When a friend first told Marek Bowers about ‘rolling out,’ his immediate reaction was “this is woo, I don’t know.” He certainly never thought he’d devote his professional life to teaching others how to do it. But the founder of Rawlogy, which makes cork massage balls and rollers, was also desperate.
While training for a marathon, Marek began to experience excruciating pain on the bottom of his foot. He could barely put on shoes and walk around the house. Plantar fasciitis threatened to completely derail him from further training and running.
So he started rolling out with a lacrosse ball — using it to massage his feet — and within a couple of weeks the pain completely went away.
“I’ve had foot rubs before, but this was so much better,” he said, explaining that he particularly appreciated the control he had over the amount of pressure and time spent on various trigger points (i.e. sore spots). “I thought, “Wow, this is my new magic toy!”
But there was just one problem: it was a heavy magic toy. While using his rubber lacrosse ball on top of Mount San Jacinto, which tops out at an elevation of 10,833 feet, it occurred to him that he could probably create something lighter weight (i.e. easier to carry in a pack) that would accomplish the same thing.
“I’m not ultralight, but I like to save room for my bag of wine,” he said of his approach to backpacking and hiking.
Marek studied mechanical engineering in college, which included courses on product design and materials. As he contemplated how to make a lighter weight, more portable massage ball, cork jumped to mind as an obvious materials choice.
Cork is dense, lightweight and sustainable, Marek said. It also dries quickly and has antimicrobial properties — meaning that while it still gets dirty, it doesn’t absorb “the bad shit.” Marek also likes that cork is “inspired by wine.”
Marek did some research on cork — most of which comes from Portugal — and figured out a way to source recycled cork. Creating an eco-friendly product is extremely important to him, “so my kids have a planet to live on when they’re my age,” he said.
Marek launched Rawlogy in early 2018 with a 2.5-inch lightweight cork ball now called the ‘Classic.’ In the months that followed, he added a few additional products to the mix: a 1.9-inch ‘Mini’ for the ultralight backpacking and thru-hiking crowd, and a 4-inch ‘Big Ball’ to target larger muscles, as well as to accommodate higher-weight individuals. Rawlogy’s line also includes an ‘Eco CORKscious’ massage roller, designed with carry-on travel in mind.
Weighing in at less than an ounce, the Mini has become popular among PCT thru-hikers for self-massage, with word about Rawlogy spreading up and down the trail, thanks in part to Marek’s frequent trips to visit with hikers and give out his cork massage balls.
The Classic, however, is somewhat more versatile, Marek said, allowing you to work on larger muscles like glutes, hamstrings, quads, back and chest.
It was while Marek was teaching a roll-out workshop for plus-size hikers that he realized the need for the Big Ball. (Intentionally named — Marek isn’t afraid to throw around some humor). The group of 20 women, who call themselves the Curvy Kili Crew, were preparing to climb Mount Kilimanjaro on International Women’s Day, and Marek was showing them how to perform self-care in preparation.
“I learned a lot about working with people with larger bodies. The Curvy Kili Crew provided me with really constructive feedback, which not only helped me improve existing products, but also to create new ones” Marek said, referring to the Big Ball. One of the Big Ball prototypes even went to Kilimanjaro with them, and another is headed to Peru with a veteran of the group for another epic hike.
Working with groups like the Curvy Kili Crew and helping people recognize and understand their pain is what fuels Marek’s fire. “To me, service is way more important than sales,” he said. Instead of CEO, Marek goes by Chief of Service. “Not only are people learning how to perform their own self-care, but I want them to feel that I, personally, care about them as well,” he said.
Another group Marek spends time with is Unlikely Hikers, an inclusive hiking group for people of size, people of color, and people who identify as queer, transgender and gender nonconforming. “I’m a trans guy, so I consider myself an unlikely hiker,” Marek said.
Marek has taught roll-out sessions at several Unlikely Hikers events, which he describes as being “an absolute soaring of the heart from a true sense of belonging, combined with a shitload of fun.”
“I always look at self-care from a holistic point of view,” he said. “It’s not just your physical health, it’s also your emotional and mental health.” To drive this point home, Marek posts on Rawlogy’s Instagram feed regularly, with topics ranging from roll-out demo videos and suggested techniques to introspection and mindfulness.
When Marek began his transition from female to male back in 2011, he was stealth about it, he said. But then he realized he had to show himself, be open with people and “own who he was in this life.”
And “owning it” goes beyond gender identity, cascading into the other areas of his life as well — as a dad to two sons, as a Los Angeles resident, as a high-energy entrepreneur, and as a hiker, rock climber, mountaineer, runner, backcountry skier and snowboarder.
“Being outside and doing active things … I get so much out of it. I’m so fulfilled. It’s my happy place,” he said.
As Marek looks to the future of Rawlogy, continuing to create genuine connections with people is his top priority.
“I would like to be doing roll-out workshops all over the world and teaching people how to perform self-care,” he said. “Because once you teach people how to do it, they can teach other people. It’s a ripple effect.”
Marek hopes his candid, often irreverent, teaching and communication style helps people feel more comfortable talking about their bodies and their pain. For example, Marek shares with me this hilarious story: “Amazon at one point classified my balls as ‘sex toys.’ I was like, ‘I hope no one’s putting cork balls up their ass! They don’t have strings to pull them out!’”
Marek also plans to revisit his manufacturing process. He’s finding that even with using recycled cork, Rawlogy is not carbon negative and is barely carbon neutral — something he wants to improve. “Doing an audit of that makes me more aware that I need to look at where I’m getting my cork, or at least improve my process,” he said.
While launching Rawlogy hasn’t always been easy for Marek, it has been worthwhile.
“I just realized how much gratitude I have for this experience as a whole,” he said. “There have definitely been ups and downs — especially over the last six months. But being of service has taught me that perpetual gratitude is the secret to happiness and the key ingredient to loving my life. It feels amazing to celebrate and be grateful for ‘the good,’ but ultimately life-changing when you are also grateful for the bad.’”