May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month + today we’re sharing a conversation we had with AAPI community member and business owner Angela Yong Sellers.
Angela is the owner of Fit Columbia (2121 College St.), a fitness studio that offers personal training, yoga classes (including aerial and baby goat yoga), stretch therapy, and more. She opened Fit Columbia in May of 2011 + is celebrating its 10 year anniversary tomorrow with a drop in from 5-7 p.m.
Angela has been a part of the fitness industry since she left college + is also an avid reader and listener of audiobooks, especially fantasy and biographies.
What’s your name, title, and 3-5 things you want people to know about you?
Angela Yong Sellers, Owner Fit Columbia
I love to read and listen to audiobooks. If someone finds out they’re a wizard or a fairy pops out of a flower...I want to read all about it. I also love biographies and learning about people’s journeys.
I’ve been in the fitness industry since leaving college but have owned my business since May 2011 so this month, I’m celebrating ten years!
I have a lot of yoga mats because each one has a different story and carries different experiences. I love the feel, color and texture of each one. I feel like yoga mats are like journals...living and breathing.
If you’re originally from Cola, why have you stayed here? If you’re not, what brought you here?
I am not from Columbia but I went to 4 different high schools and was determined to get rooted after college. I came to Columbia 21 years ago and decided to root down but travel a lot. Like a bird, flying but always returning back to the nest. Columbia is my nest...it’s the perfect place to call home because of its proximity to airports, beaches, and mountains.
Convince a friend to move to Cola in 15 words or less. Go.
South Carolina Women’s Basketball. BOOM.
What’s an improvement you’d like to see in Columbia?
I love our state parks, the palmetto trails, riverfront, and more. I would love to see us have public transportation lines that make it easier for low income families to get to the parks and communicate this specific message. I would also love to see more outreach to people of color for these parks that will bring them outdoors. I would love more free events introducing people to hiking, camping and outdoor activities solo + with kids.
Check out this resource for more information.
You can only choose one local restaurant menu to bring with you to a deserted island.
Wow! Well, I’m Korean-American so I think I would have to say one of the Korean restaurants on Decker but maybe now is a good time to plug Baan Sawan .. when will they open again because I could use some good Thai food on the island.
What do you hope Cola is like in 10 years? 20 years?
Ten years ago I was a vegan and I had only a couple places to eat and today there are tons of amazing vegan and vegetarian restaurants AND most restaurants have vegan/vegetarian options. I love our food scene in Columbia and watching it grow has been fun. I would love to see a beautiful traditional Chinese restaurant, dim sum take away (in Five Points would be awesome). I think food brings people together so I hope in 10, 20 years...we will have more creative menus and people of color chefs/restaurant owners. I also hope these POC have excellent locations to serve these eclectic menus.
How did your parents or parental figures influence you?
My dad was the kind of man who would work all week then he would make us help him mow yards of all the neighbors who went to Desert Storm. So, we lived on the air force base and when he heard a man was deployed...that meant we were on yard duty. No questions asked. I learned early and often that giving through understanding is the best gift of all and people LOVE surprises.
Tell us about an obstacle you’ve had in life and how you overcame it.
I moved from Korean to West Virginia when I was 7 and had a very traumatic transition. My family did not look familiar even though I was cousins with many of the folks who would call me “chink” and “gook”. My mom left my dad shortly after and I was raised by a very white country family. I rarely ever saw another person of color until many years later. I struggled in my own family because they would be angry I didn’t like the traditional Thanksgiving food, wanting spicy kimchi instead. They didn’t like that I wanted to sit on the floor or that I spoke with an accent. This treatment extended outside of the home. The schools said I had a learning disability (but I was a dual language student) and the kids were just ruthless. My mom left and took all the photos of my family with her so I believed I was stupid and ugly most of my life. As a matter of fact, I knew I was. It wasn’t until about 28 years old that I went through some intensive therapy that I realized I am very bright, accomplished, and adorable. Three things I still believe today. I try very hard in my coaching, teaching, and training to help people see themselves as they really are — just magical. God made each of us just magical.
What life advice or epiphany would you share with others that you’re thankful you learned?
DON’T burn any bridges but if you do...set that sh*t on fire.
What 3 people (living or dead) would you invite to an imaginary dinner party?
My Korean grandmother, YongJa Ko, My American grandmother, Elsie Baker, and Buddy the elf.
Name 3-5 other local leaders/influencers/movers + shakers you’re watching.
Sarah Simmons (Small Sugar), Debi Schadel (Flock & Rally), Dawn Staley, Lynn Stokes-Murray (government relations)
If you were taking someone on a tour around Columbia, where are the 3 places you’re going?
Baan Sawan, F2T event, Fit Columbia
You’re taking someone on a date in Cola. Where are you going?
Dinner on the rooftop of Black Rooster then walk on the riverfront.
Other than yourself, who would you consider to be the local expert about Columbia?
Karen Yip, local realtor and should be the next influencer.
How are you going to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, locally?
Keep on Keeping on! Promoting other AAPI on my social media and visiting their businesses and telling my story.
How has your upbringing — and your Asian American identity — influenced your work?
I grew up without a lot of photos of myself and didn’t see a lot of POC, so at my studio I have had a diverse group of instructors long before it was cool to be diverse. I encourage my trainers to take pictures of all of our clients so that they can see themselves in a positive light.
What’s new or coming up for Fit Columbia?
10 year anniversary party — May 26 5-7 p.m. Open to the public, come eat and drink.
What is your favorite Fit Columbia class to take? To teach?
When can you take a student and see them go from fear/trepidation to “HOLY CRAP I DID IT” in just one class? We see it all the time at Fit. We see people come in to try new things and we make it accessible and fun.
Who should we interview next?
Andy Rodgers Art Bar, Tony Claremont Photographer, Nikki Chen (Eggroll Chen)