This personal trainer in Fort Wayne empowers pregnant women and moms with holistic fitness

When Victoria “Tori” Soto of Fort Wayne became pregnant with her first child, she was a college track athlete in pique condition, and she thought the process would go smoothly, health-wise.

She was 18, and she never needed to worry much about nutrition and fitness before.

“I had been an athlete my entire life, so I assumed I would just bounce back after giving birth,” Soto says.

Instead, after a traumatic labor and delivery, Soto was left with a stubborn 75 pounds over her pre-pregnancy weight.

“It felt like everything in my body had shifted,” she says.

Tori Leigh Fitness hosts small group workout classes at Traction Athletic Performance gym at 216 Marciel Dr.

To get back in shape, she started studying to be a personal trainer and documenting her weight loss journey on social media. In 2017, she earned her certification from the American Council on Exercise (ACE) and launched her business, Tori Leigh Fitness, to serve about 10-20 weight loss clients in the Fort Wayne area.

As her business grew, Soto realized many of her clients were mothers themselves, looking to get fit after their own pregnancies. So, in 2020, she specialized her services to help moms, specifically, earning additional certifications in prenatal and post-natal corrective exercise through Fit For Birth. Now, she is the only personal trainer in the Fort Wayne area with these certifications, and her clientele has doubled.

“Women who have children or are pregnant are a very large and underserved community in the Fort Wayne area,” Soto says. “There’s not a lot of education on how to eat, what exercises you should be doing during pregnancy, and then there’s the myth that you don’t need to exercise at all during pregnancy. My job is to encourage women to exercise from the months before they give birth to the months and years after the process.”

Arica Rencher, left, participates in one of Tori Leigh Fitness's small group workout classes.

Soto’s fitness and wellness training for pregnant women and mothers is holistic, ranging from prenatal education on the birthing process and the options for delivery to post-partum exercises they can do at home, like breathing techniques and ways to strengthen their pelvic floors or shed baby weight.

“I let my clients know what’s possible with their birth and be a voice helping them through the journey,” Soto says. “We focus on getting those muscles moving and reconnecting after pregnancy, too.”

Veronica Ochoa, right, and Kaytlin Callaway exercise in one of Tori Leigh Soto's small group workout classes.

Along with a strong interest in motherhood, fitness, and wellness, another motivating factor for her work is Indiana’s alarming mortality rate among mothers, which ranked 3rd highest in the U.S. in 2019. Pregnancy-related deaths are disproportionately high among women of color, like herself, too. According to the CDC's Indiana Pregnancy Mortality Surveillance System, Black mothers had the highest rate of pregnancy-related deaths from 2012-2016, with 37 deaths per 100,000 live births.

This data raises concerns for many Black and Brown women considering having children in Fort Wayne.

“Unfortunately, there is a lot of distrust between the Black community and the healthcare system here,” Soto says. “Regardless of your skin color, you don’t always know the options you have when it comes to the level of care you’re getting during your pregnancy either. That’s where the holistic portion of my training comes in. I make it a part of my business to teach women exercises that can help them and equip them with knowledge they can use throughout the birth process and beyond.”

Victoria "Tori" Soto's of Tori Leigh Fitness leads an exercise during a small group workout class.

One client, Erica Stoppenhagan, started training with Tori Leigh Fitness about 14 weeks into her pregnancy. At the time, she was working out on her own, but she wasn’t sure what types of movements were safe and beneficial, so she contacted Soto for help. She took comfort in the fact that Soto was certified in prenatal and post-partum exercise and was a mother of two children herself. After signing up for personal training sessions, Stoppenhagan was able to keep exercising until she was 38 weeks pregnant.

“It’s crazy how exercise can do so much for you,” she says. “On top of exercise itself, Tori helped me with breathing techniques to use during labor, and she informed me about so many different things that would happen with my body and how to prevent challenges like diastasis recti, separation of the abdomen.”

Victoria "Tori" Soto of Tori Leigh Fitness, right, exercises with participant Kaytlin Callaway, left, during a small group workout.

When Stoppenhagan went into labor, she opted for a 100 percent, all-natural delivery with no pain medication or instruments. But her unborn son became stressed during the delivery, which nearly caused her to have an emergency c-section. However, she was able to utilize some of the exercises Soto taught her to reduce her child’s stress levels and continue with a natural birth.

“My labor turned out amazing, and I give all the credit to Tori Leigh Fitness,” Stoppenhagan says.

Soto believes stories like these represent the way her training can empower clients who are pregnant—or facing any challenge in their fitness journey.

I tell all my clients that my goal is to exhaust all my resources in order to set them up for success,” she says. “I want my clients to get to the point where they are self-sufficient and confident when it comes to making healthy eating decisions and having knowledge about exercise, in general. My goal is never to make my clients feel like they need me there to be successful. I want to pour into them in a way that inspires them to make a lifestyle change that they can stick to and ultimately use to inspire others to make more health-conscious decisions, as well.”

The class plan for a group workout session created by Victoria "Tori" Soto of Tori Leigh Fitness.

Even so, many of her clients who started with her five years ago when she launched her business are still with her today. Currently, Soto has maxed out her client capacity at 40 total, between one-on-one sessions at homes and group classes at the Traction Athletic Performance sports club near Glenbrook Mall.

Now, she is looking to hire an intern so she can take on more projects in Fort Wayne. In addition to Tori Leigh Fitness, she also runs a trucking company with her husband, Jose, called Prevail Transport, which helps former inmates get back into the workforce. Jose runs his own apparel company, Blu Lion Athletics, in Fort Wayne, too.

While the couple has extensive business experience between schooling and their personal ventures, Soto has sought additional education from entrepreneur support organizations in Fort Wayne. In 2018, she enrolled in SEED Fort Wayne’s Build Institute course for entrepreneurs to refine her strategy for Tori Leigh Fitness and meet more community connections.

“Since I went to school for business, I came into the program questioning what it might be able to teach me,” Soto says. “But I quickly realized that everything I was working on and learning at the Build Institute was training I did not receive in my undergraduate courses.”

Victoria "Tori" Soto's of Tori Leigh Fitness demonstrates an exercise during one of her small group workout classes.

While she knew how to create a business plan and crunch numbers prior to the courses, she didn’t have much training on business strategy and implementation. Build Institute also helped her find a mentor in Fort Wayne and engage in local networking opportunities. To this day, her Build mentor, Stephanie Taylor, continues to be a strong resource for her and a close friend, and three of her fellow classmates are now clients of Tori Leigh Fitness.

“SEED Fort Wayne puts you in the room with the right people to make connections,” Soto says. “A lot of the networking I’ve done around town has been because of the Build program, and it’s incredible to see how relationships with people, like Stephanie, have blossomed over time.”

Participants in a group workout hosted by Tori Leigh Fitness at Traction Athletic Performance gym.

Along with local connections and word-of-mouth marketing, Soto says many clients find her on social media platforms, like Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, and Facebook, where she posts videos, testimonials, and tutorials.

During the pandemic, she’s seen a growing need for fitness, wellness, and pregnancy services in Fort Wayne, too.

“The holiday season is technically my slow season, and it’s still busy this year,” Soto says. “During the pandemic, more people have been sitting around at home, and a lot of people come to me because they have put on 20-40 pounds. A lot of couples are having babies during the pandemic, too.”

Tori Leigh Fitness offers a brand of stylish exercise bands.

Looking to the future, she is interested in forming a group around this work and growing her own capacity to serve prenatal and pregnant women with additional staff and programs.

“I’m big on education and pouring into others,” Soto says. “Now, I’m trying to scale and find other women passionate about this work because I can’t do it all on my own, and if we had a team, we could serve more people.”

Learn more

For more information about Tori Leigh Fitness, follow Soto on Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, and Facebook, or visit her website.

This story is part of an Entrepreneurship series made possible by funding from SEED Fort Wayne. To learn more about SEED, visit its website at fwuea.org.
 

Read more articles by Kara Hackett.

Kara Hackett is a Fort Wayne native fascinated by what's next for northeast Indiana how it relates to other up-and-coming places around the world. After working briefly in New York City and Indianapolis, she moved back to her hometown where she has discovered interesting people, projects, and innovations shaping the future of this place—and has been writing about them ever since. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @karahackett.