“I’m at a place where it’s time for me to reach back,” says Vikki Gladney, a small business owner and survivor of intimate partner violence.
Vikki lived at Coburn Place from 2002 to 2004 with her four young daughters. After a long corporate administrative career, she decided to take a leap. Today, she owns a busy fitness studio on the east side called Natural Measures. The studio focuses on Urban Spinning and offers cardio and strength classes. And she wants to help survivors at Coburn Place.
Born and raised in Indianapolis, Vikki went to St. Richard’s Episcopal and Bishop Chatard High School. She says she had a decent upbringing with two parents who were engineers and never wanted for anything. “Everything that glitters is not gold,” Vikki says. “We had everything, but we didn’t know anything. There were some broken spaces that eventually turned into me needing validation in all the wrong places.” She rebelled. She lost herself to drugs, then abusive relationships.
Vikki was a young survivor of sexual assault – not in her home, but in extensions of her home. “I think to medicate that, I became promiscuous,” she says. Vikki was pregnant with her oldest daughter when she graduated high school. She lived at home with her parents while she attended classes at the University of Indianapolis. She says she had no discipline and decided to go to beauty school instead. Vikki finished beauty school but didn’t get her license. She was already working in salons full time, making money, and had a steady clientele.
She came late to the drug scene – when she was 21. “It spiraled,” she says. “I was just around the wrong people. But I don’t blame them. It was still me.” Her involvement with drugs led to her incarceration. She was in and out of jail while her mother looked after her children. It was in the drug diversion program while living in a halfway house that she met her first abuser. She went to The Julian Center for a few weeks after an incident and then moved into a different halfway house.
Drug diversion is an alternative to jail for people with nonviolent drug-related felonies. It provides treatment and housing for drug abusers in the criminal justice system and requires them to check in regularly with the court.
Before Vikki came to Coburn Place, she was sabotaging herself. She had been doing well. She was staying in the halfway house with her own apartment, regular check-ins, drug testing and access to resources. She was working. But then she met another abusive man. “It’s broken people living with broken people,” she says.
The judge supervising her drug diversion program ordered her away from her abuser. She went to the Salvation Army and learned about the stages of abuse. She remembers checking off the boxes in her mind: physical abuse, emotional abuse, financial abuse. But she didn’t stay away from him – she didn’t want to – and they got an apartment together.
“The abuse was bad,” Vikki says. And it ended the day he ran over her with her car at East 11th Street and Arlington Avenue and left her in the road.
“When I got to the hospital, my foot was dangling,” she says. “I remember being in the emergency room, and the sheriff was behind me. They had to put me to sleep to even look at my foot, and when they took my shirt off, he said, ‘Are these bruises on your back part of this?’ They were from the night before when he had beat me with a gas can.”
After she was released from the hospital, she went to The Julian Center in a wheelchair with pins and rods in her ankle. She stayed there for a while and applied to live at Coburn Place. She came to Coburn Place on crutches – to an apartment on the third floor. “Apartment 308,” Vikki says. “It makes me emotional because that was a pivotal change. I remember going up to the third floor with my crutches because I didn’t want to take the elevator.”
At Coburn Place, because she was in stable housing, she had her kids back with her living under the same roof. They were 3, 5, 7 and 11 and called themselves “the Ewing Girls.” “That was the game-changer for me,” she says. “I didn’t want to know what it was like to be without my children.”
Vikki had some hiccups at Coburn Place, and she was still on probation, but she looked forward and didn’t look back. She had a restraining order, and her abuser was incarcerated for what he did to her and for other crimes. “I was safe,” she says. “I was in a nice apartment. I had to find my own way to heal. What helped me most was the accountability – someone checking on you constantly.”
While at Coburn Place, she decided to go back to beauty school and actually get that cosmetology license. Vikki says she learned discipline, and it changed her life and her kids’ lives because she was more physically and mentally available to them. She became a traveling artist – doing hair at trade shows all over the country.
“We loved it there,” she says. “When we sit around on holidays and laugh and tell stories, 60% of them come from that experience at Coburn Place. It was such a rich life.” They remember meeting Andrea Morehead, the Thanksgivings, the Christmases, the kids’ birthday parties. “It lets you know there’s a whole better world,” Vikki says. “You can be treated well, and you deserve that.”
Vikki started college at Martin University and eventually earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration. She found a little house of her own through Section 8. She was still doing hair and also working part time at a healthcare company when she met her husband, Jeffrey, who taught a CPR certification class. They went on a first date in 2012 and married in 2016. “He’s my BFF,” she says.
Vikki had walked into a YMCA in 2018 because she wanted to do something new and get fit. She went to a hip-hop spin class. “I thought I was going to die the first day, but I had a blast,” she says. She was sold. Soon, the staff was encouraging her to earn her instructor certification. Her self-employed husband was already putting a bug in her ear: “You know, you could own a studio.”
Vikki had been working at Navient in the call center and was promoted to a senior administrator before she even graduated, and she loved it. When they downsized and her supportive boss was let go, she decided to leave, too, after a time. Her next job caused a lot of strain, and quarantine made it unbearable. Vikki says she was sinking, and emails came all night long.
The Y was closed, but she didn’t miss her morning virtual workout with her fitness coach. Vikki had a spin bike at home. At the start of quarantine, she brought it into the kitchen and after work, she would close her computer and immediately jump on that bike to unwind. Then she started leading fun virtual at-home sessions with people.
In the meantime, work was getting to her. “I remembered the fragrance of what it feels like to be depressed, and I didn’t want to go there,” Vikki says. “I had been free for so long. When you come from situations like being in Coburn Place, drugs and incarceration, it’s like you rose to the occasion and you ought to take opportunity and all that comes with it. But I also know what it’s like to be bound and to be in a dark mental space because of what you think is supposed to be the right thing, whether it’s money or position.” It wasn’t worth it – not after a trip to the ER for symptoms likely caused by anxiety. She put in her resignation. She didn’t know what she was going to do, but what she also didn’t know was that her husband had started calling vendors to look into buying bikes at a time when fitness equipment was scarce.
Vikki gave her job two weeks’ notice, and by the end of the first week, she and Jeffrey were driving to Louisville to pick up 10 bikes. She didn’t tell anyone except a close friend. “I don’t have a job, and I’ve just spent thousands on these bikes,” she says. “We didn’t even have a name or a space, just a ‘you can do this.’”
The name Natural Measures was something she came up with for an imaginary business for one of her college classes, and she found a space connected to a daycare center that was one of her husband’s clients. The owner of the building loved her idea and her business plan and even knocked down some walls to open the space up even more. She received business coaching from the Indiana Small Business Development Center and help with her trademark from students at the University of Notre Dame. She hustled. Natural Measures opened at 8820 E. 33rd St. in October 2020 and has been going strong ever since. Vikki started out by offering virtual classes, but her clients wanted to be there in person. They take serious safety precautions.
“I know spinning and fitness saved my life physically and mentally,” Vikki says. “And a lot of the women who come into my space tell me it’s their safe space. I like to believe that it’s not just the space, that it’s me and my team and what exudes from our hearts.”
Vikki says so many of the seeds that made her successful were planted in her at Coburn Place. “You learn things, and you don’t even know why you’re learning them, and you don’t necessarily apply them at the time,” she says. “You didn’t want to learn them because you’re just trying to keep bread on the table. But they stick with you.” For example, she says, she became a person who always has an updated resume.
“Having your own space and being in a safe place, it makes you – when it’s over – more protective of your new spaces,” she says.
Vikki says what helps is recognizing your value. “I was told growing up that I was damaged goods,” she says. “I reversed that in my head. I know my value, period. I know who I am.”
Vikki says people need to learn to forgive themselves. “My girls have gone through their own stuff, but I’ve also forgiven myself,” she says. “I don’t talk about what I could have done differently because I know I could have done a lot differently. I own it. I’ve apologized. During their teen years, after Coburn Place, I was constantly improving.”
To anyone experiencing domestic violence, Vikki says, “I learned at Coburn Place I can’t make someone else be a good person. You know you’re in an abusive relationship, but because you are hiding it, you’re accepting the responsibility for the bad relationship because you don’t want anyone to know you messed up. So instead of freeing yourself, you’re devaluing yourself. You have to find what’s OK about you.“
Vikki has a strong faith and calls it her foundation. It used to hurt, she says, as her life was improving, to go back and explain herself all the time, but now she’s vocal about her story in the hopes it will help other people. “Even while you’re healing, you have to remind yourself that doesn’t have to be your forever. It’s not the all of you.”
“I remember being in these situations that could have killed me,” she says. “Me being at the place I am now is very profound in itself. The life change is wild – how you go from almost in the pits of darkness to not just seeing the light and surviving. I’m beyond surviving.”
Learn more about Vikki’s studio at naturalmeasurescycling.com. Book a class through the Glofox app.