Spartan Spirit Awards: Meet Kressa Peterson, Who Went from Spartan to Shark Tank
This month, we launched the Spartan Spirit Awards, celebrating the people who truly embody the key Spartan values: grit, determination, and perseverance. To celebrate Mother’s Day, this month’s Spirit Awards winners are all superhero Spartan moms who navigate life’s obstacles—and help their families do so, too—every day. Find out what they have to say about their personal journeys.
Six years ago, Kressa Peterson, now 51, was sitting in her doctor’s office when she heard those fateful words: “You have cancer.”
Doctors had found and biopsied several calcifications in her breasts, eventually diagnosing her with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), cancer in the milk ducts. “Until you hear those words ‘you have cancer’, there is just no way to explain what it might do to you,” says Peterson. “You literally start planning your funeral. I was not one of those people who initially said, ‘I got this’, ‘I am going to fight this’, or ‘this is going to make me stronger’. I never felt sorry for myself or said 'why me?’, but I just figured that health issues were now going to be my life. I truly did not imagine how I would ever be happy again or feel the same joy during joyful times.”
Luckily, this was the “best type of breast cancer” to have, as Peterson puts it. Still, she wanted her breasts gone. After a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, Peterson decided to start obstacle course racing—her husband had started racing Spartans years earlier to lose weight (Peterson actually bought him and their son their first Spartan bibs online), and she’d seen firsthand what a positive affect it could have on someone’s life.
Getting down and dirty on the obstacle race courses was part of what inspired Peterson to invent the Shower Toga—a towel that ties above the breast line to allow women to shower and change clothes in public, while maintaining a sense of privacy. Peterson pitched her business to ABC’s Shark Tank, and it was so well received by Mark Cuban and his team that her business took off. She now spends six months a year between Atlanta and Orange County, and six months on the road selling Shower Togas from her RV.
Here, Peterson opens up about her journey with breast cancer, her conversion to OCR, how she built her business, and more.
SPARTAN RACE: A breast cancer diagnosis is pretty devastating. What was that experience like for you? KRESSA PETERSON: I hadn’t gone into the doctors for my annual mammogram for a couple of years, so I made an appointment. The doctors discovered I had DCIS, as well as other complications in my breast due to an accident that left me with ruptured silicone implants. The silicon had spread into all of my muscle and breast tissue—it was a total mess.
I was told that I should do chemo and radiation and get a lumpectomy. No one wanted to do a double mastectomy on me, especially since my left breast was perfectly healthy, but I found an amazing doctor who agreed to do it. Luckily, the cancer hadn’t spread to my lymph nodes, so I didn’t have to have chemotherapy. But I still had several surgeries after that to continue to clean out the silicon rupture from my chest muscles. I’ve been cancer-free for six years now.
SR: Your husband was already a part of the Spartan scene; what made you fall in love with it? KP: Spartan had changed his life—he lost 30 pounds and finally had something worth working out for—and I knew I needed Spartan in my life as well. I started after my mastectomy, which was really tough because there were so many exercises I couldn’t do—and may never be able to do—upper body-wise. But I became addicted pretty quick! I love the camaraderie and helping people over obstacles or talking them through difficulties. I had a girl who was scared to death to go under water at Spartan Atlanta a few weeks ago and she wasn’t going to do it. But I held her hand and we did it together. When you’re doing a Spartan race, you never feel alone. I’ve probably done over 50 now.
SR: How did the idea for Shower Toga come to you? KP: I was running the Spartan Asheville race in 2015. Honestly, I think it was the hardest race I’ve ever done—I was so dirty and muddy and beaten down. All I wanted to do was finish and get a shower, but I knew that wasn’t going to happen for several hours until I got back to our campsite. The thought of not being able to get clean, for some reason that day, just devastated me. I owned an Undress (a similar brand, which I couldn’t get wet), and a changing towel (which, again, I couldn’t get it wet). I ended up changing into my bathing suit in the changing tent, then showered at the hose station, then went back to the changing tent to get dressed. (It was a pain in the butt.) So it hit me: I need a waterproof changing garment. And Shower Toga was born!
SR: In the early days of Shower Toga, did you know it would be a success? KP: No! I knew it worked well and I knew I loved it so much I couldn’t live without it, but I also knew it was a bit goofy looking and something that no one had ever seen before. It was basically a product that required, and requires, educating the public. When I made my first Shower Toga out of diaper cover material with forest animals on it, everyone laughed and told me I was crazy. But within an hour of them watching me use it, 20 people asked if they could borrow it. I knew then that I was on to something.
SR: How did the pitching process go for Shark Tank? KP: Our process was 16 months long. People think you get a call and you go to L.A. and voilà, but it is nothing like that. You go through countless interviews, background checks, and more interviews. You send in videos, homework, and updates. And even if you get through the process, it’s still not guaranteed that you’ll even air. Once you get on the show, if you screw up, there are no retakes. The only thing you practice is your pitch. I probably could have explained my pitch better on the show, but Mark Cuban and Alli Webb understood Shower Toga. Now, we’re off and running in a million directions.
SR: What kind of support are you getting from the Sharks now? KP: They’re both very hands on and I’m in touch with them several times a week. People may find it surprising, but I can literally email Mark Cuban and within 5-10 minutes he emails me back. One of the best things about both Mark and Alli is that they are totally normal. They are so kind and generous and they truly want to see all their entrepreneurs succeed. They’re not going to do it for you, but I think they know via gut reaction who is self-driven. If Shower Toga doesn’t end up a household name, I have no one to blame but myself.
SR: How do you think Spartan plays into your overall health? KP: This may sound strange, but Spartan’s biggest role in my health isn’t physical, it’s mental. Doing Spartan races gave me courage, more confidence in my abilities (on and off the course), and helped me realize that the Spartan lifestyle is more than running a race. It’s a mindset. Spartan is strength. Spartan is failing and getting back up. Spartan is lifting others up and accepting that help when you need it. A Spartan attitude will carry over in all aspects of your life. It made me feel more empowered to overcome my life obstacles—including starting Shower Toga, as I had zero experience in launching a product, manufacturing, distribution, website development, and dealing with trolls on the internet.
SR: How does being a mother and a Spartan play into who you are today? KP: For me, it was easy for me to put my husband and kids first, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t put myself a close second. When your family sees you being a strong mom and a strong role model it imprints onto them. They watch me race and see my photos, videos, and confidence. They see a woman who is a dynamic individual—not just their mom. Becoming a Spartan made me a better mother and better wife—because I was a better me. When you feel fierce, when you have a fire burning inside of you, that’s contagious. It reaches others and has the ability to empower them. My son trains with me, he runs elite. My daughter and son-in-law did the So-Cal Spartan a few years ago and had a great time, but haven’t raced since.
SR: What advice would you give to busy moms or other businesswomen who are also trying to prioritize their health? KP: Without your health you really don’t have anything else long-term, so you have to take care of yourself. But make sure you keep that in perspective. I’ve seen so many women who have no idea how strong they are. Not to say that you can't cry or be sad, but after you’re done being pissed about what you’re going through, remember that you aren’t dead yet. I never forget that there are people who have a tougher battle than I do. Our minds are so powerful—so don't be a victim. Feeling sad is normal, but it's what you do with that sadness that will guide you to success or failure.
Think you know someone who deserves the Spartan Spirit Award? Any gender, any age, nominate them! And remember, each month, we’ll be spotlighting new honorees across Spartan.com and our social channels.