Sarah Sapora, now 38, had been working up to 17 hours a day in San Francisco when both her parents were simultaneously hospitalized in the summer of 2015. Having long neglected self-care to focus on her career in marketing and public relations, when Sarah flew home to New York City, she struggled to walk the one-and-a-half city blocks between her parking spot and the hospital where her mother was being treated.
“My knees, my energy level, my back — they weren’t working for me. I was in low-level pain all the time, but I didn’t even think about it because that was my normal,” says Sarah, who spent much of her adulthood largely inactive. “The realization that my body was in a state where it wasn’t thriving opened the door for me to see the other aspects of my life that were also unaligned and not thriving.” Between her career and love life, everything was falling short of her expectations.
Sarah decided to overhaul her lifestyle and has since developed strength, confidence and pride by doing high-intensity workouts, which she’s been sharing with her 112,000 Instagram followers since her journey officially began 11 months ago. (She began posting on a dedicated fitness page, @GreaterAt40, but moved over to her current, personal account, @SarahSapora, in February.) Now, the fitspirational influencer is getting ready to lead her first-ever body-positivity workshop on September 16 in Los Angeles.
Sarah was inspired to change after seeing both her own capabilities fall short, and her mother fall ill so suddenly, but she didn’t begin to make moves until months after she returned to California. “I was just really ready to do the difficult work and threw myself into this personal-growth mindset,” she says. “The first step was completely mental, [actually] believingmy life could be different if I could let it be different.”
Her parents’ hospitalization had coincided with the end of a grueling job, so when she returned to California, she decided to become an independent consultant working for herself. “I wanted to do more, contribute to something more than a boss’s dream, and leave this planet better than when I found it,” she says — she also started doing Kundalini yoga, a meditation-based practice she credits for her emotional growth.
In addition to stepping away from intense corporate work, she also began working out with a trainer, Blake Elarbee. Beginning with simple bodyweight movements, she then progressed to lifting actual weights at the gym. “I love strength training. It makes me feel strong and sexy and powerful,” she says, rejecting the common concern that weight training bulks you up.
She now strength trains two to three times a week for one hour per session, which might include “a gazillion squats,” free weights, bench press and machines such as the leg press, where she can press 700 pounds. “I love the feeling of having strong legs,” she says. “My legs are ninjas.”
While Sarah used to take the elevator to her second-story apartment, her trainer now uses a drill to assess Sarah’s progress: Every so often, she’ll run up six flights up to seven times for speed, or climb while holding 25- to 50-pound weights to build strength and endurance. “It doesn’t feel amazing while you’re doing it,” Sarah says. “But I embrace the suck. I’m not afraid to be bad at things.”
When the struggle is real, Sarah is upfront with her followers — she posts photos of herself while out of breath and uber sweaty.
“Progress and growth don’t necessarily look like shiny Instagram photos — it can be sweaty and hard when you’re out of breath and your hair is messed up, and you feel like you’re going to barf,” she says. “And that’s OK. I want people to see my process in a real way.”
While she feels more emotionally fulfilled by her current lifestyle than ever before, she says her journey’s not over. “There’s no before-and-after when it comes to happiness,” she says.
For Sarah, that means surpassing her leg-press record and performing an unassisted push-up — a feat she’s working toward. “I want my body to support whatever I want to do, like hike and scuba dive and go to Iceland and walk everywhere,” she says.
Just last week, Sarah walked five miles outdoors for the first time — a clear sign she’s moving in the right direction. “If I can empower one woman to make a change, no matter what she’s done in the past,” she says, “I’m doing my job.”
We’re definitely feeling empowered by her message. “This amazingly inspiring story has a major health message that anyone — no matter what age, weight, gender or level of physical fitness — can glean, which is that finding and honing healthier habits that work within your own personal lifestyle are key to making long-term changes that stick,” says Nutrition Director of the Good Housekeeping Institute, Jaclyn London, MS, RD, CDN.