VIU Alumna Leads Women In Social And Economic Innovation

Sarah Gilks displays a cheque for K.I.D.S. International Development Society for the total amount her community has raised for the organization. Photo credits: Alec Watson.

December 12, 2018 - 10:15am

Poised but relaxed with a broad, beaming smile, Sarah Gilks sits in front of an expansive ocean view in her Lantzville home. Brown curls cascade over defined shoulders, showing she clearly lives the values she coaches to the 1,400 women she leads in her lifestyle  program called Healthy Role Models, which she created to transform lives and build a healthy, full-of-possibilities community.

It’s been more than 20 years since she graduated from Vancouver Island University (VIU) with a diploma in Applied Business Technology, but she still credits her education there with laying the foundation on which she was able to build two businesses that provide her with high six-figure incomes annually.

As owner/operator of these businesses, Gilks is one of VIU’s alumni responsible for contributing over $400 million into the regional economy according to the latest Economic Impact Report of the institution. Gilks was born and raised in the region, went to school and employs many people through her own business.

She remembers one of her instructors telling them to “act as though you are already at your next level”, meaning to talk like, act like, learn like you are already working in your desired position.  I dressed in business clothes and kept the vision of where I wanted to be in the forefront of my mind.  In addition to all the skills I needed to succeed, my instructors taught me that if I wanted something more, I should start working towards that immediately.”

She worked hard, was at the top of her class, and when an employer approached instructors looking for someone to hire, Gilks’s name immediately came to mind.

“I was successful in obtaining a great job before I had even graduated, and they worked around my schedule so I could complete my schooling,” she says.

Gilks worked there for five years and eventually moved into a government job, which was exactly what she had been raised to do. “Work hard, get good grades, get a union job with a pension,” she says. She believes it was good advice. However, when her daughter was born, she found herself feeling unfulfilled and lonely.

“I took a five-year Care and Nurturing leave to look after my children and try to figure things out,” she explains.

It was during this time that her mindset started to change as she once again began investing in her education. Her new nutrition-focused business began taking off, and she realized the success of that business was in direct proportion to how much she was investing in growing as a person.  She started studying with Robin Sharma, a Canadian who is one of the world’s top leadership experts and authors. She became certified as a personal trainer and read and learned everything she could get her hands on from people like Jack Canfield, author of the Success Principles and many other books, and David Wood, a Business Leader, Author, Master Trainer and Coach.

With all this effort in learning, her business grew quickly and is now an organization with more than 230,000 members globally.

Gilks’s main focus, now called Healthy Role Models Inc., started in 2011 as an online workout program for 20 women. She quickly realized that her own desire for community was something other women also deeply needed. Gilks’s vision for Healthy Role Models became clear.

She created a community of like-minded women who wanted to live their best lives, achieve their health and fitness goals, support each other, leave the gossip and negativity behind, give to worthy causes and develop an “unstoppable mindset.”

The Healthy Role Models community has now grown into another global business in 10 countries that sells out twice a year with 1,400 women joining a three-month comprehensive journey to focus on their health and overall well-being. Members also take part in a positive community, which gives back and creates awareness for organizations like K.I.D.S International Development Society.    

“We have a dynamic team with so much experience that develops each journey, and I really believe the magic is in the community,” she says. “We now know that social connection is as predictive of how long you will live as smoking, obesity and high blood pressure.  Who you surround yourself with matters. Now we are seeing women build businesses and support each other in ways I never dreamed of. This happens because once a woman makes herself a priority and invests in self-care, she recognizes that her actions really do matter and make a difference, and that she is truly capable of whatever she puts her mind to.  Sometimes, it is the first time that she is connecting to what she desires for herself, for her family and for her life and really sees the possibility!”   

            Watch: Gilks describing the importance of being a life-long learner.

Gilks readily admits she did not wake up simply knowing how to build these businesses. It has developed over time as her education has deepened, and has included a lot of trial and error.

The most recent addition to her long list of credentials is becoming a Certified High Performance Coach through Brendon Burchard.  This coaching has been accredited as the highest level of coaching certification in the world.

“I have two children, one is a teenager and the other is going to be a teenager soon. My husband and I try to model life-long learning for them,” Gilks says. Her husband, Alec Watson, also a VIU alumnus, is currently working on his Masters in Digital Media at Harvard. “I hope they see what you can achieve if you do invest in yourself and your education. I tell them if you’re not learning, you’re not growing,”

There are many stand-out moments for Gilks, looking back, but a few things rise quickly to the top of the list.

“I loved my time at VIU, but I didn’t live your typical university life – I was working full-time and going to school full-time. I’m proud of how I balanced life at such a young age. I love the HRM community and I am REALLY so proud of the “ripple effect” it has had, not just on the lives of people around us, but far reaching to Cambodia.  We have now raised more than $131,000 for K.I.D.S. and we look forward to many projects coming up in the future.”




Aly Winks, Communications Officer, Vancouver Island University

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