Breaking down barriers: How one Havasu woman is changing lives | Local News Stories
Editor’s note: Stephanie Lueras is a body-positive fitness instructor based in Lake Havasu City. Starting today, Today’s News-Herald will feature a health and fitness column by Lueras every Thursday. You can find it in the opinion section of the Havasu News site.
About seven years ago, Stephanie Lueras decided she was done feeling sick and tired. It was time for a change — or rather, several small changes.
Over the many months ahead, Lueras shed more than 200 pounds. Her success was a testament to her methods and helped her transition into a new phase of life as the owner of Heart and Sole Fitness & Wellness. She uses her expertise as a body-positive certified personal trainer and fitness nutrition specialist to help individuals identify their passions, how they want to feel (inside and out), and how to make that happen through finding what kind of exercise they love, changing up their diet and habits — and doing so in a sustainable way.
“So many times along the way, we get these grand ideas of what we want to do along the way, and then it doesn’t work because we’re working 40 to 60 hours a week, and these grand plans don’t fit in with that,” Lueras said. “We see so many people that, through the years, have gone through the cycle of diet after diet after diet, and they get it in their minds that, ‘I just can’t do this,’ that eating well just isn’t for me — or they find an exercise video on YouTube and it’s the worst experience ever, and so they’re just like, ‘Well, I just can’t exercise. It’s not for me.’”
But it’s all about finding what works for you as an individual — not following every new diet trend that emerges or suffering through grueling workouts every day.
“It might be the adapted fitness for your ability or for your body shape or for an illness or an injury,” she added. “There’s so many different components to it as different individuals, so it’s really breaking down all those barriers to find what it is that’s going to work for you.”
Lueras has a gym set up in her own home, where she can do one-on-one sessions with her clients in a comfortable setting. The pandemic has also allowed her to offer virtual sessions as well, for those who aren’t quite ready to come in person.
“It’s wonderful because so much of what we do with fitness in most situations doesn’t require a lot of equipment,” she said. “We get the idea in our heads that we need to be in a particular space, that we need all this stuff, and all the different bells and whistles to get a really good workout. No — actually, all we need is our body and we can do a lot of really cool things with it.”
It was her own personal fitness journey that led her to this calling, Lueras said.
“I’m a person that has been overweight my entire life,” she explained. “I’ve been on every diet you could possibly imagine and have been through this cycle myself.”
Right after she and her husband moved to Lake Havasu City in 2014, she came to a place in her life where she was ready for something different.
“So that really started this goal-centered practice of changing those habits and finding those little pieces that needed to be worked on, needed to be changed,” Lueras said. “That’s how I came into this practice of finding all the little bits and pieces that fit into your life, that work around what we have.”
That was a key component — working fitness and wellness into life’s existing priorities. She and her husband used to run the local Salvation Army, eventually even branching out to the Bullhead City and Laughlin area, which was a “24/7 career.” They would work anywhere from 60 to 80 hours a week, running back and forth across the county and filling in the gaps when employees weren’t available.
“It wasn’t the restrictive diets or what we envision as someone that goes out on a typical weight loss journey,” she said. “It was just those everyday small changes that sparked the big results.”
One vital change was finding a fitness method that truly sparked joy for her — endurance sports.
Lueras started with running marathons, slowly building up the miles before she transitioned into triathlon competitions. She’s been working up to the half-Iron Man distance and was planning to compete in her first full Iron Man this year. The pandemic pushed it into 2021. Next year, she also plans on competing in two half-Iron Man triathlons.
“One of the hardest things was fighting my perception of what other people’s judgments were because the reality is, [with] the body type that I have, I am never going to be the typical endurance athlete,” Lueras said. “I am just a large-bodied person, but that doesn’t detract from my ability, my worth and the fact that I’ve put in the time and the training and have ponied up to the start line just like everybody else, and I’m coming across the finish line, just like everybody else.”
The best part about her work is she gets to help others find what sparks joy for them, as well.
“I love seeing the lightbulb moments, that it’s not as hard as we make it out to be,” Lueras said. “When we sit down, and we have a conversation, and we see how the little pieces start to stack together — whether it is something in nutrition or something that we’re progressively building up on in fitness — how someone’s whole demeanor changes when something clicks for them… That’s like that proud parent moment.”