It was an impulsive suggestion—but Walvius, who was ready for a new challenge after 18 years as a head coach, found herself calling the dean of the university's business school the next day. Soon the lifelong jocks were meeting with students to conduct market research. "I had never taken any business classes—I was a psychology major!" says Marciniak, a onetime National Championship MVP at the University of Tennessee. Yet by the following spring, they'd quit their jobs to focus full-time on Sheex: luxury bedding made of breathable, cutting-edge performance fabrics that keep sleepers from overheating in the night and waking up sweaty.
The women admit it was hard to abandon the financial security of Division I coaching gigs, and even harder to lose "the opportunity to make an impact on young people's lives," as Walvius says. Their learning curve was steep, she adds, whether they were researching factories ("We got hideous sample after hideous sample—stuff would come back with gold trim") or making an ill-fated attempt at "sexy, suggestive" marketing materials ("My mom was appalled").
A factory in Southern California finally sent them sheets that turned their dreams into perfect reality. "That was a big day for us," says Walvius, who monitors the Sheex bottom line while Marciniak builds relationships with business mentors and investors. (Or, as Marciniak puts it, "Susan is the play-by-play announcer and I'm the color analyst.") This spring Sheex rolls out in Bed, Bath & Beyond stores and on HSN, and the founders are also planning a sleepwear line. "We asked ourselves, 'Are we going to run a small business or build a championship-caliber company?'" says Walvius. The answer was obvious. "In our culture, we compete." —Meredith Bryan
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