Though she be but little, she is fierce.
Shakespeare ostensibly wrote this line to describe the central character Hermia in “Midsummer Night’s Dream”—but is it possible he was inspired by a future vision of a 26-year-old from Miami who’s currently working as a fitness coach in NYC?
Meet Alyssa Expósito.
In her own words, Alyssa is: “A motivator through movement; a creator of community; a writer of truths; a sucker for love and chips and salsa.” And don’t let her 4-foot-11 stature fool you—she packs an epic level of power in her frame.
“I love proving people wrong.”
Head to her Manhattan gym Uplift Studios, and you’re likely to catch Alyssa deadlifting bars loaded up with 175 pounds, fast-footing through agility ladders, or shoving a weighted sled across the floor at a full sprint. “I became devoted to lifting heavy, because I have a stature where no one would expect that,” Alyssa says. “I love proving people wrong.”
But Alyssa’s body wasn’t always so powerful. In fact, there was a time when it almost broke.
Growing up, Alyssa discovered her talent for running at a very young age. “In elementary school, I’d always beat the boys, so I knew this was going to be my sport,” she says. By the time she was in high school, Alyssa was one of the best runners in the state of Florida. She focused on middle to long distances, racing anything from half a mile on the track to a 5K in cross-country.
Her plan was to continue to excel through 12th grade, run for a competitive university and keep at it. Alyssa defined herself as a runner; she never really expected that to change.
One day, after coming home from a big state championship meet, Alyssa went out for a jog. The last thing she recalls is running happily down the street. She doesn’t have a memory of the truck’s side-view mirror bashing her head from behind—or the vehicle’s dually tires pinning her right leg and dragging her body six feet before coming to a stop.
By the time Alyssa woke up in a hospital bed, her mother had already been asked to sign the consent form to amputate. The doctors were able to save her leg, but just barely. She was left bedridden for three months. Just a few weeks earlier, she was speeding around the track; now it took incredible effort and the help of a walker just to make it from her bed to the bathroom.
Slowly, through incredible determination—and six hours of physical therapy a day—Alyssa was able to regain control of her lower half. “I had to teach myself how to flex my knee, how to contract the muscles in my quad. I had to completely learn to walk again and then slowly learned to run again,” she says. “I was like the Little Mermaid.”
Alyssa gained back her mobility and her athletic ability too. Within a year, she was running competitively. Her fast-as-ever times gained her a spot on the highly competitive track-and-field team at the University of Miami. “Proud Hurricane,” Alyssa says with a smile.
But by the time she was a sophomore, the grueling practices (“seven miles on the easy days”) started to take a toll. She tore her meniscus and doctors told her she had two choices: stop running at this intensity or prepare for a knee replacement by age 20. “I didn’t want another surgery,” Alyssa explains. “I’d already had four.”
After she stopped running, Alyssa realized that although her body had recovered quickly from her accident, she hadn’t healed her mind. “I started to realize the emotional impact. I could have died,” she says. She felt the weight of the anger and resentment that had been bubbling in her brain. After all, she’d prided herself on being a runner. Not only had that been robbed from her, but it had almost killed her in the process. These negative feelings are natural reactions to a traumatic incident—but Alyssa knew to move forward in her life, she needed to let them go.
“I started to realize the emotional impact. I could have died.”
“After that, I always look at how I was given much more than was ever taken away,” she says. Yes, she could have lost her leg, but she was lucky enough to keep it. Yes, she could have died, but she lived instead. Alyssa also realized that at its core, her love of running was about competition, about being the best. She decided to channel this energy into helping other people reach their goals.
“It’s okay for me to pass the baton and want to cheer someone else on. I don’t need to be the one that’s getting medals,” she says. Alyssa still trains on a daily basis, focusing now on strength rather than speed, but today she is more excited by the role of coach than athlete.
At the female-only Uplift Gym, she motivates other women to find their inner strength. Alyssa sees a transformation in her clients when they start to set lifting goals. “When it comes to women and exercise, the whole idea is for women [in our culture] is to tone, sculpt, lengthen. It’s always to diminish the body,” she points out. “With men, it’s about bulking, gaining, getting bigger. Like, why are you trying to whither me down?”
In many ways, her accident still impacts her daily life, but it’s now a source of motivation. Almost losing her body has given her a keen sense of its power. “My body, my business,” Alyssa says. “I’m in control of my self-worth, and I don’t negotiate that with anyone else.”