Sarah Kitlowski got into paintball about two years ago when a friend — ironically an OSHA safety manager — encouraged her to come play with a group of people.
Executive: Sarah Kitlowski, 36, president and COO of Sarasota-based Omeza. The medical technology and consumer health care products company designs products to support wound healing and revive skin health.
Diversion: Kitlowski plays paintball with a group of friends and also sometimes plays airsoft. Paintball is a team sport where players eliminate opponents by hitting them with paintballs.
Actually relaxing: Kitlowski got into paintball about two years ago when a friend — ironically an OSHA safety manager — encouraged her to come play with a group of people. “I was surprised how right he was that it actually was relaxing,” says Kitlowski. “The first time I played, I was hooked.”
Paintball ambassador: Kitlowski has since been extending the invitation to others. “I now have been bringing people for the last two years,” she says. In fact, Kitlowski says anyone who talks with her about paintball for more than a few minutes usually ends up going with her. “Over the summer, I brought about 20 women,” she says. “Almost none of them had ever played before. It was the ultimate empowerment day.” Still, paintball isn’t for everyone. “I’ve found paintball is a lot like opera in that people love it or hate it,” she says. “People aren’t generally neutral about it.”
Absorbing activity: One reason she likes paintball is because it’s engrossing. “Unlike other hobbies where your brain can keep running the ticker tape in the background, it is so absorbing that you can’t be thinking about work,” Kitlowski says. “You can’t be mentally planning your week, answering your emails or stressing.” Paintball also calls for a set of skills that sometimes aren’t tapped into on a daily basis. “It requires on-the-spot bravery, courage, quick decision-making, bold choices and rapid creativity,” Kitlowski says. “It brings something alive in you that is pretty unique.”
Mix it up: Kitlowski’s paintball group is made up of friends and friends of friends. It includes professionals in IT, nursing, home health, retail, real estate, nonprofits and home remodeling as well as a writer, law student and parents. There’s a mix of men and women and a range of ages, with members in their 20s to 50s. For Kitlowski, it’s a great way to get in touch with her inner child. “It’s the ultimate little kid run-around hobby,” she says. “When it comes to the true wild kid-like spirit, it absolutely comes alive.”
'(Paintball) requires on-the-spot bravery, courage, quick decision-making, bold choices and rapid creativity. It brings something alive in you that is pretty unique.' Sarah Kitlowski
Course of action: Kitlowski plays about once a month, and she and her friends go to Orbital Paintball in Thonotosassa, Hillsborough County. The course has different areas to play, with containers, buildings, towers and a little village to hide behind. “It’s so fun,” she says. “I don’t know of any other hobby where you’re giggling as you’re running and hiding in the woods.”
Goals and objectives: Games usually last about 15 to 20 minutes, so Kitlowski and her friends play multiple games a day. “Most games are who can shoot paint markers and get everyone else out on the other team,” she says. There are also other objectives, like capture the flag or castle. Her group usually plays from about 9 or 10 a.m. until 1 or 2 p.m. By then, they’re wiped out.
Bruise buster: Although players hit opponents with paintballs, Kitlowski says it doesn’t hurt too much. “It’s about the equivalent of someone shooting a really hard rubber band at you,” she says. “The first time, you can be surprised by certain parts of the body that bruise a little bit more. Upper arms — they look terrible.” But the bruises do have one advantage — they’ve given her the opportunity to try Omeza’s prototype bruise buster product.
Forced reboot: With paintball, Kitlowski says she’s competitive but doesn’t take it too seriously. “That’s part of why it’s so enjoyable — it’s not high stakes for me,” she says. “The workweek is high stakes. We’re doing important work, and we’re at a very critical time in our business’s growth. Every day matters, every hour matters and every decision matters.” To do something with the freedom to make mistakes balances out the intensity of her work. Plus, the day after she plays, her perspective is better. “It’s as much of a reset as taking a four-day weekend vacation — sometimes more,” she says. Going on a trip doesn’t always allow your brain to shut down, Kitlowski says. Paintball, on the other hand, is like a forced reboot.
Like a movie: Paintball also led Kitlowski to a similar sport called airsoft. “Airsoft games are more complicated,” she says. “It’s more like a real-life video game.” Recently, Kitlowski participated in an airsoft game at a former prison in Immokalee. Like paintball, airsoft brings out a diverse group of participants. “Everyone from really intellectual college students to retired Navy SEALs, cops and moms,” she says. The experience is almost like being in a movie. “You can really get into it. All of a sudden you forget you have 4,000 emails, just for a couple hours.”
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