By KEITH NIEBUHR, Times Staff Writer
After working hard to make herself fit, Amy Beckenstein opened a gym, pushing others to do the same.
HARBOUR ISLAND - Amy Beckenstein climbs a stairway of the St. Petes Times Forum parking garage at a feverish pace.
Her arms swing back and forth.
Her legs shoot up and down as she darts toward the top - two steps at a time - then hustles back to the bottom. Behind her, there is huffing, puffing and a whole lot of sweating. The group of women enrolled in her twice-a-week, hour-long boot camp try to keep up.
It isn't easy.
"C'mon, don't slow down!" she shouts like a drill sergeant. "Let's go guys, keep it going!"
At 42, the 5-foot-3 Beckenstein, a South Tampa resident for three years, has thick, rock-solid calves and a chiseled, flat stomach. She chats while everyone else in the group gasps for air.
"She pushes you to a level you don't even know you're capable of," says 30-year-old Lori Chamberlin of Harbour Island, who trains with Beckenstein. "She's absolutely incredible. She stays on top of you."
The personal trainer and gym owner wasn't always this fit.
In 1991, two years after giving birth to her second child, Beckenstein's body had, by her own admission, gotten a bit soft. The realization hit one day when she saw herself in a three-way mirror while shopping.
"I didn't like what I saw," she said. "After two children, the body starts to fall apart if you don't do anything. It wasn't so much that I was chunky. But the weight wasn't in the right place. I knew I needed to fix it. It took a lot of mental motivation."
Beckenstein began taking an aerobics class at age 30 in hopes of a quick fix. But when she showed minimal improvement, she hired a former bodybuilder as her personal trainer.
Things took off from there.
As Beckenstein's training grew more intense, muscle replaced fat and her self-esteem soared. "In about a year, my body changed completely," said Beckenstein, who weighs 125 pounds. Exercise even helped her get through a difficult divorce.
At 38, she appeared in her first fitness competition.
After a while, she began training others.
"When I was a housewife and mom, I did a lot of fundraisers, but it was never really gratifying because I never got to work one on one," she says. "When I got into fitness, a few people said I could help other people."
Beckenstein worked with her first clients at a gym in Carrollwood. It started as a hobby, but as her client base grew, she built a gym in her Harbour Island home. She charged her customers, but was flexible. "I'd barter for nails or something," she says. "I still do that."
The operation continued to expand, mostly through word of mouth. To better serve her clients and reach more customers, Beckenstein opened Rock Bottom Fitness on March 31. She calls her neatly decorated building at 4020 W Kennedy Blvd. a "boutique gym" because of its small, intimate setting.
Rock Bottom has two other trainers and a massage therapist. Beckenstein's three dozen clients come in all shapes and sizes. They vary in age and fitness skill. "Every woman that comes in wants to work on their lower half," she says. "I thought that would be a catchy name. When you've hit rock bottom, come get a rock bottom at Rock Bottom."
Chamberlin began training with Beckenstein nine months ago. After having a child last November, she was 50 pounds overweight. "I normally was pretty healthy, but when I was pregnant I started eating anything and everything," Chamberlin said. "It added up quickly."
To shed pounds, Chamberlin sought the services of Beckenstein, who lives two doors down. Chamberlin first trained solely in Beckenstein's home, but later became the first participant in Beckenstein's boot camp.
"I'm back into my normal clothing after about five months of intense training," Chamberlin said. "She definitely is motivating. She just always encourages you. She's great. ... The way she looks is an inspiration that maybe at 30 I can do that."
Carolyn Liechty, a 33-year-old St. Petersburg-based attorney and gym regular for 11 years, wasn't looking to lose weight but wanted to take an already fit body to another level when she began Beckenstein's boot camp two months ago. She has two upcoming bodybuilding competitions.
"I've reshaped my legs," Liechty says. "She's fantastic, very positive and motivational."
For Beckenstein, training not only improved her body, but it added spark to her soul. Since she began exercising 12 years ago, she has slimmed from a size 2-4 to a 0-2. Her enjoyment of life is greater. And the mirror that once was cruel has never been kinder.
"It's very fulfilling," she says. "It's like I have a purpose, and I've made an unbelievable network of friends. I'm very secure and very happy."
- Keith Niebuhr can be reached at 352 860-7337 or firstname.lastname@example.orgAmy Beckenstein
OCCUPATION: Personal trainer and owner of Rock Bottom Fitness.
FAMILY: Children, Lucas, 17, and Sonja, 14.
HOBBIES: Biking, hiking, inline skating, shopping, tennis, traveling and lying out at the beach.
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "It's never too late."
DREADED BODY PART TO TRAIN: Her arms.
FAVORITE: Her legs.
TYPICAL BREAKFAST: High protein pancakes with peanut butter and jelly.
TYPICAL LUNCH: Any kind of greens with chicken or tuna.
TYPICAL DINNER: Chicken or tuna with a protein bar or shake.
TAKE ON FOOD: "I eat to live. I don't live to eat. My food is not the most enjoyable food. It's survival food."
CHASING AMY: For information about Rock Bottom Fitness, call 833-6013.