ConqHER is about female athletes who are pushing boundaries every single day. These women and their stories inspire athletes and demonstrate that sports cannot be defined by gender – only heart.
Amy Bream knows that self-confidence isn’t built in a day. Born without a majority of her right leg, Amy was self-conscious of working out in public because she thought that others would be judgmental of her prosthesis. But, with a little encouragement from friends and trainers, Amy adapted her full workout and quickly found a community in her gym. Now, she’s become stronger than ever as a seasoned kickboxer and wants to share her story with the world. She connects with the people who don’t think they belong in a gym, and wants to let them know that it doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like, everyone has the right to work out without judgement. Amy shared with us how she overcame her fears of going to the gym and found acceptance and encouragement within the fitness community.
Q: Initially, what was your biggest fear when going to the gym?
A: I was afraid of what I would look like and what other people would think of me. For some reason, I had it in my mind that adapting to workout was not normal. And once I actually starting going, I realized that no one was even paying attention, and the few people that did notice were really encouraging to me. I found that there’s nothing wrong with adapting a workout. Just put in the work the way you need to do it and you’re still going to get so much out of working out.
Q: How did you conquer that fear of the gym?
A: Simply by just showing up. I had a friend that came with me to hold me accountable, so that was a big help too. It really didn’t happen overnight either. It was a small, gradual change and really came by just showing up consistently. I also started taking video of myself and when I would get frustrated or discouraged, I would go back and watch myself on day one and realize how far I had come.
Q: What was the motivating factor when you started working out?
A: When I first starting going to the gym, I just felt like I was there to work out for health. Then, when I found kickboxing, it was a very different experience. I really enjoyed it. I thought it was impossible for me to do it, and when I found out all it took was time and commitment from me, it opened up this entire world. It wasn’t about just getting a physical result anymore, it was about seeing what boundaries I could push that I used to say no to.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you face while working out?
A: Obviously there’s the physical challenge of having a prosthesis. Mine goes all the way up to the hip, so it requires more energy. I have to adapt certain exercises and make sure that I’m not overusing my muscles and putting unnecessary strain on them for long-term health purposes. I also think one of my biggest challenges in my personal journey is finding people to train and workout with who aren’t afraid to push me. Having those people around to push me and give me that competitive vibe has been a game-changer for me.
Q: What does conqHER mean to you?
A: The entire meaning behind conqHER is so powerful. It’s incredibly important to lift up other women and to be encouraging. There’s room for everyone in the gym, and one of my favorite parts of training is not only seeing changes in myself, but seeing changes in the women around me. It’s such a strong community.
Q: What advice to you have for younger girls who look up to you?
A: My biggest piece of advice would be to just show up. Show up, ask questions, talk to people, and just keep coming back. I just kept showing up every day and learning, and it really made me realize how encouraging and uplifting the fitness community can be.
It was a packed house on Feb. 16 as Deerfield High hosted Highland Park in a closely contested game. It came down to the wire with the home team walking away with a 46-44 win. The atmosphere was electric throughout and both teams gave it their all.
This game was also way more than your typical Illinois high school basketball event. In fact, there were no losing players in this game — just outstanding athletes pushing themselves to new heights.
Every person who competed was a member of the Warrior Buddies Club, which focuses on helping students with special needs build relationships. Each athlete had an on-court buddy, who helped give the player any assistance he or she may need during the game.
The adaptive game featured three hula hoops hanging underneath the backboard. The bottom hoop allowed for players in wheelchairs to score points that would be worth the same as a fellow athlete making a shot on a regulation hoop.
The game itself was exciting and the level of sportsmanship and teamwork was second to none. It was a great way for the players to make new friends and show off their skills in front of the crowd.
Think back to your days as an athlete, did you have a coach who inspired you? Who pushed you past your limits and made you stronger? Well Coach Jean Bell is just that person and coach to her female athletes at her track club, Jeuness in Brooklyn NY. We got a chance to sit down with Bell and learn how her role in these athletes’ lives extends way beyond the track.
Making A Difference: Coach Bell with the Sheppard Sisters (Photo Courtesy of Coach Jean Bell)
Bell has recently made headlines for helping and inspiring three young homeless women who run for her — the Sheppard sisters. They competed at the AAU Junior Olympics the past couple of years and have all won medals in their events, including this year when they helped take home gold in the 4×800. With the help of Bell, and a GoFundMe account, these girls were able to get to Texas for the AAU Junior Olympics and showcase their skills.
But Coach Bell’s devotion to her athletes extends far beyond the Sheppard sisters. As a former track athlete herself, Bell saw an opportunity to open a track club that could empower girls in the Brooklyn area, so she founded ‘Jeuness.’
At 12 years old, I discovered exactly what I wanted to do with my life.
It came to me when I watched Kerri Walsh and Misty May win gold for Team USA at the 2004 Athens Olympics. I realized that was where I wanted to be — representing my country at the highest level possible. I knew becoming an Olympian wouldn’t be easy, so I spent the next few years trying out sport after sport to see where I could excel most.
My athletic career began with dance classes, but if you’ve ever seen me on the dance floor, you can understand why my parents decided this was not an activity for me! Next up was softball, volleyball, and basketball.
Basketball was my first love and I dreamt of playing in the NBA. It taught me the importance of fundamentals and spending hours at the gym before and after practice. While I stopped playing softball after a while, I initially stuck with volleyball just to stay in shape for basketball season.
My volleyball career didn’t start smoothly… My first initial year consisted of endless hits to the face and constant struggles. But after awhile, I started to get the hang of it. Before long, I grew to truly love the game. Basketball wound up as my secondary sport and my path was set — I was going to be an Olympic volleyball player.
Since then, volleyball has been a personal outlet. If you want to know who I am, watch me play. It is the truest expression of myself. It’s where everything just makes sense. Volleyball has given me a sense of self and has allowed me to pursue my dreams. From being a long, lanky 10-year-old kid to a 24-year-old woman, I’ve grown up in the sport. With it, I’ve been able to see more places than most people see in a lifetime, I have best friends in countries all over the world, and I have an incredible sense of gratitude for my home and the people I love.
Many people say sports can teach you life lessons, and while it always sounds cliché, it’s the absolute truth. These lessons range from developing relationships and working with your team to understanding and valuing a commitment you’ve made to playing a sport. Strength comes from a combination of lessons learned and the ability to see adversity as an opportunity.
I can’t say every time things get hard I’m jumping for joy, but when I think about the challenges along the way, they’ve always opened some type of door. People are often so afraid to be vulnerable and to make mistakes, but the faster you make mistakes, the faster you learn how to be better — that’s the idea in the USA gym, anyway.
It’s a crazy concept, considering you are vying for a one-in-twelve spot out of all the girls in the country. The environment in the gym is extremely competitive, and girls are fighting and grinding every single day to get just a little bit better. Being surrounded by so many strong female athletes makes it easy to want to give it your all.
We are constantly faced with pressure, heartbreak, and disappointment through roster decisions, daily performances, or earning less than gold. But what the team has taught me is you can choose to respond with self-pity or you can choose to find a way to get where you want to go regardless of the cards you have been dealt. I am still learning and working through the process of becoming a better, more powerful person and player. The idea of being a learner can serve you well for the rest of your life.
You can achieve everything you want in this world if you have the ability to be resilient and to pursue your goals with love. And in the end, regardless of what the result is, you’ll be grateful for the process and the doors that have been opened along the way. Every day is an opportunity to improve. It’s a gift to know you can choose how you respond to other people and events in your daily life. The power that comes from this outlook is greater than any win, or medal, or championship.