Sarah Van Leuven: Here's My Story

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Blog Post Written By: Sarah Van Leuven

To Continue following her journey, please follow Sarah on Instagram. @sarahv.2


Things happen in our lives that inspire us, and incite big changes. What started out as a journey to get to a healthy weight ended up being an experience that changed me into the athlete that I am today.

Several years ago, I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is a condition where hormone imbalances create cysts on a female’s ovaries. Some of the symptoms include weight gain, and even diabetes due to the insulin resistance that comes along with the condition.

Unfortunately due to PCOS, I had gained A LOT of weight. At my heaviest I was about two hundred and twelve pounds, and had been diagnosed as “prediabetic” by my primary care doctor.

Now you have to understand that I am a nurse, so all I heard was “You are being sentenced to a life of insulin and needles!".  HECK NO!  Immediately the following day, I decided that I needed to change. As a nurse I felt that I needed to be a good example, and make healthy choices. Little did I know that this would lead me some day to something I am absolutely passionate about; Weightlifting. 

Like a lot of newer Weightlifters to the sport, I started out in Crossfit. A coworker introduced me to it, and I really just hated all the cardio. I mean, I was obese, I couldn’t breathe and I came straight from the couch to the box. Why wouldn’t I hate it?

Eventually, I got stronger and my conditioning got better but I REALLY just loved to snatch, and clean and jerk. I was so in love with that darned barbell. I was even able to, through my love for the barbell, lose about 70 pounds.  At the time my husband and I were living in North Carolina, and not knowing much about the sport of Olympic Weightlifting other than I just liked to do it, I didn’t really know how to get involved in it. Not to mention, we lived in a somewhat rural area, there weren’t many options for much of anything. So, through Crossfit, I learned how to lift the best I possibly could. 

Fast forward to a year after starting Crossfit.  We moved across the country back home to California. I told my husband we were going to find a gym where I could learn Olympic Weightlifting, and he agreed. Shortly before we moved, I had seen a Barbell Shrugged podcast that featured Mike Burgener (Coach B). His gym is near where we were moving and I thought “THAT’S IT! THIS IS HOW I LEARN WEIGHTLIFTING!”. So, I emailed Coach B after running a google search for Mike’s Gym, and to my surprise he got back to me. At the time, I didn’t know much about Weightlifting, or who he was other than he had an amazing Gym in Bonsall; I was invited up to his Gym for training, and I was super excited to learn some things. He spent some time with me, teaching me the Burgener warmup, and assessing my front squat, gave me some good advice to take with me, and I was so thankful for the time spent with him!   I started going up to his gym, shortly after we met, every Wednesday to train the Olympic Lifts. It’s really a great place, full of amazing talent and I couldn’t be happier that I found it. At the time, I was a member of a Barbell Club in Temecula, and had a coach there where I started competing. I did really well for a novice lifter, and my excitement and love for the sport continued to grow. My first year of lifting, I podiumed at every meet I entered, earning one silver and two gold medals. I even qualified for the American Open, and although I didn’t make it there to compete, I’m still stoked that I qualified as a first year lifter.  Eventually, I connected with my current coach, Sage Burgener and started training at Sage’s Gym which is where I am currently training. 

    So, how did I lose all that weight? That’s what this article is supposed to be about anyway.  Seventy pounds is a lot of weight. Let’s go back to when I was doing Crossfit.  I was eating clean, used a meal prep service and, I was conscious of my macro counting but the scale wasn’t moving. I was SO DARNED FRUSTRATED! I’m doing all this cardio and stuff and couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t losing weight. Well, with PCOS, you don’t burn carbs and sugar like everyone else does. Let’s just call me a special little flower in regards to diet. I found Renaissance Periodization, a nutrition service through yet another google search. I signed up for their one on one diet services, with one of the dieticians who specializes in women’s health. Through this program, my macros were laid out for me and structured around my activity, and training. Honest truth of the matter, I just didn’t know how to eat right. Once I started eating properly, and fueling my training the weight started coming off. Now, don’t get me wrong, this was not some quick fix, overnight deal. It took me almost two years to lose that amount of weight, and it was not easy. Losing a significant amount of weight, it’s tough, even losing half that amount of weight is tough! It requires A LOT of discipline. You have to be all in. I was all in, and had bought my one way ticket to a healthier life.

So, what am I doing now? If anyone’s interested. I took a step back from working full time as a nurse to devote more time to training. Some might think I am crazy, but I live life by the seat of my pants with no regrets. I will be thirty seven on March 30, 2018, so I’m a Master’s Athlete. I told myself it’s now or never and fortunately I have a husband who supports me in all my endeavors, no matter how hair brained they might sound. I want to be an Athlete, and that’s what I’m going to do. That’s what I AM doing. I still work part time as a nurse, because well, bills have to be paid but I have a lot more time to devote to training. I still follow Renaissance Periodization, supervised by one of their Dieticians. I’m keeping my weight off, I’m training my butt off and just being awesome in general, and realizing that I’m fortunate enough to be on this journey in my life. I even most recently qualified for Master’s Nationals coming up in April 2018. It’s been a great journey for me so far, and it’s far from over. I am just getting started!