Spring 2009 Issue

Steppin’ Up

Claire Hart '07 became a successful small business owner by accident

By Richard A. Webster

Claire Hart ’07 was a junior majoring in nuclear medicine with a minor in biology. She had her future mapped out¬ - after graduation she would return to her home in Charleston, South Carolina, where she planned to apply to one of the dozens of downtown medical centers.

But things didn’t work out as planned. Instead, Hart, 25, is now the owner of Carolina Stepper, a Charleston shop that sells stepper bikes, something best described as cross between a Stairmaster, an elliptical machine and a bicycle.

The unexpected shift in her career path began with a 2006 car accident that resulted in a twisted neck and severely damaged her lower back restricting the motion of her limbs. It was a devastating blow for the athletic Hart. She began to gain weight and lose muscle. She wanted to exercise but her injuries prevented her from running or riding a bike.

That’s when her longtime friend Sean Ross called. He had something he wanted to show her — a prototype of a new product called the stepper bike.

Ross’s brother, the famous Miami-based bike manufacturer Randy Ross, was about to launch the new product at his South Beach store and he wanted Hart to be the first to try it out.

It was a revelation, she says, allowing her to exercise without putting stress on her back or knees.

“I was losing weight again. My back wasn’t hurting. I was sleeping better at night. It really turned my life around.”

When Hart moved back home to Charleston intent on beginning her career in nuclear medicine, she found the faltering economy forced many of the Charleston hospitals to institute a hiring freeze.

It was then that Hart, with Ross’s blessing, decided to open her own stepper bike store in Charleston.

Shifting from a planned career in medicine to a being small business owner has definitely been challenging, she said.

“I really miss nuclear medicine. It’s one of those degrees that if you don’t use it you lose it. Though I will admit I like being my own boss and running the show.”

And despite the slowdown in business due to the recession, Hart has no regrets.

“The bike has saved me twice really. And the response from everyone from children to the elderly has been overwhelming. To be a business owner at 25 is really amazing.”