By Debra Lee Baldwin, August 2015
Five weeks ago, as I drove the roller coaster that is Lotus Pond Lane (arguably Hidden Meadows’ most up-and-down road), I hoped that finding a competent and affordable personal trainer a mere five minutes from home wasn’t too much to hope for.
I recalled the humiliation of going to an exercise class of hard-bodied women half my age at 24-Hour Fitness in Escondido, during which I longed to be closer to the exit door. When had it happened that I was no longer svelte, strong and flexible?
I learned about Amy Van Liew from the Meadowlark, and knew she conducted classes, but my self-esteem (due to the Fitness Center fiasco) was at an all-time low. I didn’t care how nice my classmates might be, or how sympathetic in regard to my inability to keep up. I wanted the instructor’s undivided attention. Hadn’t I earned it? If Cher can have a personal trainer, why not me?
I’m easily distracted by architecture—actually, when it comes to exercise, by anything—so I soon forgot why I had come. Amy and Ed Van Liew’s home is a contemporary aerie, with amazing views to the north and east. (You can see it from the T-intersection of Lotus Pond Lane and Hidden Meadows Road, even though, as the crow flies, it’s half a mile away. It’s white.)
“My Personal Trainer”
I was uncertain, at first, if I felt annoyed that the princess of the castle was my height (5’9”) but easily 25 pounds lighter, or pleased. Pleased, I decided, providing she could somehow make me look like her. Especially if the process was relatively simple and painless.
Realistically, I knew it wouldn’t be fast, because I have no intention of doing similar exercises at home. (If I had that kind of determination, I wouldn’t need a personal trainer, would I?)
We chatted for over an hour. I liked her. She’s the only person I’ve ever met who is as keenly interested in my aches and pains as I am (and that includes my doctor). I signed up.
That was ten sessions ago. I know I’m stronger because I used to have to remove two bottles of wine from a Vons’ six-pack in order to lift it higher than my knees. Ha-ha! Now I toss the whole thing into the trunk of my car.
Recently I tried on some black leggings that date to my aerobic dance days. They didn’t look as awful as I’d feared. I may not have lost weight (having no interest in dieting) but I’m firmer.
“You probably shouldn’t put this in the article, but one of my clients says training has improved her sex life,” Amy told me.
I replied, “Why not?” and then, “How?”
“Her husband liked to rub her belly, but she didn’t want him to, because she was self-conscious about it. Becoming more fit has made her more confident.”
Twenty years ago, Ed Van Liew first saw Hidden Meadows when he played golf here. In 1996, realtor Cliff Krueger showed Ed and Amy vacant lots and introduced them to the late Don Butler, who owned much of the land on Lotus Pond Lane—including its ponds. (Long-time members of the Hidden Meadows Garden Club may recall visiting Don, a very sweet man, and learning about aquatic plants.)
The Van Liews, then living in Oceanside, purchased 10 acres and hired an architect to design a house with a flat roof, no eaves and no exposed wood (due to wildfire concerns).
During much of the construction, Ed emailed his wife photos of their home’s progress. Amy, then a project manager with Hewlett-Packard, was overseas, helping to transfer an inkjet print cartridge production line to Singapore. The couple moved into their new home in 2000.
While in college, Amy had weighed a whopping 160. She’s now 135, due in part to discovering the benefits of exercise and good nutrition, and the joys of helping others attain optimal health. While still at HP, in addition to her engineering job, she taught fitness classes for eight years and became a certified integrative nutrition health coach. (She’s also board certified with the American Association of Drugless Practitioners.)
In the summer of 2013, HP closed her division and offered her early retirement. Amy recalls, “When our financial planner said it was OK to accept it, I cried”…but not entirely from happiness. “I had so many friends there. I felt I was losing my identity.” Yet she also recognized an opportunity to pursue what she was truly meant to do. Even so, retiring at 50 “was the hardest decision I’ve ever made.”
Not long afterwards, at a Hidden Meadows social group, Amy was telling all this to Rhonda Hayes Curtis, who exclaimed, “I want a personal trainer!” Rhonda became Amy’s first client. Someone else suggested holding a group exercise class in their spare room, and Amy realized she easily could use her own garage. (I can attest that the Van Liews have a really nice finished garage, with a textured floor and mirrored wall.)
During last summer’s heat waves, Amy held water aerobics classes in her swimming pool, which has views of Valley Center and beyond. And once—how I wish I could have been there!—the class met in the lovely pool of a Rimrock member.
Clients and Classes
Of Amy’s seven clients, all but two are in Hidden Meadows. And although she’s experienced at helping men, all are women. Their ages range from early 50s to 70.
“It has exceeded my expectations, how fast they’ve achieved results with strength training,” Amy says. “They come and flex their biceps.” It’s reasonable to expect to go from 2- to 8-pound weights in three to four months. To Amy’s delight, one woman told her she’s ready to “begin a relationship” with 10-pound weights.
As for people who have chronic physical problems or are recovering from injury, Amy can help them continue to be stronger and more fit once they’re done with physical therapy. She says, “I know when pain means ‘stop’ and when it’s necessary to push through.”
Personally, I’m pleased that lifting weights and balancing on balls under Amy’s guidance hasn’t led to debilitating aches, pains or strains. This is not to say that Amy hasn’t intensified some of the exercises I do. What she does looks easy, but she’s continually evaluating and modifying. If I could sum her up with one word, it would be “gentle.” She’s also caring, sweet and smart. I look forward to my “Amy days.”
Before too long, I might be confident enough to transition from one-on-one sessions to a class. Care to join me? I promise not to notice if you can’t keep up.
Debra Lee Baldwin is a professional journalist and book author. She has lived in Hidden Meadows since 1989.
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