This woman of great character is driven not by money or fame or the typical American dream, Canada-born Amanda Russell truly loves what she does and is passionate about helping people remove obstacles to achieve success. Amanda’s story is quite appreciable, and she has given us the great gift of telling it to us herself in her interview below. She shared that suffering an injury that derailed her soon-to-be dream come true of being an Olympic athlete “was probably the lowest point of my life. I was completely lost. But had that not happened, I wouldn’t be where I am now. It just goes to show that the worst possible thing that could happen to you has a way of working itself out if you continue to push on.”
Once a teammate helped her realize her life wasn’t over just because she couldn’t run anymore, she moved to New York City and enrolled in business school which gave her a student visa but didn’t allow her to work a normal day job. Doing what she had to do and not sure how long she’d be able to maintain bartending at night and going to school during the day, she was approached at work about becoming a fitness model for Wilhelmina International. Had she been working a daytime office job, this opportunity would’ve never come into her existence.
Landing the campaign and becoming one of the first full-time fitness models awarded her the time and money to finish school. Using what she was learning while getting her marketing MBA in digital economy (at the same time as earning her personal training certification and nutrition certification), she started a video blog which quickly became the fastest growing fitness channels at the time.
Fit, Strong and Sexy now provides women of all ages and goals a personalized nutrition guide and grocery lists, workout routines and videos, open access to her own fitness library containing thousands of articles written by her and hundreds of videos performed by her (with a new one every week), and a members-only online community where strangers become family fueled by inspiration and encouragement. Amanda acknowledges that everyone has an excuse as to why they can’t reach their fitness goals but “if they know that you have confidence in them, it’s amazing to watch a person transform and really step up.”
By building Fit, Strong and Sexy from the ground up, figuring everything out herself, learning everything from trial and error, and ultimately building a successful business with more than 80,000 monthly paying subscribers since launched in 2011, she realized she could help other businesses build their entire brand from scratch. Interesting Agency, by referral only, was born.
Amanda attributes how she’s turned out to her mom, “everyone’s favorite person and one of the smartest people I know.” A very real, down-to-Earth woman not oppressed by materialism who taught Amanda to keep her head on straight. Understanding the importance of the American way yet keeping the rawness of small-town Canada has worked in Amanda’s favor and has created a humble and wise woman. “One of the biggest benefits of failure is if you remove your ego so that there is nothing, like when you are at your lowest point, there is nothing that you’re too above or too proud of, you’re like I might as well!”
Thank you, Amanda, for sharing your story of perseverance with us. We wish you all the best in life.
How did it all start? What made you decide to pursue this path?
This is a great question, I was going to give you a one-two generic line (like most of us do in most interviews, because it’s just easier and no one has attention spans, right)? But then I thought about it....decided, you know what- this is Lipstick Sister, I’m going to actually tell you the real story. It’s the REAL stories, and REAL women like you that stand out and make the difference, and I hope that my story resonates and that you will see parts of yourself in it.
Ready? Here goes (about 5 min read, so skip to next question if and bookmark this if you don’t have 5 minutes, but DO come back to it – you’ll hopefully see why.... I am actually a Northern Canadian girl from a small town over 4 hours north of Toronto. You know a town is removed when it doesn’t even qualify for a Starbucks.... This small remote town served as the genesis of my career. I love where I’m from, and my family, but when I was in high school, I knew there had to be a bigger world and I needed to see more. But I wasn’t privileged by money or connections, so I needed to find my own way out. My way – what I came up with -- was to run. I had to run right out of there to – eventually – make it back to here. But this really isn’t about running the exercise, it’s about the metaphor, the meaning, the lessons learned, so as I talked about running, think about your own passion, what fuels you, what gets you going.
My father introduced me to running. He made it seem like an invitation to something special. He taught me that running was the most fitting metaphor for life. That it’s all about the path, not the destination. Having a proper attitude, focus, and being passionate about your aspirations. Running is the most equal sport. It’s not expensive, you can do it anywhere – even the great north of Canada. All you need is willpower – commitment and miles. Those runs with my dad grew into longer runs and more frequent. Eventually, I was running more than my father, running became part of myself and I trained hard and eventually ran my way to a full scholarship to a prestigious Division 1 American University in a warm (laughter) southern city. With a few Starbucks.
But training with this team moved me up to another level of commitment. I was training for the Olympics – mile after five-minute mile -- and I was fiercely determined, obsessed even. While everyone else was out having a great time making friends and going out on the town, I was training, I carried long hard grueling hours on the track, racing, thinking, running, thinking, AND THEN RUNNING SOME MORE! ALL while keeping to a full-time school load, it required more mental and physical strength than I ever imagined I could endure. I was stressed...and scared. Scared of failing, scared I would quit. I had wanted this more than anything, given everything for it but now that I was ALMOST THERE, I didn’t know if I could handle it. I’ll never forget my turning point. If you’ve ever spiraled down from something and bounced back I’m sure you can vividly remember your turning point. For me it came at the USA pre-nationals near the end of my very first season in the United States, I had really only just begun and there I was on a dark Friday night before my Saturday race, there I was, sitting on the bathroom floor, crying, the intense pressure, the fear of failure, I was overwhelmed and sobbing like a child. But it was out of this minor breakdown – I realized I had 2 options:
One, I could quit. Just pack it in.
Or two, I could dive in further and not look back. So, sitting there, on the bathroom floor, I decided I had worked too hard for this and quitting was not an option. I made the decision to change my attitude...to be ALL IN. We’ve all been faced with these decisions, if you go with option one, you retreat back to what you know, what is within your comfort zone, what is ‘safe.’ But if you choose option one you have to be ok with the fact that you will never know what you are truly capable of.
For me, I knew I would forever wonder, forever feel as though I was living short of my purpose. When it gets hard, you have to make a conscious choice, look at the bigger vision for your life, and if you want it, make the decision to go through the pain, to embrace it, to do what it takes. Stop the questions, turn your brain off to these negative thoughts. What I realized was more than training the body, you have to train the mind, and it’s truly incredible what it’s capable of. And it was because of this decision that my running career soared to new levels I didn’t know I had in me. My sights weren’t just set on the Olympics, I was winning all over, breaking records, university records, course records, and my mind was set on OLYMPIC RECORDS. I was reaching new heights. I was on fire, ....and then it all came to a screeching halt. I suffered a terrible, almost unheard of stress fracture in my femur and I was told I would never run again and possibly always walk with a limp. In one week I went from being a national record-holding, Nike-sponsored, Olympic-bound athlete, to being an immobile 20 year old who, in one week lost, not only my ability to run for the rest of my life, but I lost career, my income, my sponsors, my U.S. visa, my Olympic dream and what felt like a lifetime of work. It felt like a death, and a part of me really did die that week, but had that not happened, I would not be here today.
As I’m sure many of you know, your passion often becomes a part of your identity, your career, your love, your life. And so when it’s taken from you, whether that’s in the form of an injury or illness, it’s as if a part of you dies. And it’s through these setbacks that you truly begin to understand the depth of what life is about... For me, that setback ended my life, as I knew it at the age of 20 years old. Sounds traumatic right? 20 years old, life over, simply because I couldn’t run, but that is how it felt to me at the time – when you are going through something, you can get completely caught in your head and it becomes hard, if not impossible, to look at your life and your choices through an objective lens.
After going through the whole grieving process, I came out of it knowing that more than anything else, I wanted to feel alive again to get that challenge back, that passion back and to make that passion my life’s work. You see when I could no longer run, I thought the future as I aspired for, was over, I’d have to settle for something else, something less. But that wasn’t true, the most interesting, the most powerful and exciting lives and careers aren’t handed to you, and they don’t come easy, if they did, would they even be that great?
Today I have what I call my family: The Fit Strong and Sexy online community of women around the world who are extraordinary. Our members come from all places in their lives, and I believe creating this was my real life purpose. Yes, it’s a fitness program, a nutrition and motivation hub, but it’s so much more. While many women start to get into shape, they end up transforming their lives in ways they didn’t know was possible. I consider these women my sisters, and it is a life changing experience. I encourage you to check it out or share it with someone you care about.
If you don't have to struggle to win, to succeed, to be great, then can you even call it greatness? It's the struggle and all that is necessary to overcome the seeming impossibilities that humans find awe-inspiring. If it comes easy, it isn't worth praise. Keep in mind the difference between failing to be great and failing to even attempt to be great. You learn a lot from trying your very best and then realizing your very best isn't good enough — yet. You learn absolutely nothing, however, from never giving yourself a chance to fail. Not until it's too late. So today, I no longer run in the physical sense, but what running had given to me was both the greatest failure and the gift that changed my life and has enabled me to help so many others.
You see, failure on the scale that I had, stripped me of any ego, ultimately setting me free to understand true passion and the perseverance it takes to find it, even when the path is not clear or conventional. For me that passion was fitness, all things fitness from the exercise itself to the psychological and emotional elements of it, but that passion could’ve been anything. When you’ve had the experience of doing something you love, you cannot settle for less. I decided if I couldn’t go to the pinnacle of the athletic world, the Olympics, I wanted to go to the pinnacle of the corporate world, New York City. So I moved to the big apple, NYC – a place, which growing up, I thought only existed in the movies. I wasn’t legal, had no credit history, didn’t know a soul, and yet I managed to build a life and the career of my dreams.... (see the most incredible Woman-Headed Agency: Interesting Agency) How? Not because I was smarter, or harder working than others. The key, what shaped me more than anything, was recognizing the power of passion and persistence to go after what you want. And it is this that became the guiding principle that set the stage for EVERYTHING I have done in my life.
What steps did you have to take to conquer your goal of being a business owner?
See answer above think I ‘over wrote the answer’ lol
How do you manage envy, ego or jealousy from getting in the way of your dreams?
We are all only human, it is only natural to experience these feelings. Don’t trust anyone who says they never feel envy or jealousy. However, just like anything, it is manageable, we are in control of how we react to it, let it manifest and it will only ruin you, or turn it around and you rule. The best thing you can do with jealousy and envy, is to learn from those you admire, develop quality relationships. When we collaborate vs compete, we ALL rise!
What are some of the qualities you believe a person must have to build their own business/brand?
To really succeed, and do what is REALLY needed to be successful there’s no one magic ‘tip’ or formula (wouldn’t that defeat the concept of deeming something ‘success’), but here are some ‘definites’ in my experience:
Leave your ego at the door, you cannot be afraid to fail, or to do things that are beneath you.’ If you never fail, you really aren’t living a very full life.
You MUST learn other aspects of business. ex. Every entrepreneur is passionate about ‘What they do’, their ‘idea’, but if they don’t put the same effort into learning all the other aspects that make a business successful, they will never reach lasting success. (ex. Know the finances, run the numbers on everything,....write your own business plan...)
Lastly, true entrepreneurs don’t separate work from life, their work is their life and vice versa, and they love it that way. You work 24/7, but you also don’t work at all. Not sure that makes sense, but I have a feeling every entrepreneur knows what I mean.
What do you love most about your profession?
It is what I live for, thrive upon. Seeing people transform in the way I do is truly incredible. What may seem like just ‘physically aesthetics,’ always becomes so much more and has a positive trickling effect on every aspect of their lives. My agency, Interesting Agency, is an extension of this. It was created, alongside Natalie Minh, with the vision to help entrepreneurs all over the globe realize their dreams through a creative, comprehensive, and personal plan of action. You come up with the mission – together, we make it happen.
I have seen women trapped in miserable marriages because they were financially and emotionally dependent, not only become independent, but confident, happy, and completely NEW people! It’s absolutely miraculous!
If you were to pinpoint a few tools for success, what would they be?
Yes, it’s about passion BUT don’t fool yourself, nothing great doesn’t take hard and smart work. Meaning you need to get out of your comfort zone and do things you may not necessarily WANT to do, but know you need to do.
What advice would you give a young girl about getting out in the “real” world?
NOTHING is too far out of reach. You will never know if you don’t go after it. Set your sites high, and then make a tangible action plan to go after it.
Finding a mentor is key. Do you have a female mentor or idol growing up who has significantly impacted your life? How?
I have many....these women are my posse, my family, I would do anything for them, and them for me. You know who you are. I am also blessed to be able to be a mentor – you may actually get more from it than you will ever receive.
What/who inspires YOU to get through each day and overcome every challenge?
Knowing that EVERY challenge and obstacle’s outcome is your decision. It’s like hitting a major hill on a run, you need to turn up the mental strength and power.
What is your definition of BEAUTIFUL?
There is nothing more beautiful than a truly warm, kind, honest and confident person.
What is your favorite shade of Lipstick?
Depends on the occasion, the time of year, the outfit. Ranges from nude to dark red.
Why do you think women’s organizations like Lipstick Sister are important?
Relationships are what make life worth living. Having an incredible group of women for support and empowerment is life changing. I know, it has changed my life.
Do you have a favorite quote that empowers you, if so, share it with us!
Stop worrying about what you have to lose, and start focusing on what you have to gain.