Olympian and engineer reaches new heights in business
When Michelle Roark ’15 was a child, she had two dreams: competing in the Olympics and becoming a chemical engineer. With dedication and hard work, she achieved both dreams and now owns an award-winning spa and wellness center, Phia Alchemy Salon Spa, in Denver.
While wellness retail and spa ownership might seem like an unusual career path for a chemical engineer and professional skier, Roark said it’s where all her experiences come together. After competing for 16 years on the World Cup as a member of the U.S. freestyle ski team, competing in the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin and 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, Roark retired from her athletic career. From there, she said her Mines degree and years as an athlete put her in a unique position of studying energy and its impact on performance—whether at the start gate or in life.
“When you’re skiing, you stand out there and compete on your own,” Roark said. “You have to constantly figure out how to conquer your fears, live in the present moment and put your best self out there.”
For her, developing and owning a business is much the same. “There are a lot of bumps in the road when you start your own business, and it’s easy to want to give up,” she explained. “But given my background, that was expected, and I knew how to handle it.”
It was also in skiing that Roark first discovered her passion for scent and the performance-enhancing power of natural energy. While competing on the World Cup, a sports psychologist encouraged Roark to use all five senses to imagine herself skiing. This practice was intended to “invoke the zone”—or conjure the feeling of skiing perfectly—so she could mentally prepare to succeed. When Roark visualized herself completing a perfect run, she said she could capture each sense easily—except for smell.
Wondering what it smelled like to ski well, Roark began experimenting with different essential oils, even becoming a certified perfumer, while she continued to compete on the World Cup. She ultimately found that smelling combinations like rose oil, Italian bergamot and grapefruit (today the basis of her scent Charisma) kept her “in the zone” while she was skiing.
Her interest piqued, Roark decided to apply her knowledge of chemical engineering to “really dive into the research of the energy contained in biological essences,” which was the basis of her undergraduate work at Mines. She even built her own device to measure the electromagnetic energy of botanical biological essences and learned to combine scent molecules into certain frequencies.
Since graduating, Roark has continued to take her research to the next level, creating a line of products with six scent categories—such as focus and balance—designed to match a person’s “signature frequency” for maximum benefit to their health and wellness. She also wrote a book, Be a Force, which discusses the connections between bioenergetics and a person’s well-being.
Roark acknowledged that her research was unusual for a Mines graduate. “I was lucky to find some really wonderful professors who weren’t afraid to think outside the box and embrace my much more colorful research,” Roark said. “It’s helped me with everything I’ve been able to do since and to find a lot of success down that road.”