SPP Spotlight: Amanda Salazar Overcame Personal Struggles & Inspires Others to Do Same

 

Edge Fitness

photo courtesy of Amanda Salazar

 

This is the SPP Spotlight, a feature on our blog that spotlights women who have become leaders in the community, made a positive impact on people’s lives, or is a great role model for women in some way. Our guest is Amanda Salazar. She is a certified personal trainer, nutrition advisor, and owner of Edge Fitness since 2003.

SPP Spotlight: Amanda, thank you for being with us. It is a pleasure to have you.

Amanda Salazar: Thank you.

SPP: Let’s start with your business. You created what is now known as Edge Fitness in 2003. Tell us a little about your business and what people will find there.

Amanda Salazar: Well, I’m not sure if you know this about my business card, but I have a slogan that says “personal, progressive, and permanent results”. In my past, I worked for a lot of franchise fitness gyms and I found the experience to be really unrewarding for myself and for the clients I’m working with, because I was always pushed to sell, sell, sell, and push supplements I was unfamiliar with… Their goal is to make sure their client has some results, but can’t continue to get them on their own. I don’t like that. I want to transform and change people’s lifestyles, but I want them to have the results that are maintainable on their own. They continue to take their journey on their own without me and take the tools and technical training that I’ve given them. Some people wonder if that’s a great business idea. I think it is for me, because what I get from it business-wise is that all clients I’m working with either come back to me when they hit a plateau or want to start training for something different. Or they refer, because they had such a great experience. For the first time, there was a trainer that was looking at them, paying attention to them instead of other people or their own watch; they didn’t have a pushy car-salesman [approach]. They were given hand-written things that were very easy to follow (I call it Work-Out Homework). I give them homework to practice what they’ve learned with me and when they come back here they feel more comfortable, perform better, and are able to move on and learn more and exciting exercises. So, they find that with that whole experience, they got their money’s worth and more. So that’s what I feel sets me apart, making sure it’s personal and they have a progressive training and their results are permanent when they are with me and off on their own. That’s the kind of environment I create: something that’s comfortable, regardless of their age.

A lot of words people have used with me are that Edge Fitness is not clique-y. They feel they can fit in to a supportive environment and feel a part of a community. Edge Fitness is not about doing fad workouts; we have a holistic approach to health and fitness here. They also like the variety in age, because we don’t just have 20 year-olds here. My oldest client that attends Boot Camp is 69 and she is fit as hell. [laughs] She is amazing. And then I even have 14 or 15 year-olds that are attending my Boot Camp group training classes. And then the last comment that I get from a lot of people is, “I’m so glad it isn’t a meat market!” They complain about going to a gym and a lot of people are sitting on the equipment and tons of people are wearing make-up and standing around; they just don’t like that feeling. So, I feel that’s the difference between going to a big franchise gym and some place like mine. I know your name. More than likely, I get to know you, I know your family, and I know things going on, whether they’re good or bad. You’re supported here and you have someone else that cares in your life. It’s just a good, friendly environment. You’re cared about. If you don’t show up for a couple days, I text and email, “How are you doing? I haven’t seen you in a couple days. Are you okay?” Versus, at a franchise gym, you could show up only one time after buying your membership, you don’t get a phone call; they don’t care, you’re just paying the bills for them.

SPP: That illustrates very well what sets you apart from the franchise fitness centers. There are a lot of gyms in the Thurston County area, in general. What have you found sets Edge Fitness apart from some of the more small business gyms – and maybe it’s some of the things you just mentioned?

Amanda: You know, I think what sets me apart is a lot of my time and experience. There are a lot of small gyms, gyms in garages, boxes, and they come in and out in two or three years and they’re gone. I think I have a lot of experience, because I went from Beginner Trainer to Membership Manager to Fitness Manager to Personal Trainer Manager to being a part-owner of a gym in Lacey, which wasn’t a franchise gym, but on its way there. Seeing all those different types of gyms – big, small, medium – has given me a lot of good experience in regards to knowing how to run a business that can succeed at getting a profit – but not be just about the profit –and caring about their customers and offering enough that keeps people coming back. Some small business gyms open and they have some personal training and just some classes.

It has to be more than just, “Here, come, and work-out.” Three times a year I do a nutrition seminar, I do a stretching and foam rolling seminar. Twice a year I take over Olympia Olive Oil in downtown Olympia and have a private event that teaches people how to cook with healthy foods and those oils and vinegars to add flavor to their diet, so they don’t feel like they’re ON a diet. And then multiple times a year I hold private events for our members where we get to know each other, there’s some ice breakers, so you feel you’re a part of something a little bit more. For those who enjoy being really competitive we’ve, together as a group, done Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, three hikes in the summer. For example, last year we did Elinor and Lake of the Angels hike. So, it’s like different types of exercises that don’t involve just being in the gym here. All of those activities are ways for people to feel like they’re not just going to a gym. They have different avenues of being active and getting support. They get continual education about how to eat healthy and take care of themselves. I have a special holiday seminar just before November hits about how to not gain 10-15 pounds during the holidays and still enjoy the food and offering tips and tricks when eating out. ‘I’m a busy business person, what are snacks that will give me energy and brain power to continue my day, but won’t ruin my mid-section?’ So, that kind of stuff. A lot of the smaller gyms don’t provide all of that and is one thing that definitely sets me apart from them.

SPP: Yeah, not only do you put a lot of work and effort into creating these events and activities, but it all comes together to create a community, as you said. It sounds like it’s one that is hard to find elsewhere, which is outstanding and very impressive. You currently have a new 8-week program, right? You hear about a lot of wellness programs. 24-Day Challenge. 90 Day Challenge. What is your program’s focus and what benefits can people expect from it?

So, I started this program in 2005 that’s at the beginning of the year and I’ve done them every year since then. I started out wanting it to be all about weight loss, let’s get them on a good diet, get them working out and all of that stuff. Because I’ve taken a lot of social behavior classes on my free-time and I’ve worked with a Life Coach and therapist on learning more about how our minds work, self-image, body-image, how we see ourselves in the mirror, things like that. It’s come full-circle from that to this year where I have a shorter program from 12 weeks that allows people to focus more. Sometimes people get tired and a program can feel like they aren’t living life normally. So, eight weeks is a pretty good jump-start. This year what I’ve done is add prizes based on changes in their measurement. I’ve learned in the past that people really believe they are a number. They get on a scale and they think, “This is me and this is not where I want to be.” Unless that number keeps dropping and dropping, and drops in great lengths, the negativity, and depression – all this stuff comes with it internally. “I suck! I’m this number! I can’t lose weight!” The scale does not differentiate between body fat and muscle. So, there’s times when I was training that I would go on a scale and gain 5 or 6 pounds, but be 3 to 6 percent less in body fat. I had lost inches, but I gained weight on the scale. So you can’t tell what’s happening on the scale. You have to have measurements and you have to have body fat testing. In the past, I’ve given points for every pound lost or inch lost or percentage of body fat lost. This year, I’ve changed it. There’s no scale involved. I don’t give any points for weight loss; I don’t care about the weight. They go to the Weight Loss and Diabetes Clinic on the west side of Olympia. They will tell you how many pounds of your body is lean mass, how much is fat mass, how much extra water you carry, your body fat, they have a chart that shows changes. So that’s something we’re doing that’s more real, visual, and tells you what’s really happening with your body. And then we do a standardized, basic fitness test at the beginning and at the end of the program. So they can use their time in the program to work on their diet by following a nutrition plan or come to the classes with a recommended workout program. We also added a component with Michelle O’Neill, a life coach. A lot of success in the program is about having the tools to prioritize and organize and live in the present and not in the past or future. So, Michelle is working with us to help them every couple weeks with a session to make sure they’re checking in, not back-tracking or self-sabotaging. So, my goal this year is a more holistic approach; they’re getting the mental therapy, the nutritional therapy, the workout therapy, and the support. We have a private [Facebook] group where they can post if they’re having a difficult day and Michelle and I can both respond. Or other people can say, ‘I’m having a bad day, too! Let’s not cheat.’

SPP: Is that an annual program?

Yeah, I do it every year. It always starts towards the latter part of January and lasts around two months until March.

SPP: Now, let’s talk about your childhood. When you were a child you struggled with obesity, which dampened your energy and affected you emotionally. What was life like for you back then and what happened to change things?

Funny you should ask that. I actually spoke to a group of 13, 14, 15 year-old girls to talk to them about body image and the media. The first question a girl asked me was, ‘I’m already starting to compare myself to girls in magazines and feel like I’m not feeling good about myself, because I should look like this or that and my friends are skinnier. When do you first remember having low self-esteem or when you felt bad about yourself?’ It’s crazy, because the very first time I remember that I questioned my shape and how I looked was the very first day of first grade. That’s young.

SPP: That’s very young.

I was five or six years old and I remember it was the first day and we were all in a group doing I don’t remember what and I was wearing the same kind of pants that another girl was wearing. I had just changed schools, so she was sitting next to some friends and her friend looked at both of us and told me that I shouldn’t wear those pants, because they look better [on her friend] because she was skinny enough to wear them. I remember feeling fat. I wasn’t fat then. I mean, I wasn’t skinny, but I had a little bit of baby fat left, nothing crazy. From that day onward it continued. I questioned the way I looked and always compared myself. I hated going with my mom shopping for school clothes, because I felt like nothing was going to look right.

SPP: So, you always heard that child’s voice in your head?

Yeah, always. My mom was always a positive support and [always] said, ‘You look great. You are you; there’s nobody like you,” you know, all that kind of stuff. And then, my mom’s side definitely has more of a heavy-set, shorter stockier kind of build. I wasn’t super overweight, but I wasn’t skinny. Over time, I wasn’t as active as a lot of friends. That’s because my mom was a single mom raising three kids. She worked four jobs until I finished high school to make sure we didn’t feel like we were poor. We never got as many opportunities as everybody, but she didn’t want to make it feel like we didn’t have any opportunities. She did everything in her power to keep us active. That was from sixth grade – she was enrolling me in dance classes – and finding ways for us to get involved. But it’s hard for a single mom with that many kids and I’m sure the food we were eating – even though she did her best – had to be the cheap stuff. Now, she never gave us boxed macaroni and cheese, but she made home-made macaroni and cheese with white cheese and put sliced up hot dogs in it. That was my favorite! But that was her way of providing a meal; it was cheap, it was easy, and she couldn’t afford to buy more. So, I know that, as I was aging, I didn’t have a lot of super-healthy foods, but my lack of activity at the time, with eating foods that were higher in fat and my genetics on my mom’s side all started to go against me. I started to get teased in school. Now that I think about it, the teasing and name-calling and all of that would be called bullying now. I remember, too, a girl calling me fat and pushing me under a gutter and all the water [pouring down] on me and I was cold all day. I was in fifth grade. That would be considered bullying now. And when I got into middle school and high school, it costs thousands of dollars to be on these select teams to have jerseys and travel and my mom couldn’t afford that. All of my friends were on the basketball team playing varsity basketball, so when they weren’t in school they were out traveling. I didn’t quite have that much opportunity, but I would do what they did. If they went to the student store and ate cookies, I went to the student store and ate cookies. They went to get candy, I went to get candy. If they got Taco Bell, I got Taco Bell. My highest weight was almost 240 pounds. So my friend, who was on the basketball team, was a member at the [YMCA] and said I should work out there. She brought me down to Capital Lake and said, “Let’s run together.” She saw that I was really down on myself and wanted to help me a little bit. At the time a lot of my friends were not eating.

Amanda at 200 lbs. Photo courtesy of Amanda Salazar.

Amanda at 200 lbs. Photo courtesy of Amanda Salazar.

SPP: Really?

Oh yeah. A lot of them around me were eating two Nutri-Grain bars a day and if they went to dinner they told their parents they weren’t hungry. I didn’t know they were anorexic or bulimic until after I graduated and I found out they had a problem or one of my friends actually died from it a year later. I found out all of this stuff when I was in college and I was like, ‘No wonder!’ I just didn’t know. But she took me down [to Capital Lake] and said, ‘Let’s jog around the lake’. I made it an eighth of a mile before I was dying. So, I talked to my mom about The Y, because my friend wanted me to go there. They had a sliding scale program for low-income parents, so it was very affordable for her to apply for [financial aid]. That was my first exposure to a gym during the summer of my Freshman to Sophomore year [in high school]. I didn’t know what I was doing and [my friend] didn’t know what she was doing. I once went in without her. So, the YMCA didn’t use to have contracted personal trainers and the downtown Y decided to allow a trainer that worked on his own. This was the first time ever that the non-profit organization was allowed that. He approached me and offered to train me for free for a month. ‘If you come here twice a week, I’m going to work with you for a half hour. I’ll write down what to do and you do it on your own.’

SPP: Why do you think he wanted to help you?

I think he just thought I had no clue what I was doing.

SPP: [laughs] ‘That girl needs help!’

I think he felt bad. She needs help, she’s overweight… I didn’t like looking people in the eye, because I didn’t have good self-esteem, so I would go in and [appear] nervous. Maybe he knew. I can tell, now that I’m older, when people are like that. He corrected me; he showed me how to use the dumbbells, the weight bars. And he had me do a fitness test there. I remember at that time my body fat, when he took [the test], was 39%. So, I was 39% [body fat] when I was 16 years-old. I still have that sheet. I thought I threw it away, but about eight years ago I found it and thought, ‘Oh my god, I need to keep this as a reminder of how far I’ve come!’ I don’t even know how it happened, but it seemed that all of a sudden, I started losing weight by following him. And at the time he met me I was actually anorexic and bulimic; I was doing what my friends were doing. I thought, ‘Okay, so I go have lunch and have only one half of a bagel with only one half of a turkey slice, two carrots – that’s it, that’s all I’d eat. And I’d try not to eat at dinner with my mom or would eat only a little. That’s how I was going to get to look good like [my friends]. But he started changing that for me, too. He said, ‘You need to eat. You will lose weight.’ So, I started eating full meals and I think it was a period of six months that I lost 40 pounds. And at that time, my trainer was forcing me to go to a class the director of The Y held at noon. I was the youngest one there. Everyone else was somewhere around 40 or 60. It was like a Jazzercise aerobics class at the time. The one thing I’ve always had, for some reason, was really good coordination and beat. I didn’t mind dancing, even though I was overweight. She did the same kind of workout all the time. That’s why the [students] liked it, because it was like a routine. I had it all memorized within three times. I was on it, while the others were still staggering. She saw that, I guess, and eventually, a year later, asked if I thought about being a group fitness instructor.

SPP: This is the Director of the Y?

The Fitness Director of the Y, yeah. So, here I was 16, going on 17 and she didn’t take ‘No’ for an answer. She said, ‘In the next class, I’m going to have you teach a little bit.’ Me being over-weight, with self-esteem issues, lacking confidence – scared as hell to be in front of people, shaking, can’t talk. Oh my gosh, we’re in the middle of class and I remember the first time she pulled me up and there were these four moves. I knew them, but she wanted to do it. She said, ‘It’s okay, they’ll just follow you, even if you’re off beat.’ I was sick to my stomach. I remember my knees shaking and I shook for two hours after that. It was horrible. But she just kept making me do it and kept making me do it. Before you know it, I was teaching the whole class.

SPP: What made you go back, especially after that first time?

Because I was just following the other trainer. He said, ‘I don’t want to see that you’re not here. I’m doing this for free for you. Nobody gets this for free. I normally charge $65 per hour.’ And I think, too, I had a little more confidence because I lost 40 pounds and I was feeling better. I had more energy. And I actually really liked that class and they were supportive of me. And then within that year, my whole Junior into my Senior year of high school they sent me to 90 different certification classes in a year. I used all of my free time to get certified and I started teaching multiple classes for them. And then I started doing training for them. That’s how my transition to fitness happened, because someone else saw something in me. From that time until two years later when I entered college I had gone from 237 pounds to 109 pounds.

SPP: That’s extraordinary! Wow!

It just went from there. That was what I wanted to do. I got into college for business and I wanted to do that. But I knew I wanted to do something with fitness. While I was there I started their first co-ed soccer intramural team. They didn’t have any fitness program. I started it. I lead the program, I taught classes there, the basketball team would have to train with me (their coach hired me). That’s how it all exploded.

Amanda Salazar

Amanda at 111 lbs. Her goal at this time was to lose 20 more lbs. Photo courtesy of Amanda Salazar.

SPP: It kind of feels like it snow-balled and became something that was what you were basically doing all of the time with your life, so you just kept that going. I was curious, because you talk about how you ended up teaching at local colleges. I can see now how that transitioned smoothly, but then you later decided to start your own business, devoted to helping others learn to be healthy. What made you want to take this snowball and turn it into a business?

So, when I was in college I was still kind of struggling with the anorexia stuff. I went back into it a little. Even though I knew, nutritionally –

SPP: What was going on that kicked that back in?

I think I had so much change – and it sounds crazy – but so many people were praising me that I thought, ‘I’ve gotta do better! If they’re saying this, I gotta keep doing better. I’ve gotta stay this way. I’ve gotta get more muscle.’ It became more of an addiction for me.

SPP: It was a matter of surpassing a goal and you just wanted to keep going.

Nonstop. Any free time, even in my college yearbook you’d never see me dress normal. I was always dressed in workout clothes and had a water bottle, because I’d have lunch and go workout. Then I’d eat a little, have a break, and workout. I’d teach in the morning and teach at night. I just wanted to exercise all the time. I still did school and hung out with friends, but it was all about working out and minimizing my eating and that kind of stuff, you know? I came out of that really quickly, because I was taking a Health Sciences class with one of the coaches for one of the basketball teams and he knew. He saw me every morning and heard from other people that showed concern for me, which I didn’t know at the time. So, we had a final project and he made me research the combination disorder of anorexia and bulimia. He sent me to two places in Canada that you get admitted into for people that are of all sexes and ages that are, like, 80 pounds and going to die from it. He said, “I want you to research it. I want you to write a 30-page paper. And I want you to have two weeks of experience.” So, he got a scholarship so I could go up there and stay. Writing that paper helped me see how much of myself I was writing about, not just these girls that I interviewed. From that paper and time I never went back [to bulimia and anorexia]. I started taking nutrition classes to get my nutrition certifications.

Now, going from teaching and working at different gyms, two things happened: One, when I was at that college, they believed in me and they gave me funds to do it, they gave me a grant. I had nutrition seminars for students and staff. So, I felt like I had my own mini-business, because I did it all on my own, nobody helped me. I designed my promotional flyers, I designed the emails, and I lead the class. At that time, even in college, I was doing wellness seminars at businesses like exercises that could be done in the office and what you should offer in the snack room instead of coffee and licorice. So, I was already doing my business, but I didn’t get paid for it. I just did it and I wanted to. That was part of the reason for going from that to owning my own business. The other thing was I worked for any gym that has been open around here. Most of the gyms that are around here that are franchises – they have one or more locations – I worked for all of them. It didn’t matter how much continued experience we got. I got paid $9-11 per hour, that’s what they pay trainers. It doesn’t matter their level, the highest pay a trainer gets is $21.50 per hour – and that includes their bonus. At any franchise gym what pays the overhead costs is the enrollment fees. What pays employee and staff compensation is personal training. So, the goal is to give the trainer 20% max and the gym keeps 80-85%. So, I was feeling like this was b.s. I’m so smart, I’m educated, I have a Masters, I’ve worked everywhere and I can’t get paid any more than that. The last facility I worked with I was being harassed by the manager that took over the club in a lot of different ways, from needing to get so many sales to ‘You’re our highest experienced trainer, you need to work more.” And I asked to be paid more, but they wouldn’t pay me more. I quit. I went home that night and I didn’t sleep. I created my first brochure. I called a contact I had at the college who was a designer and asked her to make me a logo. Within two weeks I had my own three-fold brochure, my own business cards, a logo, and I drove everywhere. The first ad I ever had was with Community Values Magazine – Babs and Lee Townsend – and I did a trade with them, I started training Babs. They started telling people about me. Plus, I was going from home to home to home and slowly that’s how I started. When gas prices went up I contacted gyms and said, “I am the best personal trainer you will have and I’ll give you 20% of what I make. I will provide you with nutrition classes, personal training, and help your personal training department.” I would have contracts with these gyms. What used to be Take Shape and is Fit Stop now, I was working there. 5th Avenue Fitness, [I was contracted] there. So, I could go anywhere. I spend Mondays and Wednesdays in the Lacey gym. Tuesdays and Thursdays were in the Olympia gym. Fridays and Saturdays would be at the Tumwater gym. Then there was a law that passed that made it more of a liability for any gym to have a contract personal trainer. Then I started losing my contracts and having nowhere to go. I said, ‘Screw it. I’m going to have my own business location and do this on my own. I want to run my business. I love people. I have a passion. I want to change their lives. I want them to feel good and they are cared about and I want people to know I will always be here.’

SPP: That’s amazing! Now, it sounds like ever since your teen years you became very driven and it just kept going and going. The early years of your entrepreneurship are astounding at how driven you were. It sounds like you started getting pretty successful as a result of that. However, on top of all your struggles in adolescence, all the hard work to get to that level of success, you were faced with another major challenge ten years ago…

Oh yeah! Yes, I was. [laughs]

SPP: Could you tell us a little about that?

                At that time I was a co-owner of a gym. I had a pretty busy lifestyle, but at the same time I enjoyed working out, I was super active. The one thing that started to come to head for me was I couldn’t stop thinking. I had this anxiety that prevented me from sleeping. My mind was always like go-go-go-go! It didn’t matter if I worked out or what, I couldn’t get it to go away. Then I was dating someone at the time who rode a crotch rocket. He took me on a ride and it was the first time my mind was blank. I was just so focused on the scenery and the wind and a little bit of the speed. I just remember not…

SPP: It was clear.

                It was clear and I was like, ‘Oh my god!’ I took a class, got insurance, and a brand new bike – had it fitted for me. On the third day I had my bike, I left the gym. I had just taught a class. It was summer time around dusk. I had an instinctual feeling with a car behind me going down State Ave past Ralph’s Thriftway. I thought my mirror was shaking, but my instincts were telling me, ‘No, it’s not rattling’, because I was thinking I was seeing a car swerve and then I didn’t have time to think about it, but before I knew it a white car was turning into me and I was propping my leg up against it and my bike hit a truck and I flew almost a block into the back of a large pickup truck, which had nails sticking out of boards, things like that. My bike slid under a vehicle so no one could see it. I landed and I don’t know what happened, but I had a nail through my leg and through my hand and I couldn’t move and I couldn’t breathe. So, that incident was really hard.

I was at the hospital and the x-ray tech was a person I had trained and the nurse working on me was one of my clients. I didn’t tell my mom I had a bike at the time, because I didn’t want her to know, because she was against them. At this time, too, I had broken up with the person I was dating a week before that had happened. So, here I was at the hospital and the only friend I called was the person who helped me get my bike and he came. I said, ‘I need to make a list and I need to call all these people and tell them I can’t teach class tomorrow, but I’ll be there the next day.’ So, I was confident that through all the pain I was in I was fine. I just had some burning and my back hurt, but I think I’m just beat up a little bit. I’ll be fine.

So, I went in to the x-ray tech and told him all of that stuff, you know, like I was just going to take one day off. He looked at me and said, ‘You don’t realize how bad this is, do you?’ He started crying and said, ‘Your back is shattered. Your hip and pelvis are in pieces. I’m not supposed to tell you and I’ll probably lose my job over this, so don’t tell anyone I told you. But you’re probably not staying here. You’re probably going to Harborview [Medical Center]. This is bad. It’s very bad. If you need anything, I’m here.’ He held my hand and I remember crying when he told me that. ‘You just need to listen to what they tell you and do what they say. Don’t worry about work. Don’t worry about anything else.’ And then I knew something was wrong.

SPP: Were you able to walk at that point?

                So, I was sent to Harborview and didn’t have feeling in one side. They say I was paralyzed, but because of all of the shattering there were some pinched nerves, so they had to remove bone from it and repair. A couple weeks later I was able to walk. I had surgery. They didn’t know if they were going to replace my hip or not. I had to wait two months to see if anything changed in regards to cracks getting bigger and if they did I was going to have a hip replacement. So I had my entire thoracic spine – the entire middle of my back – rebuilt out of cadaver bone and titanium rod. [I] was in a full-body brace, a wheelchair, and then a walker. Even with that body brace on, the minute I could feel somewhat comfortable getting up I went to a Business After Hours for the Thurston County Chamber. In January I did a speech with that fricken thing on my head for the Thurston Chamber Forum. I was just like, ‘Screw this! I don’t care if I look funny!’ People were probably like, ‘That poor girl!’ I was still energetic and had a walker and wanted to be out and about.

Amanda Salazar

Amanda after her motorcycle accident. Photo courtesy of Amanda Salazar.

SPP: What was your pain level? Were you experiencing pain all the time?

                Oh, yeah. It was a lot. So, the surgeon told me the outlook was exactly this: ‘You need to find another profession. Hopefully, you went to school for something other than this fitness stuff. You need to get a treadmill. You’re going to be walking the rest of your life. You’ll probably have pain, but you’ll probably have to move to Arizona in a few years, because you’re going to have arthritis everywhere. I don’t guarantee anything. Maybe this won’t be your future, but I think it is. You need to be mentally prepared for it.’ He was very honest.

SPP: How did you respond to that?

                I said, ‘I don’t believe that.’ That’s the only thing I said. Anything I accomplished from that date I have mailed letters to him with pictures. I’ve probably sent twenty or thirty of them. I was in that brace and couldn’t do anything. Home care people had to bathe me for four or five months. After that I was in physical therapy for three and half years. After the first year, I got back to doing my business and I ran my first 5-mile race six months after.

SPP: Six months after the accident you ran a five-mile race?

                Mm-hmm. And my first marathon a year after. So, the surgeon said to stay in bed. I didn’t. I went home and gave myself five days. I took myself off all of the pain medications and I started with one-pound dumbbells. Even if I couldn’t walk at the time, I was doing upper body stuff. And then finally, when I would feel good, I would go around the block and I would walk around it one time, which would take me an hour. I would suffer the rest of the day, be in pain all night. I wouldn’t care, because I knew it was the only way I would get stronger faster. My mom was like, ‘You shouldn’t do that, you’re in pain all of the time.’ And I told her lying in bed was not the answer.

SPP: So, a lot of people would’ve been devastated after receiving that diagnosis. You for some reason went absolutely against that diagnosis and were driven, once again, to getting back on your feet. Where did that come from? What was going on in your mind that motivated you like that?

                I had a lot of hard days, don’t get me wrong. I remember there were days where it felt my life was ruined. But people in the community found out and the mailman would just come to me. I couldn’t count, there were hundreds of letters from people in the community of ‘If you need anything…’ or ‘My son got in an accident. You seem to be doing well, do you think you’ll be able to talk to him?’ I visited a lot of people in the hospital. It helped me, it was kind of therapeutic. But I think it was my knowledge, because as I went through my education I learned you have to do therapy, be active. There was one girl three months before my accident who came in to the gym I co-owned and she had a similar surgery on her back and she didn’t do the therapy and stayed in bed and she looked like she had aged ten years, could barely walk, all hunched over. I remembered that. I did not want that. I knew I had to do this, I had to be active. I was hating not being able to exercise, anyway. My physical therapist said it would take a lot of time and effort and patience, but you will definitely get back there. I remember crying because he handed me a one-pound weight and he said, ‘You’re not even going to be able to start using these until two or three months.” I remember it was devastating. He helped me through it a lot. I think that was the one piece that was missing for me to work with all types of people. I wasn’t understanding of people who had come from physical therapy or come from an accident and their lack of motivation or why they didn’t want to try. I went through it all, so I can connect better. Four years of physical therapy made me so wise; I learned so much from my physical therapist. I’d even meet with him separately and go over his books and learn about injury prevention, how to work with knee injuries. That closed up that last gap that I didn’t feel strong with: injuries, knee issues, arthritis and how to deal with that and sympathize the right way and motivate those people without making them feel down or yelled at like a mom. I became also a motivation to them, because I would have some people tell me, ‘I can’t do this’ and then I tell them my story and they connect that possibility for them to do what they love again.

SPP: What is your physical condition now?

                Physically, I’m in great shape. The one thing that people don’t realize about me is my back hurts all the time. I forget about it. It’s there right now from sitting. It aches at night. Ten years later I still have to do my therapy exercises on my neck every day. If I don’t I’m in pain everywhere. My whole body just aches. I do have pain in my back, because I used to be malleable in the middle and now I’m just fused. So, all of these muscles around there get tired, because they’re moving, but the middle isn’t. Sometimes it’s worse than others, because of what I put myself through during the day. I think I mentally push it out and ignore it after a while. I do have numbness in my back. I remember a year later, somebody at the gym patted me on the back and I totally ignored them, I didn’t feel it. They messaged me later wondering if I was upset with them and I was like, “What are you talking about?” I used to not have feeling all the way across my back from all of the nerve damage and the work they had to do there. But now I have more feeling there. It’s kind of interesting, because when I get massages they’ll ask, “Should I push harder? I’ve never pushed this hard on anyone before,’ and I’ll say, ‘It feels good to me!’ [laughs] Otherwise, I do cross-fit competitions, I play soccer, I snowboard, I ski, and I do everything and more before I had my accident.

Amanda Salazar

Amanda a few years after her accident. Photo courtesy of Amanda Salazar.

SPP: What advice do you have for anyone struggling with weight, food cravings, or physical adversity?

                I think the most important thing for someone who really wants to fix that is the one thing I worked on last that I wished I worked on first: my mental state. Even when got down to my lowest weight, 106, going into college I felt like I was fat, still didn’t have good self-esteem, I didn’t love the way I looked, wasn’t positive about my body. I think for anyone who is struggling with that, it starts from the inside out. You can do all of the outside stuff, but that’s why so many people go backwards. They haven’t figured out the inside first, what’s in their head. I’m not just talking about positive self-talk. I’m talking about body image disorder. There is such a thing. I have it. You know where you look at the mirror and just don’t see what you should see. There are different levels of that. People who are struggling first need to talk to someone about it, whether it’s a life coach or someone who is focused on those kinds of issues. Generally those issues arise from something in the past that made you emotionally eat. For example, a lot of emotional eaters there are things that have happened in their family or going on in their family or their work life. Sometimes they failed somewhere in life and that failure has caused them to go to these other things, whether they’re smoking, eating, drinking.

Sometimes, too, when you get used to it, you’re used to it. What I find most is that people who are wanting to change their lifestyle it’s easier not to. You hate being there, but it’s easiest, so you keep doing it. You hate yourself more. So, it’s this never-ending cycle. Getting healthier is harder. I really think that you have to find someone to get your mind right to be more successful. After that, I really think you’re looking at a lot of things. Don’t do the All or Nothing approach. It never works. If you’re always going back to where you were, you’re always starting over. Who likes that? I really think it’s important to take things a little bit at a time, because it can be overwhelming to be working on eating, stretching, exercise and all of these things that you quit. So, find one thing and make it a habit. Work on your diet, while, in the meantime, go walking three times a week. Make it consistent for two months. Then, when that isn’t hard anymore, try something new exercise-wise. Then start working on nutrition a little bit at a time. Again, not all or nothing. You’re not going to just eat veggies. The biggest problem I find with people is there is a science behind nutrition for everyone’s body. Nobody is the same. So, people think they can go Paleo, clean or with this diet or that diet, but it doesn’t matter, because your body is a different shape and size, your metabolic rate is different than everybody else’s. So, what might work for you for a while won’t continuously work, because it’s not for your body. I think nutritionally, people should save money and get a qualified, certified nutritionist that will tell that person what their calorie needs are, what types of foods their body needs and at what portion. It’s not about diet, diet, diet. It’s about finding the best program that’s best for your body type and the way your body works. I think that’s the last thing people invest in. They don’t see the benefits. I think if you have a good diet you’re eating enough and have energy. Once you have an understanding of how much you need to eat – not how little you need to eat – then you can start working out. Then when you’re working out you won’t feel like you’re starving. You won’t feel like you have no energy or nauseous. I think it’s very important that the nutrition gets focused on first. Then add the other things.

SPP: Your story is an incredible inspiration, which makes you an amazing role model for women. Who are some women who’ve inspired you over the years?

                That question’s been asked of me. It’s so funny, because years ago I really liked Michael Jordan, only because I liked his tongue when he dunked. That’s what I got from him. [laughs] But there are two women I feel made the biggest impact in my life through everything. My mom because she worked four jobs and had her own business, too. So, when I was in first or second grade she started teaching me about business. I remember I knew how to use everything in Microsoft Office when I was in third grade. Because she would need to do a mailing and she had me typing addresses in an address book in Excel. Or she would have me sit at the computer with her while she was creating her flyers and show me what to use and why people can’t see red very much and all of these things about promotion and marketing. I was helping her along the way, not even realizing I was learning and being better prepared. I would be her little line worker, like I’d stuff letters. She’d tell me why she was sending this mailing out. She said, ‘It’s important to have a newsletter if you have a business, because they want to feel like they’re a part of that business and they’re getting updated on things you have for sale.’ Soon enough I got into 7th or 8th grade and I started a little gift basket business, because she had one. I was doing my own marketing for that. Then I realized when you buy candy at Costco and divide it by the cost each candy bar is only fifteen cents. That was so cheap! The student store sold them for $1.50! So, I would buy those boxes and I would carry the bars in my backpack. There was a break in the morning where the student store was selling candy bars and donuts. I started selling mine in the commons of the building I was in. So, I undersold the student store and made mad money, because I sold them for a little bit cheaper. And I had more variety.

SPP: So you were competition for your student store!

Oh yeah! I had made so much money! I did it for almost a year until they finally realized. I actually got called in to the principal. They told me that their student store sales were going down and someone told them that someone was selling. Then they told me it was illegal that you couldn’t sell stuff for profit. I had to stop or get expelled. So, I got a lot of that entrepreneurship from my mom. She’s been my support and taught me about business know-how.

My other personal role model is Beth Daniels. She was the fitness instructor at the Y. She was the one who asked me to be a fitness instructor. I used to look at her and be like, ‘Wow, she’s 35 or 40 and look at those biceps! She’s so fit!’ In my life I didn’t see that. My friends’ moms were all overweight and I saw her and was like, ‘I want to be like her! I want to be that when I’m her age. I want to be healthy and strong. She’s amazing!’ She was always energetic. She taught me all I needed to know about teaching classes, how to count beats, how to memorize stuff, how to create classes. She taught me a lot of stuff I didn’t learn in the certification classes. I’d end up sitting in on meetings about financial planning for her department. I learned a lot from her. She was running races and doing all of these things. She was a really good mentor for me. I ended up being her permanent sub and then I ended up taking over a class. When the Briggs facility was built I was an Assistant Fitness Instructor and taught over half the classes, because they only had the director and me when they opened. She really was a big focus in terms of helping me get where I am today.

SPP: Are there any parting words of encouragement or upcoming events in your business you’d like to share?

                On March 11 we’re having a Ladies Night here. There will be a lot of women who own businesses from clothing to facial products. We’re doing a clothing swap where you bring gently used clothes and anything that you don’t wear – maybe is too small or big or you’ve only worn once – and we put it in a pile and a person gets three minutes to go through and pick four items. We’re having a Buti Yoga Class that night. We’ll have skinny cocktails and healthy bites.

As for words of encouragement, when it comes to my profession I always like to tell people that they are worth more than a number. Everything in their life makes them worth something. Some people focus on being a size 8 or fitting in this and don’t look in the mirror and see anything. But nobody looks like them. They are beautiful, strong and worth more than they think. A number doesn’t define you. A pants size doesn’t define you. Your children, family, characteristics, friends that love you. You need to start with that and believe in it. Love yourself, because that’s the first way of being successful when it comes to any kind of fitness goal.

SPP: Amanda, it’s been great talking to you and listening to your story. Thank you for joining us.

                Thank you! I appreciate it. Thanks for your time.

Amanda Salazar is a certified personal trainer and owner of Edge Fitness in Tumwater. You can find more information about her business at her website and on Facebook.

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