By most accounts, gym owner and author Raven Magwood seemed destined for greatness.
She became a national gymnastics champion when she was 11 years old. She wrote her first book the next year, and soon even Oprah Winfrey’s longtime companion Stedman Graham wanted to book her to speak at his youth event, Magwood told Atlanta Black Star in a recent interview.
Still, she didn’t just happen upon her early successes, and she didn’t just snap her fingers and have two million-dollar businesses waiting for her years later.
Magwood put in the work.
As a result, she more than tripled membership at a South Carolina gym she and her mother Chandra Magwood assumed in June 2016.
She published three more books over the years and established a writing and public speaking enterprise with profits from the gym brings in millions.
She said she did it by using her time wisely and by never letting someone tell her no who didn’t have the power to tell her yes.
“Whether it’s, you, me, Oprah, Beyoncé or the man on the street,” 24 hours is all we have in a day, Raven said. Use them.
The 26-year-old entrepreneur said she learned that lesson early as a preteen gymnast.
During that time, she woke up every school day at 6 a.m., attended school from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., practiced for four hours at a gymnastics facility one hour away from her home and returned home after 10 p.m. to eat, shower and do her homework, she said.
“I just remember even at 12 saying, ‘Yes, I’ve accomplished this, but this is how hard I worked for it,'” she said.
That work ethic didn’t fizzle out over the years.
Raven started taking college classes when she was 13 years old through a program that allowed students to do so before entering college.
After skipping two grades, she said she graduated high school when she was 16 years old with a 5.1 GPA and 48 college credits under her belt.
And when she was 19, she graduated from college with a degree in communication studies, emphasis in sports and a minor in writing.
By the time she was 22 and the owner of Sparkle City Gymnastics was nearing retirement age, she and her mom, who had successfully run other businesses, were logical choices.
Raven had taken over a coaching gig at the gym when her friend had to leave abruptly.
“And one year turned into two” with her group of 20 girls, Raven said.
“I just wanted the gym to be successful, and I wanted the girls to be successful,” she said.
She didn’t know that would lead to an opportunity to own the gym, but when it did, she dedicated herself to the new role.
She tapped into new marketing opportunities social media provided, created a business and marketing plan, and worked continually to update them.
“So many nights I stayed up all night,” she said.
Under her leadership, the gym went from 150 athletes to about 500, and Raven made her first million at 25 in 2018.
For her, success is about discipline. It is about using every hour of the day to work closer toward a goal even when those days are long and dark.
Raven remembers vividly the day she reached over for the remote and felt a hard lump in her breast.
She was 17.
“I was laying down,” she said. “I was trying to turn the TV. I reached for the remote, and as I reached, I felt something in my breast that didn’t feel right.”
She ended up having surgery to remove the lump, and she found out she said, “by the grace of God,” the tumor was benign.
Her doctor described it as a “freak incident” and told her: “’Just go live your life,’” Raven said. “And that’s what I did until I was 19.”
She felt another, bigger lump, which again landed her back in her doctor’s office.
Raven noticed a change in how he reacted when he examined her. She said he was lighthearted when she brought the first lump to his attention two years earlier. This time, he told her, “‘but this one concerns me,’” she said.
At the time, she said she just remembers thinking, “Wow, I’m 19, and I may not see my 20th birthday.
She was a college student commuting about 65 miles between her home in Spartanburg. S.C. and Clemson University in Clemson, S.C. to attend classes.
“It was an awful experience,” she said.
Still, she OK’d surgery to have the tumor removed and put the date on her calendar. When that date came, she said the doctor removed the tumor and some healthy tissue too.
“I just remember waking up and seeing my mom in tears,” she said.
Still recovering from anesthesia, she later realized they were happy tears.
She didn’t have cancer.
Raven said that moment changed her outlook on life. She now tells audiences she’s speaking to “the fact that you’re still alive means you still have purpose.”
Raven said she has known her purpose was helping people since she was 12-years-old. She had given a speech at a church once, and a man came up to her in tears afterward.
He told her he had tried to commit suicide three times, but to see someone so young so passionate about life served as a reminder that his was worth continuing.
“He was like, ‘I promise you right here right now that I will never try to take my life again,'” Raven said. “That’s how I knew this is what I’m going to do.”