156: Amanda Russell: Model and fitness expert who had to figure it out. She came from a small town in Canada where one person told her the secret to getting out which ultimately let to becoming a PhD at University of Texas.

June 19, 2020

Amanda Russell

Amanda Russell explained the importance a mentor played early in her life while growing up without a lot of financial resources and opportunities in a small town in Canada. “I had a high school gym teacher. She told me about this life-changing thing, this word ‘scholarship.’ I had never heard the word before. I didn’t know what it meant, and she explained to me that it meant that you could go after high school, instead of going to work, you could actually continue to go to school and get another degree that will put you in a much higher-paying job, and that the United States of America would actually pay you to do it, as long as you could do a sport. My family didn’t have a lot of money.”

On this episode of Finding Your Summit Podcast, we talk with Amanda Russell about her vigorous drive, ingenuity, and dedication to expand on her former Olympic running pursuits into fitness and marketing. “I look at sports differently now. It took being seen. So, when you look at sports like baseball, or football, or dance, these guys get seen, and it is slightly subjective, in terms of you actually have to be good enough for somebody to physically go see you and determine that you are good enough. She (Amanda Russell’s high school gym teacher) told me I should look at running, because running was a sport that, first of all, it was free. It required no equipment, and the time on track was the time on track anywhere in the world, and if I could run these certain times, I could write my ticket.”

What You Will Learn:

How did she manage to work her way into her athletic track success without even liking to run at all? “I don’t run anymore, and when I see people running, they make it look even more painful and I don’t understand why anyone would want to take that up. I think that is an important point because it has affected me in some many other ways, because I think there is a big mentality of like, ‘follow your passion, follow your passion.’ Well, first of all, if I followed that advice, I would have never done it, because it wasn’t fun. It was a lot of work and there were a lot of obstacles. Having gone through that, I thought, after training like that, and doing that for so many years in a sport that at the end of the day I didn’t love, made me realise that there is probably nothing that I wouldn’t do if I wanted the end-goal.” 

Amanda Russell was 21 living in the United States preparing to run in the Olympics when she experienced a career-ending injury, a broken femur, and was facing deportation. “I feel like I’m the go-to person for a lot of friends whenever a crisis happens in their lives because you become very resourceful, when you don’t have anything left you become very, very resourceful and you find a way to do it. I’m a hustler in any way. So, I thought, I can’t go back to the pinnacle of what I feel like is the athletic world in running, the Olympics, then I still had this dream, which was really my dream, was New York City. I didn’t know what that meant. But I just knew that  I just really, really wanted to live there and I wanted to grow a career there and it was like the epicenter of my universe. I had a few challenges though, well many, four actually. Four that stand out. One, I had no money, no connections, no work experience, and no U.S visa.”

Amanda shares a story about her innovative and genuine strategy that landed her an American employment sponsor to begin her life in New York City as a Canadian. “You can’t compete on what you don’t have. I don’t have experience, and I knew in order to get the job, it wasn’t like I just had to be the best candidate for the job. To get sponsored with no experience, you have to prove in some way, you are better than every other American applying for the job. One thing I did have a lot of, not money, but shoes. I had a lot of Nike running shoes, because that was my sponsor. So, I sent out a pair of used, worn out Nike running shoes to who I found out was the gatekeeper of each of these three firms, with this whole personal spiel in a box about how I had all of this work ethic and dedication and perseverance that I can now give solely to your company because I was no longer going to run. That got me the interview. That got me all three interviews actually.”   

How did business school play a pivotal role in fulfilling Amanda’s desire to live and work in New York City? “My plan was to work there for a couple of years, go to business school. Business school requires at least two or three years of experience. I saved everything I possibly could when I was working. I was making pretty good money. But, I could also write a book probably on how to live on $20 a day in New York because I put everything away just to save up for my first semester of business school. I thought, if I could just get one semester, I will figure the rest out, and I know I was going to use this time, doing business school meant that I could full-time pursue something else while still maintaining a student visa.”

Amanda recalls back to when she started using YouTube in business school when it was still in its early days as a social media platform. “I started watching these YouTubers, not because I loved the shows, but because I was so enamored by how these people had these cult followings, and this was back when YouTube was only dumb and dumber entertainment and a little bit of music, and you are seeing these teenaged kids or young adults in the Midwest doing these ridiculous things and they have this cult following. That to me was like, oh my God. All of these brands are putting the cart before the horse and they’re creating these products and services. But, if you can create an audience like that, they will tell you what they want or you can sell them anything.”   

Fitness Model to Fitness Business

Her father was not too happy about the thought of his daughter modeling and preferred that she pursue her education. Being that modeling was financially lucrative at the time, Amanda Russell signed a contract with the Wilhelmina modeling agency, leading to her online fitness subscription business. “I became one of the very first fitness models. Wilhelmina opened the very first category in fitness, and when I say fitness, I don’t mean muscle and fitness like how they are seen back in the day. This was the first category in fitness that was like Cosmopolitan magazine or Self magazine, very lifestyle-y…Every time that I was on a shoot, they called you talent, and I hated that and it made me feel very insecure. I would try to hyper-compensate by being like, no I’m in business school. I’m going to have my own company, and started pitching every editor, every brand that you can think of.”

Business is the New Normal

During this episode of Finding Your Summit Podcast, the discussion with Amanda Russell also moves into how business has been rapidly changing before and after the COVID-19 pandemic. “The world is changing so fast, and it is just getting faster and faster. So, you have to be agile. You can’t teach anymore the way that we used to teach. We can’t teach platform-specific. That platform will change. Algorithms change. The way we do business will change daily. So, you have to teach how to think, not a how-to. When you look at big companies hiring, especially graduate students and undergraduates, their biggest complaint across corporate America is that they don’t know how to critically think.”

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