, I looked so forward to them. I just fell in love with training, fell in love with fitness.”
Around this time, Nicci started preparing for her first fitness competition. Throughout her competition prep, things with her children’s father deteriorated even further.
“The night I left him, I called my mom. I was worried, I had this feeling he was in trouble.”
As it turned out, Nicci’s intuition was right; her partner has crashed his jeep on the Calf-rope bridge.
“He called me from jail, and asked me to move a box he said was hidden in the basement. Our basement was undeveloped, so I never really had any reason to go down there… I had no idea he was hiding anything.”
“I went downstairs, and was horrified at what I found. Cocaine, crack, magazines, porn, just everything horrible you can imagine.”
Nicci called her dad, who came that night to change the locks.
“That was it,” she tells me, shrugging her shoulders. “I never gave him another chance after that. He hated me, was so mad at me, said everyone else got second chances, why didn’t he? But I needed to protect my girls.”
Although her personal life was shambles Nicci pushed through her completion prep and competed in her first fitness show in 2011. At that show, she took first place, and obtained her Pro Card with the WBFF organization.
“After I won, women just started contacting me, all the time, asking me to train them, asking me for nutrition plans. I didn’t have a gym, so I began to train them in a field. At first I was unsure, but as they began transforming, achieving their goals, I finally recognized that I knew what I was doing… I was good at this.”
“The push for me was the fear of knowing that the addiction gene runs through the blood of my girls. I need to show them the way, the right way, show them that they can be anything they want, do anything they want, so that they don’t get lost down the wrong path like their dad did. I need to teach them strength and resilience.
As Nicci’s personal training business blossomed, she was still dealing with the fallout from leaving her ex.
“I couldn’t afford a lawyer, but also didn’t qualify for legal aid, so I had to represent myself. I was in court every day, it seemed like. Telling the judge everything I had gone through, everything he had done to me, was torture.”
The judge eventually did make a decision, giving Nicci full custody of their two daughters.
“When the judge granted me full custody, I remember falling to my knees, bawling, asking her over and over if this was finally finished. She told me I would never have to step foot in a courtroom again. It was three whole years fighting for my girls, finally resolved.”
As happy as she was with ruling, she realized she was still holding on to the hurt and anger her children’s father had caused her.
“One day, I just kind of came to peace with it. I realized if I hadn’t gone through all that with him, I wouldn’t have my girls. I needed to forgive him. I let everything go, realizing his demons were what controlled him, it wasn’t actually him. Holding in to that anger was going to drag me down, and I needed to be strong now, more than ever.”
Nicci laughs when she explains to me what led her to her first real brush with business.
“I was just so over guys. I didn’t want to talk to them, be around them… and I definitely didn’t want to train them.”
So, on a foundation of pure girl power, Miss Fit and Fierce was born. Offering online training, one-on-one training, boot-camps, group training and competition prep for just women initially, Miss Fit and Fierce flourished quickly and Nicci was soon providing herself and her daughters a comfortable life.
But the calm didn’t last long.
“I unfortunately had a falling out with my business partner. We were business partners, but we were also best friends and lived together with our kids. It just wasn’t the best situation, and we ended up parting ways.”
Feeling as though she was starting from the bottom once again, Nicci persevered.
“I had such a big client base from Miss Fit and Fierce, that I knew opening a gym on my own was a real possibility, knew I could cover my overhead with just them. I also had opened the doors to training guys as well. So, I began searching for spaces, working with banks to try and secure a business loan. Whatever I had to do, I was going to do it.”
And she did. One year ago, Nicci opened Iron Empire gym in South Calgary, while still maintaining a thriving online training clientele.
“I put everything I had into this. I haven’t taken home a real pay check in over two years. When the first of the month comes, I get mad anxiety. It’s a lot for one person to handle by themselves. But then I walk into Iron Empire, and it’s busy, and everyone is happy and the energy is awesome… and it’s all worth it. It’s definitely scary, but it will all be worth it.
“When people tell me that my gym is their happy place, it just makes me feel so full. Because I remember that, I know that feeling. When I was in the darkest place in my life, the gym was my happy place. And I know this is what I’m meant to be doing, know that everything I went through led me to this for a reason.”
Nicci isn’t resting just because she’s accomplished one goal. She also has been nurturing a new baby, Prize Tribe Swimwear. The swimwear company offers a style of bathing suit that can be worn 30 different ways, the “most versatile bathing suit you will every own.” Nicci’s eyes light up again when she tells me about this new venture, her voice full of confidence.
When I trudged in to Irom Empire that day, I walked in feeling a little sorry for myself. I had just gotten a flat tire, I was dealing with a break-up, I was telling myself I was overworked, and exhausted.
But as Nicci was telling me her story, goosebumps covered my body, and I was humbled. She described such gut-wrenching stories of pain as though she were discussing the sunshine outside. She was recounting these truly terrifying tales, but still smiling, while continually reiterating that “it was all worth it, for her girls”.
I left Iron Empire that day floating on the strength of a woman who had taken on the worst of the world, and won. Nicci is the flesh and blood reminder that nothing in life can keep you down if you hang on to your faith, and keep your head up. My little life problems seem puny, and pathetic in comparison to what I had just heard recounted, and I find myself, once again, inspired, by the strength of a lady who leads with passion, perseverance and resilience.
To learn more about Nicci, check out her Instagram: @Niccileefit
To learn more about Iron Empire, CLICK HERE.
To learn more about Prize Tribe, CLICK HERE.