Picture of Fitness
Behind one Pacific Grove cover girl’s photo lies a surprising story of will.
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Lea Newman poses on the cover of Ms. Fitness magazine’s July 2007 issue wearing a burgundy bikini and a pearly smile. Droplets of water cascade around her body. She shares the cover with colorful callouts that pronounce “Find Your Balance,” “The Ultimate in On-Line Training,” and, almost demurely, “Lea Newman: Rising Fitness Star.” The 5-foot, 4-inch woman looks the quintessential fitness princess, a natural for magazine covers.
“People assume that I’ve lived my whole life this way,” she says, sitting in the living room of her modest ocean-view Pacific Grove house. “They think that I can eat anything and stay lean. They couldn’t be more wrong. I was a couch potato growing up.”
Years spent pursuing a degree in International Studies in Hawaii, studying Chinese linguistics at the DLI and working full time kept Newman, 31, distracted from what was happening to her body. Photographs from 2001—she calls them “chubby photos”—show a fundamentally different person from the chiseled woman that moves purposefully and gracefully about her house.
“In my mind’s eye, I looked great,” she says. “But when I saw these pictures, I could finally see that I was bigger than I thought I was. I had a moment of clarity.”
She immediately began clearing her shelves of the culprits of her extra weight: ice cream, sodas (“Mountain Dew was my weakness”), frozen pizzas and lots of chocolate went in the garbage. Non-perishables went to a food bank. The next morning she exercised for 20 minutes, then, because there was no food in the house, went shopping for a whole new diet.
She parceled out a space for the time to exercise. She started slowly (“I believe in baby steps”), incorporating healthier practices into her life rather than launching into a finite diet. Then she told everyone what she was doing, thereby creating an environment in which she couldn’t escape her commitment. More than that, by sharing her goals, she not only got support from her friends and family, but they began to emulate her.
“My father has lost over 50 pounds since January. My mom lost 35, my boyfriend: 45 and counting.”
She set other specific goals. She decided to run a marathon, and did. Then, after seeing a Ms. Fitness competition on TV, she decided she wanted to be there on that stage. Three years later, in 2005, she won both the Ms. Fitness Hawaiian Islands and Natural Olympia competitions, and went on to place 12th among 40 competitors at last year’s Ms. Fitness National Contest.
At the moment, she has her eyes set on the 2007 Natural Olympia coming in November. “I’m a pro, but there’s always something else to learn,” she says.
To that end, she has used a personal trainer, a nutritionist, a life coach and a competition coach in her pursuit of the peaks of fitness, though now she is informed enough to train on her own.
“I’m in competition mode now,” she says, pointing to her food scale on the kitchen counter. “I count every calorie of food that goes into my mouth. I have to control what I’m eating.”
Newman has also added a roster of clients who employ her as a personal trainer. She takes them to the picturesque Lovers Point Park, or to her garage, which she’s converted into a mini gym stocked with trampoline, bike, free weights, treadmill, rollerblades, gear and trophies.
She also teaches fitness classes at Energia Body Center. “It’s not your momma’s aerobics class,” she assures. “When I teach, I don’t go light.
“But you have to enjoy it. If you don’t like the exercise, you won’t keep it up for long. If people do something they love—biking, swimming, walking, whatever—they get addicted to it.”
Newman employs two words over and over as twin guiding philosophies: “balance” and “journey.” Though wildly enthusiastic about fitness, Newman says her military life is just as important to her. Now an Air Force captain, she spent six years as an enlisted soldier, eventually earning her bachelor’s degree.
“I originally signed up for four years. Now I’m in my 11th year and loving it.”
She structures her journey around specific goals and baby steps, and emphasizes the importance of getting support, loving what one does, and marching toward something bigger. For her, that something is “the Complex,” a long-term vision for a comprehensive health-and-wellness center that incorporates different disciplines in one marketplace. She suspects the Complex is grand enough that it won’t manifest itself until after she retires from the Air Force and after she has completed her “tons” of goals.
Not bad for a former couch potato.