Written by Fran Alison
Originally from New Zealand, Joanna Paterson overcame personal odds to build a business, and be a role model for her daughter, she tells AWNY how she did it.
What do you do?
I am the owner/operator of a health and fitness business BODIESYNERGY Fitness. We specialize in outdoor training all year in Brooklyn and online streaming live training worldwide. We also host annual outdoor fitness events in NYC Brooklyn and Philadelphia.
BODIESYNERGY Fitness was created in 2010, during a time of personal and professional adversity; being a recently divorced immigrant, single mother (without family in the USA), I moved to Brooklyn with a fierce determination to reinvent myself. My goal was to create a business with a community to achieve a healthier work/life balance. I believed there had to be a better way than my then-corporate job, a 90-minute commute and babysitter for my daughter.
With BODIESYNERGY Fitness we have moved in the right direction by giving clients the opportunity to escape the pressures of the urban jungle, to be fit healthy and active outside all year round. We design training sessions, group workouts and fitness events maximizing the geography of any outdoor urban space. Having a social and environmental conscience is important for me personally – we leave the space without a trace of anyone being there. Originally, I split my time between New York and Philadelphia, but now our workouts are exclusively online. It’s the safest and most effective way to keep clients safe maintain existing client base and expand on digital platform. The business and personal pivots have not been easy, but are working!
What do you see at the main differences between New York and New Zealand?
As a small business owner, my professional comparison is a little different. You can create huge opportunities here in NY and with the bonus of an accent you have a “hook” for your brand already. New Yorkers like Antipodeans, they like to talk about their trips to Australia and New Zealand. Getting your hustle on is key to success, we work harder than most and can be rewarded for it. The community BODIESYNERGY Fitness gives us is beyond rewarding and the most wonderful unexpected gift to building a business here.
What advice would you give to anyone moving to New York?
Get the basics before you get here, by which I mean “quality of life” basics like medical insurance, life insurance, travel insurance for the short term. It’s a complicated system here and each state is different. Things move fast but nearly always take longer than you expect. Banking is a little old fashioned. Tipping is always necessary, especially around the holidays – and holidays are a whole other issue in NY (there are a lot of them but only a few people get paid leave). Be kind to yourself, take time and try not to overschedule because travel (even in your neighborhood) takes longer than you think and oh, on the weekends the subways suck. However be aware, holidays, maternity and paternity leave are not a given here.
Why did you move to New York?
I was living as a “investment banker’s wife” in London and moved to New York to support my now ex-husband’s career over 10 years ago. Divorcing my daughter’s father was an opportunity to grow, to explore and to start a whole new life as a single woman and mum. At the time I was living in the suburbs of Long Island, NY and could not see a way to be a successful business woman.
Having absolutely no family in America was daunting, and I could have allowed it to crush me. But there is something unique about Antipodeans, we are fighters “our Kiwi ingenuity” drives us to “give it a go”. I moved to Brooklyn, which was a more culturally diverse, stimulating environment. I want to be a role model for my daughter, I believe in showing her that we can work through (almost) anything. And so together, my then 12-year-old daughter and I did. We created a new life, new traditions and immersed ourselves in Brooklyn.
What are your favorite New York spots?
Bryant Park, New York Public Library (the famous Rose Room) and Grand Central Terminal. All of which are within walking distance of one another and can be absolutely chaotic at different times. But as you get to know the rhythms of NY you go when tourists don’t. My favorite night spot is the Rainbow Room.
What do you miss about home?
I miss the space, I miss the quiet, I miss being so close to beaches – yes there is the Hudson and East River, but it’s not the same. I miss being able to climb One Tree Hill (in Auckland, NZ) and see for miles. I miss fresh food grown from the local land, without it costing a fortune or having to have a membership at the local co-op. But most of all I miss the people. My people. I miss not being a foreigner.
What do you like about New York?
Everything moves so fast.
What do you dislike about New York?
Everything moves so fast!
What is your ‘Only in New York’ moment?
My daughter and I were invited to the ESPN building in Times Square for the Thanksgiving Day parade. A lot of New York VIPs were there with their kids and it was amazing. As I reached over the breakfast buffet, I chose the same piece of fruit as New York’s Mayor, I looked up, realized who he was and smiled as the Charlie Brown float drifted past the window.
What is your biggest win?
Always seeing my daughter happily focused and enjoying her life (almost every week) but when a client achieves a goal, succeeds within themselves with our support, that is always a win! I am proud of building and developing an independent, authentic and unique outdoor urban fitness brand, that goes way beyond just myself. As a fitness community we come together investing in one another, the energy and trust is receptacle. I am proud of the progress, goals and achievements we continue to make each day. I lead by example, for my daughter as her mother, a Kiwi woman, an immigrant and a business woman.
What are some of the difficulties you’ve faced?
Getting a divorce overseas was daunting. But with time, research and trusting my gut it all worked out even without the support of family. Believing in yourself means even through all the shit you will survive, you will grow. Dating again has been challenging… funny right? There are huge cultural differences here and I’m learning just how different American men, or men that live in America, are different from us Kiwis.