Pushed by Pain, Pulled by Purpose

TAGS: story, Julia Anto, Ohio State University, OSU, motivation, BarBELLES, Alycia Israel, Strong(her), personal training, strength, dave tate, training, Julia Ladewski

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If you have not read Part 1 and Part 2 of this article series, check those out and come back to this thereafter.

As traumatic and, quite frankly, sad as the first two parts of this series were, this part, the happy part, could not have been written. Although the saying “everything happens for a reason” is super cliché, it is 100 percent accurate in my story.

After the party incident, I changed my major for the spring semester from biology to exercise science. I wanted to learn how to become strong and teach other women to become strong as well. My first spring semester in the exercise science track was full of exercise physiology and anatomy classes. I absolutely loved going to class and soaked up everything I could.


RECENT: Pushed by Pain: The College Blur


I was eager to learn more, so I applied for a fitness floor student employee position at the university rec center. I ended up getting hired for that position, and it was there that I met my first mentor, Ben Hartman. Nowadays, people know Ben as the owner of Morphogen Nutrition, but back then he was the fitness and wellness manager at the University of Akron.

During my four years working at the rec center, Ben taught me the skills I needed to succeed and filled in the science and educational gaps of my degree. I am not trying to sound anti-college and education here, not at all. But if you think you can read some outdated books and take some tests to become a master at your craft, you’re naïve.

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Ben pushed me to become better and challenged me every day. While working for Ben, I took on every fitness position available at the rec center to broaden my skill set and to be the best at everything. I was the first personal trainer ever hired at the university, and one of my first clients lost 100 pounds in the 1.5 years that we worked together. It was also through Ben that I developed a passion for powerlifting and bodybuilding, which expanded my training and nutrition knowledge even further.

Toward the end of my undergraduate career, I met my second mentor, Coach Amanda Kephart. She was the head strength and conditioning coach at Akron General Sports Performance Center. That semester was my internship semester, and even though I had already committed to an internship at a private gym, I decided to do another simultaneously so I could intern for Amanda. While all my classmates did one internship, I was the overachiever who did two. I was that girl in class.

Amanda was awesome because she was extremely professional and kind, but she didn’t take any shit either. She was strong as fuck, and even as she walked, you could just sense her power. She expected 110 percent out of her athletes and me every single day, no excuses. She intimidated the hell out me honestly, but that motivated me to surpass her expectations and make her proud.

At that time, being a female strength coach was pretty rare, so I feel like she expected more out of me than her male interns. She wanted me to be the best. I will just never forget how much confidence she gave me from being an all-around empowering influence on my life.

After undergrad, I received a graduate assistant position at the university for fitness and wellness (aka Ben’s assistant). It was during my graduate school years I began competing in powerlifting and the figure division of bodybuilding. What I loved most about my early competition years was that it was a fucking wake-up call. The amount of discipline and patience required for those two sports is out of this world. It gave me a whole new perspective on work ethic and achievement.

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During my last semester of grad school, I started applying for collegiate fitness and wellness positions as well as strength and conditioning positions. At the time, Ohio State University had a unique fitness position open so I said fuck it, why not, and applied. Lo and behold, I got an in-person interview! I nearly shit my pants.


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About two weeks after the interview, I received a voicemail notifying me I was chosen for the position. I literally cried in my car. I was absolutely in shock that my first “big girl” job would be at Ohio State. In about six weeks, I moved all my stuff from Akron to Columbus and put on my scarlet and grey.

At Ohio State, I was hired as the first fitness programs coordinator. In this position, I was in charge of developing more specialty fitness programs for the students outside of group and fitness and personal training. My first event was a partnership with Lululemon, in which we did a large yoga class on the oval. Within my first year, I coordinated over 52 special events ranging from themed group classes, a Tail’s-a-Waggin’ 5K in partnership with the Capital Area Humane Society, Couch to 5K program, NFL Combine event with OSU football, and OSU’s first-ever women-only strength training program, Buckeye BarBELLES.

It was also during this time that I held a strength seminar featuring Julia (Ladewski) Anto, and the elitefts crew came to film her presentation. After getting to know the staff and Dave Tate a little bit better over time and training at the S5 Compound, I started volunteering for their events and building those relationships. I loved and still love everything elitefts stands for, so anything they needed at the time, I would be happy to do.

After about a year of building this relationship, I officially became part of the team as a columnist, and a few years later, I would become the event coordinator. Throughout my involvement with elitefts, Dave has played such an integral part in my growth as a professional, for which I can never thank him enough.

Two years into the fitness programs coordinator position, the personal training coordinator position opened up and I immediately jumped to the plate. I loved fitness programs but personal training was where my heart was. They hired me into that position in 2014, and I remained in that role until July 2019.

While in the personal training role, I oversaw all of the student personal trainers and grew our staff from 21 to 60 trainers by January 2019. I also created the first personal training education program, BuckeyePT Prep, in which students had to undergo a full semester of training with me on top of getting nationally certified in order to work as a personal trainer at OSU.

People always joked that they knew when BuckeyePT Prep started by the students they would see running stairs all the time (I would make my new trainers run stairs if they ever came late to a class or small group session).

All the while I was at Ohio State and planning elitefts events, I was also running an online training business. What once was a side hustle soon exploded into a full-time endeavor that I absolutely loved.

Around January 2019, I knew that I had to make a choice between Ohio State and my online training business, as I simply couldn’t juggle both of them anymore. This was by far the hardest decision I ever had to make. I loved my job at OSU, but I reached a point in my career where I wanted to step into uncharted territory and take a chance. I’ve always dreamed of running my own business and creating some cool shit that will help people. That’s all I have ever loved doing: creating cool shit that helps people. I feel like I gave everything I could to OSU, and now it’s time to focus on something new.


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As of Thursday, August 1st, 2019, I have been running Alycia’s Barbell full-time. My living room is now my office, and I have two furry assistants that are not helpful but mean well. I’ve never been so terrified and excited in my life, which tells me I am probably on the right track.

At the end of the day, everything that has happened in my life, good and bad, has led to this: meeting amazing people, learning how to be the best, creating cool shit, and living my passion. Even with all of the bad stuff, I do not know how I got so lucky in life. Damn, do I feel fucking lucky. I never thought in a million years I would be presented with these opportunities. My early years were not great, and I easily could have used them as an excuse, a crutch, or a reason for why I gave up.

I hope my story encourages you to realize that your past does not hold you back, no matter the story. There is always a way to use negative experiences for good and help others. It is also at that point you are no longer pushed by pain, but otherwise, pulled by purpose.

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Part 1: Pushed by Pain

Part 2: The College Blur

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