In the age of the Internet and social media, we sometimes meet people more by osmosis and familiarity and through shared stories than by true acquaintance. Yet even with a digital distance between us, there are connections that build.
Such is the case with a young woman named Amanda Leibowitz. We got connected through a chain of associations including one of my longtime friends and high school acquaintances who knows her mother. Plus Amanda has been involved in triathlon and our paths crossed that way as well.
Amanda’s story bears some difficulties few people can imagine. Yet she has forged a strong and determined life from these experiences. By way of introduction, it works best to share some of her own words to describe where’s she’s been and to see where she is going. I’d known her for a year or two through social media when this post popped up in the feed.
Now, I stand before you, ripping off the Band Aid to bare my skin and my soul.
Almost 12 years ago, my world was shattered. Whoever I thought I was, that person had – in an instant – ceased to exist. For a long time, I tried to find all the pieces so I could put the delicate puzzle back together with glue. But some of the pieces were lost, others were too small, and even more just didn’t fit like I remembered.
Over a decade was spent searching for ways to occupy those spaces and complete my reconstruction:
– Alcohol dulled the sharp edges
– Cigarette smoke blurred imperfections
– Food filled the gaps and cracks
– Male attention glossed the exterior
– Achievement prevented close inspection
– Isolation cushioned the environment
Here’s the thing, I think we can all agree that these were not the BEST tools to use, but they worked. Or, at least, they worked well enough for me at the time. I was not happy, but at least I knew what to expect and I could handle it. Or so I thought.
I looked “put together” but it was all a facade. It wasn’t real. I was delicate. So much so, that a light breeze would send my carefully balanced pieces scattering across the floor and the rebuilding would start again.
The problem with putting a vase back together is that when you try to fill it, water seeps through the cracks. Happiness was momentary. Fulfillment was temporary. Confidence was fleeting.
Out of necessity, I changed my methods. I turned to swimming, cycling, and running to try to keep my pieces together. Speed and endurance replaced smoking and drinking. I chased PRs and podiums instead of empty relationships. I may have been able to fortify some of my walls, but, still, I was fragile.
When I was presented with the opportunity to try something new — to enter a safe space that welcomed vulnerability and encouraged personal development — to join a community that expected me to be fully engaged — to take responsibility for my health and holistic wellness — I realized that the tools I was looking for were not as elusive as they seemed. They were just in a different box.
Finally, instead of putting them back together, I tossed all the broken, cracked, and crumbled pieces in a cauldron, melted them down, and am now creating a whole new me. My body, my soul, and my life are a work of art. I am the sculptor, and I’m proud of my work.
When I saw first saw this picture, I was hit with an immediate, visceral response. My face flushed, my chest tightened, and my eyes welled with tears. For so long, I have seen myself as incomplete – damaged – empty – weak – that I almost couldn’t recognize what I saw. Strength. Power. Serenity. When I looked at this photo, I realized I am whole.
I am not a victim of sexual assault. I am a survivor.
This visceral nature of a post like that cannot help but change one’s perception of another human being. And that’s a good thing. Behind the smile of this bright young woman is a brand of grit and hope that has emerged in a life focused on helping others achieve their better selves. So I asked Amanda to answer a few questions about where’s she’s been and where she’s going.
Did you grow up doing organized sports? If so, what sports?
Yes, I played a variety of sports throughout my life, but split most of my time between competitive horseback riding, volleyball, and softball. I ended up playing volleyball in college at the University of Nottingham, as well
What are your personal interests beyond fitness?
I have always loved reading and find great joy in a good book, whether it be for personal development or for fun! I also enjoy cooking. I have many food sensitivities and allergies, so it’s always been fun to come up with creative ways to make delicious meals that are also gluten free, dairy free, and (sometimes) vegan. Traveling and being in nature (hiking, camping, etc.) has always been a passion of mine, and the majority of my travels have been to developing countries to participate in grassroots projects with local communities in Africa and South America. I even worked in the Ural Mountains in Russia for a few months one summer
Have there been work experiences that inform what you do now?
Honestly, I think that just about everything I’ve had the opportunity to experience in life up to this point informs what I do now. My work as an endurance coach and sports psychology consultant inform my current role as an online health and wellness coach in that I have a foundation of knowledge regarding nutrition and fitness, which I find to be fascinating and am always searching to learn more! But my world travels and nonprofit work also taught me a great deal! Specifically, I learned to approach new things with curiosity, compassion, humility, and a willingness to learn. I think it’s that mindset that has contributed most to my success with coaching, both in the endurance world and with the clients I serve in my online business.
How would you describe your current occupation?
I am an online health and wellness coach and provide one-on-one mentoring and private accountability groups for women and men who want to live happy and healthy, and more fulfilled. I incorporate fitness, nutrition, and support so that my clients are set up for success from the very start, and I work with them individually to teach them use various tools and resources to create habits that help them meet THEIR goals. The end-game is for each and every client to feel empowered and in control of their health so they can lead healthy, happy, and fulfilling lives – in whatever way that means to them! Because we all have different goals, right?!
You have experienced some trauma in life…How does fitness help you cope with the emotional side of your personality
Yes, I have experienced quite a bit of trauma in my life in many forms. More than anything, fitness gives me something in my life I can control. So when I start to feel anxious or depressed or helpless in my current situation or I get triggered by something and my emotions are running high, I can easily go push play on a workout or lace up my shoes and go for a run and by the time I’m done, I’ve ACCOMPLISHED something. And it was MY CHOICE. The cool thing is that we all have this power. We all have the power to choose – so choosing to exercise or cook myself a healthy meal or practice self-care are all things that actually benefit my health, and they are active responses to feeling a certain way. And I actually feel better when I’m done! Rather than drinking and smoking which I’ve done in the past – those were all more “reactive” behaviors. Like, “I’m in pain so I’m going to distract myself by doing this other thing that actually causes more pain long term and I’ll feel like garbage about it in the morning and further compound this shame spiral I’m already on.”
What is the biggest challenge you see for people getting started in training?
The most common challenges that I’ve seen when people are trying to start a new fitness or nutrition routine is that they don’t know where to start! Even though it’s really exciting to try something new, it can be really overwhelming at the same time. There is SO MUCH information on the internet that it can be really hard to sift through and know what to trust. As a result, often times, people try to do “too much too soon” and don’t set themselves up to have those mini-successes along the way that build confidence as you go. Motivation is a tricky thing – if we set the goal so high that our first experience is failure (or feels like failure), we are way more likely to quit! Another big challenge is a lack of support from family and friends – it can take some time for others to “come around” and a lot of the time, the people we know don’t actually like it when we start to change ourselves for the better. What I’ve seen is that those people who have the support of a community of like-minded folks tend to be more consistent and also have long-lasting success because that need for community and support are being met.
Is triathlon training still a big part of your routine?
No, I have actually “retired” from triathlon due to a neck injury that makes riding a bike for more than 15 minutes incredibly painful – I decided that the risk of further nerve damage was not worth it and have shifted my focus to running, which is something I truly love and enjoy. As you know, I also had ankle surgery last year and am on the long, slow road to recovery there, but I am enjoying the process and appreciating every step!! My long-term goal is to complete a 100-mile trail ultramarathon, so I’m willing to be patient now to take care of my ankle if it means that goal is a possibility in the future.
What types of injuries or illnesses have you experienced along the way.
As I mentioned before, I have a herniated disc in my neck at C5-6 that causes nerve pain and numbness down my left arm/hand as well as muscle spasms in my back. I had to have surgery in May 2017 to repair tendons in my ankle and anchor a ligament – the ligament was so loose from old volleyball injuries that my ankle bone was sinking on to my peroneal tendons and fraying them from the middle. On top of that, my body completely freaked out during the 2016 race season and I experienced symptoms of adrenal fatigue for several months.
Who in your life has influenced you toward the fitness and dietary programs you now advocate?
I really learned to appreciate the power of nutrition as fuel AND medicine when my dad was undergoing treatment for cancer. For many years, he followed a macrobiotic diet that had a huge impact on his overall health and also worked to support his body fight his cancer. I truly believe that the changes he made in his nutrition habits allowed him to live so fully while also battling cancer for more than a decade. So I guess a seed had already been planted when my friend’s wife, Jamie Sheppard, approached me about joining her team of wellness coaches. At first, I was a total snob and completely blew her off. I was SO embedded in the triathlon world and though that swim, bike, run was life – I wasn’t yet ready to look at more balanced, sustainable options for ALL people to be able to get the most out of exercise and nutrition. To Jamie’s credit, she invited me to join her several times, and last summer I finally decided to jump in. I had been stuck on the couch for several weeks recovering from surgery and eating all the candy I could get my hands on – I felt gross and was ready to start moving again but my usual activities were not an option. She presented me with a simple plan that included short strength-training workouts I could do from home, the amazing superfood shake I am no obsessed with, and an easy-to-follow meal plan that was REALLY good! And after only one week I was hooked and knew that this was really something special that SO MANY people could benefit from including in their lives. It was like a switch flipped and everything fell into place because it is basically a combination of the best parts of what I wanted to do – something realted to nutrition, physical activity, mental and emotional well-being, and getting to help people and make a real difference in their lives.
What are some of the central principles, but also surprising ones, that people don’t seem to know about diet and fitness?
That’s a really interesting question and I don’t know that there are central principles that people don’t know about, but I do think there are a lot of myths that prevent people from starting or sticking with their new habits.
For example, the idea that “fit” people are always motivated, the assumption that “healthy eating” is restrictive and boring, and the idea that change is linear are all things that can be hugely damaging to someone’s progress. I suppose the one thing I’d really love for people to learn and appreciate is that healthy living is a LIFESTYLE and the little choices matter most. It doesn’t take this huge show of effort to reclaim your health or get more fit – it takes showing up DAILY to do the little things. Get your workout done. Eat well. Be mindful of portion sizes. Make healthier snack choices. These little things DO compound in HUGE results. I think many people want results FAST rather than results that LAST, so if we could all practice a little more patience, persistence, and consistency when it came to our health I think we’d achieve our goals a lot more often!
What advice would you give to some after experiencing a setback?
Get back on the horse! Really though, the only time we ever truly “fail” at something is when we quit. Going back to what I said earlier about progress not being linear… We need to learn to accept and embrace those road-bumps as part of the journey. When we can approach these things with a growth mindset, we can become empowered by our struggles rather than defined by them. The other advice I’d have is to lean on the people you have around you for support! Whatever you’re experiencing, you don’t have to do it alone!!
How do you set goals and help others to do the same?
Goal setting to me is a dynamic process. I think that we should all have those “big picture” goals in mind, but I know that we are more successful when we break those DREAM goals into smaller, achievable stepping stones. It’s really important that we’re able to celebrate successes along the way and also be open to changing the timeline or the plan itself if needed. Long-term goals are just that – LONG-TERM!!
And guess what happens over time? PEOPLE CHANGE!! So why should our goals stay static, too, if they are no longer aligned with our values. It’s not a bad thing when this happens, it’s actually really motivating to release an anchor and hoist up a new sail. The more mindful we can be of what we want to achieve and what we are willing to do to achieve it, the more successful we will be with our goals. But I am constantly evaluating my goals and my progress, and I make a point to do this with my clients as well!
Amanda Leibowitz is obviously committed to her goals, but also builds some flex into her routine. Recently she posted a progress report on her own fitness with an eye on inspiring others Here’s what it read:
DAY 80 HAS ARRIVED. But it’s not the end of anything, it’s only the beginning. ✌🏻❤️🔥
I started this journey back in January with the intention of getting strong. And by STRONG I mean that in the most literal sense — after nearly 15-months of injury, surgery, and physical therapy for my ankle and my neck, I WANTED and NEEDED to build the muscles that would keep my body healthy and pain-free.
So — in my head — THIS program was going to be what would launch me back into the endurance world so I could make my #epiccomeback on the road and on the trails. A different functional strength workout every day. Timed nutrition to maximize how I fuel my body. Was it perfect? OH HELL NO. Do I feel healthier and stronger than ever? 100% YES, YES, ALL THE YES.
But what are you seeing here? JOY. CONFIDENCE. SELF-LOVE. I’ve found strength and power and magic in self-discovery.
Ya see, I’ve defined myself as a SURVIVOR for so long.
🖤 I survived living paycheck to paycheck and working multiple jobs while juggling full-time school and two internships during my masters.
🖤 I survived sexual assault and the weight of hopelessness, helplessness, and worthlessness that filled the space left empty when my identity was stripped away.
🖤 I’ve survived a lifetime of depression and anxiety and the rock bottom feeling of shame and despair when it feels like it’s impossible to go on.
🖤 I survived the stress and pain and heartbreak of watching illness steal the life of someone you love, and the overwhelming sense of grief that colors the world once they’re gone.
But what I’ve come to learn is that SURVIVORSHIP is a REACTION. And as I’ve learned more about WHO I AM and taking responsibility for the CHOICES I MAKE about how I live, I’m learning that I am a person of ACTION.
I am not what has happened to me. I am what I choose to become. (( Carl Jung ))
In the last 80 days, I’ve realized that I don’t have to merely survive, I can thrive. I can SEEK challenges that help me grow and BECOME the woman I am meant to be — inside, outside, and everything between. Today, tomorrow, and every day. 🦋
P.S. You’ve got this magic, too. ✨
You can find Amanda on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/amandaleibovitz
You won’t be disappointed in the inspiration you’ll find there.