Editor’s note: Sammi Blaque was named this year’s Southeast Business Plan competition winner during a celebratory luncheon Thursday, April 25 at Hotel Eleganté Conference & Event Center. 

Sammi Blaque turned to yoga after a car wreck in 2012, and it changed everything.

“I was involved in a car accident, and my husband and I were having troubles after his tour in Iraq. I was really intimidated by yoga at first,” she recalled, “but it was mind-blowing how quick and how effective it was in changing my life and bringing me so much relief. … I started practicing more and more, and I become an instructor last year.”

Now Blaque plans to bring yoga to the Southeast as part of a holistic gym that will build both wellness and community.

“I want to have a novel concept for my gym … I don’t want there to be any equipment. I want to focus on classes and workshops,” she said. “There are so many studies … about how people heal better and lose weight faster when they’re in groups. So if we can get groups interacting and relating with each other, and instilling and cultivating wellness with each other … I fully believe it’s going to change the culture. It’s going to change the landscape of the Southeast.”

Blaque and her husband, an Army veteran, moved to the Southeast in 2010 from San Bernardino, Calif. — “a city that has its challenges,” Blaque said — and she recalls being surprised that the Southeast had a bleak reputation.

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“When we came to the Southeast we were like, ‘Wow, this is gorgeous!’ but people here were like, ‘Oh, you live where? You live on what side of town?’” she said. “… We were like, ‘Yo, if this is the hood, this is the nicest hood I have ever lived in! I like this hood, it’s cool.’

“We’ve been living in the Southeast ever since. We bought our home in 2012 there; our kids go to school there; we’re raising them there. I want to be a pillar in that community.”

Blaque sees a real gap in the market when it comes to gyms in the Southeast. More than 4,300 households in the 80916 ZIP code spend higher than the national average on health, wellness, weight loss and fitness, she said.

“But there are no yoga studios or facilities like that — and no one’s even tried to open any,” she said.

In addition to being a registered yoga instructor, Blaque works as a clinical hypnotherapist and a life coach, and she plans a space that’s available to other fitness and wellness professionals like nutritionists and personal trainers.

“People from different walks of life can come and bring their classes and their expertise to that space, so it can be really well rounded,” she said. “I want the community to really benefit from what we’re doing.”

Blaque recalls attending a 2016 talk about the Southeast “and about how the mindset has got to be the thing that changes in order for that community to really change.

“We can’t just throw money or jobs at it,” she said. “We have to really — with hearts and minds — create that change. And I believe that holistic modalities like yoga and meditation, that’s what does it.”

After discussions with Pastor Ben Anderson of Solid Rock Community Development Corporation, Craddock Commercial Real Estate principal Matt Craddock, and Taj Stokes, Thrive Colorado Springs co-founder and executive director, Blaque has her eye on a space in the planned community hub at Mission Trace.

“As soon as I heard about the hub — and that I could be a part of it — I was like, ‘Sign me up!’” she said.

Winning the Southeast Business Plan Competition would change her trajectory, Blaque said.

“In the beginning, I was very much just like, ‘Okay, I’ll just do community-based yoga. I’ll pop up here and there and I’ll bring yoga to different community spaces.’ But once I learned about the competition and the opportunities there, it immediately came to my awareness: ‘Oh, you need to have a space, and have it centralized, and be in the Southeast.’ From there, so many doors have opened and so much passion has bubbled up in me for being able to have a dedicated space where people can come and really focus on something positive in that neighborhood.

“I love the growth mindset,” she added, “one that sees every obstacle as just a part of a bigger journey, or something that can be used as a stepping stone to keep moving you forward and onward and higher.”