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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Warrior Woman Wednesday: Pandora Larsen

Warrior Woman Wednesday: Pandora Larsen

“Encourage…Inspire…Change Lives,” is the mantra which resonates for Highlands lifestyle director, Pandora. Through her mantra she accomplished her personal training and nutrition certifications, received the volunteer of the year award, was recognized as the "Staff Member of the Year" at the Northwest YMCA, and above all, raised a loving family. Meet Warrior Woman Wednesday, Pandora Larsen!

Pandora began her fitness journey as a runner in high school when her P.E. teacher, the boys track coach, saw potential for her as a runner. He encouraged her to try out for the school's team.

“That is where it really began for me, someone believed in me and I was really good at it,” Pandora said. “It was a confidence booster and everyone needs those.”

After graduating from the University of Wisconsin La Crosse, she moved to Arizona for a change of pace and to utilize her degree in recreation and tourism management. Within her first week in Arizona she met her future husband and no.1 fan, Joel.

They raised three healthy and ambitious children, which is considered Pandora’s greatest achievement. Pandora places this as her greatest achievement because of her childhood events. Due to a divorce, her mother single-handedly raised her two siblings and herself without child support.

“I was inspired by my mom and that is where my strength came from,” Pandora said. “I wanted to make her proud of the daughter she raised.”

Having an alcoholic father and a hard-working mother is what fueled her determination to pick the right person to spend the rest of her life with.

"I can remember thinking to myself, 'When I get married, it is going to be forever. When I have kids, I’m going to do my best to provide them with all the things I didn’t have growing up.' That has stuck with me all this time," Pandora said.

Warrior Woman Wednesday: Pandora Larsen

While Pandora didn’t necessarily feel the need to “overcome” her situation, she instead chose to be optimistic and see it as a motivator in life.

“Choose to make your situation better; you deserve to be happy. Remember that you are worth it,” paused Pandora. "I’m a big believer of choices.”

As Pandora took a break from her career to focus on raising a loving household, she instilled into her children that life is full of choices and they need to think about the choices that they make. She told them they are in control of their choices and won't always make the "right" choices. They can, however, always learn from a bad choice and make a better one next time.

In addition to raising her family, Pandora lived an active lifestyle and volunteered extensively in the Marana Unified School District. Her extreme volunteerism over the duration of 10 years earned her the "Volunteer of the Year" award. The Larsen family also enjoyed immersing their children into the outdoors and visiting a different U.S. National Park, which is a goal for the family. Pandora jokes it was easier to get her children hiking and biking than it was to do a gym or home workout.

After her third child, Pandora looked into turning her passion for fitness into a career. She always felt a desire to help others.

"Many of my friends would always be asking me what my secret was to staying fit. Do I even have to work at it? Who actually likes working out?" laughed Pandora.

Warrior Woman Wednesday: Pandora Larsen

The solution was to become a personal trainer. She wanted to show how exercising and eating healthy can be fun. Pandora knew it was the perfect fit because it would be a job she would love every day.

When Pandora embarked onto her personal training endeavor, she developed the previously mentioned mantra, “Encourage…Inspire…Change Lives.”

"If I can encourage someone to take the next step to a healthy lifestyle or I can inspire someone by what I do and it changes their life…wow I think that says it all right there," Pandora smiled. "I am honored to be that person for them."

While Pandora now has five certifications, six years of personal training and 20 years as a certified group fitness instructor, she still recalls her first few personal training sessions.

"Oh my gosh, I was so nervous!" Pandora exclaimed. "I felt responsible for the success and failures of every client."

Since then, Pandora learned she can't do the work for them and not to take it personally when they aren’t getting the results they want. She can only provide them with the tools; they need to do the work.

"I’ve learned that unless someone is truly ready, they aren’t going to get the results they are looking for," Pandora said.

At the Northwest YMCA Fourth Annual Teen and Award Gala, Pandora's peers chose her as the "Staff Member of the Year" while in her position as the group fitness coordinator. She found herself humbled by the experience.

"I was grateful to my YMCA family for honoring me because I love what I do and to be recognized for that makes it even better," Pandora smiled. "I also had a lot of gratitude in my heart."

Today, Pandora is the Lifestyle Director of the Highlands at Dove Mountain. She oversees programs for the fitness center, swimming pool, sports amenities, recreational clubs and all educational aspects related to health and wellness.

With over 10 different specialties, personal training has given Pandora the opportunity to meet many people. Her career has not only changed her life, but the also the life of many others.

"Having members at work tell me that I make exercise fun and it is because of me that they started exercising again, or that I’m the reason they even come to the gym," Pandora paused. "Just hearing a client tell me that I am saving their life …I can’t put into words how that makes me feel. This is why I do what I do."

Warrior Woman Wednesday: Pandora Larsen

Q&A with Pandora Larsen
1. What motivates you to succeed? 
 Not wanting to fail. I want to make my family proud. I want to inspire people. I want to leave a positive mark on this world in my own little way.

2. Who inspires you? 
I can’t pick just one person. I am inspired by different people every day:
  • I’m inspired by my husband who broke his back when he was 18 and is in pain every day but doesn’t complain. 
  • I’m inspired by Bill who is 93 and personal training client of mine that wants to work on his balance, so he doesn’t fall down anymore. 
  • I’m inspired by Andy who can barely walk with two canes but that doesn’t stop him from coming to the gym 3 times a week. Even if it takes him 5 minutes to walk out to his car. 
  • I'm inspired by my friend Esther who volunteers to greet and take care of all the members that take the Silversneakers classic class at the YMCA. 
  • I’m inspired by the Tucson Cancer Conquerors group I work with each month by their strength, courage and kindness. 
I guess you could say I see inspiration in most everyone I meet. Everyone has a story. You just need to open your eyes to see it.

3. Your biggest achievement? 
This past January, I was awarded “Staff Excellence of the Year” award at the Northwest YMCA Fourth Annual Teen and Award Gala. In 2014, I was awarded volunteer of the year at Rattlesnake Ridge Elementary. I’m am grateful and feel honored to receive both of these but my biggest achievement is being happily married and raising three wonderful children.

 4. Goals for the future? 
I want to continue to share my passion for health and fitness with others by motivating, empowering and challenging them to enrich their lives by eating a healthy diet, exercising and not forgetting personal development. I will be 50 next year and would like to participate in Trail Fest where I will run 3 different parks in 3 days…the Grand Canyon, Zion, and Bryce Canyon.

5. What advice would you give to others? 
It’s never too late to make changes in your life to be better then you were the day before. Don’t let fear stop you…let it fuel you. If I let fear stop me from doing things, I would not be where I am today and have a pretty boring life. I like to remind people that they are worth it because maybe just maybe someone never told them that before.

6. What do you do for fun?
  • Run! Running is time to myself.
  • Read. I love to get lost in a good book and escape real life for a while. 
  • Watch Netflix with my daughter. Binge watching seasons of our favorite shows.
7. Favorite quote or Bible verse? 
My favorite verse is Philippians 4:13…I can do all things through Christ.
My mantra is Encourage…Inspire…Change Lives. Knowledge is power.


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Monday, March 27, 2017

Arizona Distance Class Half Marathon

Arizona Distance Class Half Marathon

Yesterday I ran in my first event of the year, the Arizona Distance Classic Half! It felt great to be among other runners and cheering each other on along the way, not to mention commenting about our dislike for the hilly course ha. I was also blessed to have two of my friends there to cheer me on!

I had an all-day Saturday event for work which kept me on my feet most of the time. After a 10hr day, I cooked my pasta then went to bed. But even if I hadn't worked the night before, I had a feeling I wasn't going to beat my time from the Women's Half in NYC from last year. It wasn't me being pessimistic, believe me I'm one of the most optimistic people you'll meet, but it was me being realistic.

While I could list all the reasons why I didn't do well, in the end they're just excuses and I plan to do much better in my next race. I would rather focus on what I can do differently in future races.

Arizona Distance Class Half Marathon

Arizona Distance Class Half Marathon

I did prep the best way I could with my:
  • Nuun Hydration Active
  • GU Energy Gels
  • CEP Compression socks
  • Asics running shorts
  • Skechers Razors GOMebs
  • Apple Watch (testing out which I like more, my FitBit Surge or Apple Watch)
  • Enso rose gold ring in replacement of my Tiffany's engagement ring
So the race started and I knew immediately I wasn't as conditioned in running as I was last year so I dropped from my 7:15-7:30 pace down to 8:30-8:45 pace. I know, not the best, but since my legs and muscles weren't trained for my typical speed, I decided it would be better to take it easy.

Arizona Distance Class Half Marathon

There were a few steep hills and several gradual hills, and the temperature was a perfect 60 degree morning. Since the course featured a turn around loop after the halfway point, it was nice to know when to expect the hills. Around mile eight I could feel my calves tightening up from the hills. I hadn't disciplined myself to do hill workouts like I did in NYC so I was definitely feeling the pull.

I finished at 1:54:16... significantly slower than my 1:38:26, but it made me so happy to see my friends cheering for me as I crossed the finish line! They were out there waving their adorably made signs. Leila, a previous Warrior Woman Wednesday, I befriended in college at the University of Arizona. Caitlin I met in high school but lost touch until recently when she joined my running club, A Happily Pink Journey. Having these two ladies here still made my personal loss meaningful because I had their support regardless of how well or poorly I performed.

Arizona Distance Class Half Marathon

Arizona Distance Class Half Marathon

Arizona Distance Class Half Marathon

After the race, I met up with fellow #TeamNuun member, Jeremy, over burgers at a local brewery. He helped his boyfriend PR in this race by helping him pace. Jeremy also lived in Tucson previously and gave me several tips and locations where I can strengthen myself as a runner.

Arizona Distance Class Half Marathon

So, in conclusion? I set new goals for myself, have awesome friends, and love being a part of Nuun community!

Arizona Distance Class Half Marathon

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Phoenix Fashion Week "Suits and Sneakers"

Phoenix Fashion Week "Suits and Sneakers"

On Friday I attended Phoenix Fashion Week as a blogger and had a front-row seat at Glenn Plaid’s “Suits and Sneakers” event hosted by Nelly at the W Scottsdale.

Since the show was taking place in the evening, I thought it would be fun to break out of my classic style and do something a little edgier. Kendra Scott from the La Encantada came to save the day! As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, they kindly gifted me with a four-piece gunmetal set. I was immediately in love with the set because it was completely different from anything I owned. Thanks to Chelsee, the event manager, I stepped up to the challenge to find the perfect #OOTN (Outfit Of The Night) to complement this stylish set.

The Sophia earrings are a simple, yet potential staple. I don't normally wear large earrings but I soon found myself finding several night-out and work outfits I could pair the earrings with. The Elisa necklace and Elton bracelet in black drusy are gorgeous with the geo-style. I am especially in love with the Phara necklace just because it can be worn in multiple ways. I love the design of the chain, the rope and the domed tassels. If you live in Tucson, definitely stop in Kendra Scott at La Encantada; I guarantee the girls will help you find your perfect piece!

Phoenix Fashion Week "Suits and Sneakers"

Phoenix Fashion Week "Suits and Sneakers"

Phoenix Fashion Week "Suits and Sneakers"

My ensemble included: a plum bodysuit with a satin texture from Urban Outfitters, a decorative lace bralette from Urban Outfitter, high-waisted leather shorts from H&M and my recent find of suede Steve Madden booties from Macy’s (on sale!!). I feel the Kendra Scott gunmetal jewelry made the perfect statement with this look.

Phoenix Fashion Week "Suits and Sneakers"

Attending PHXFW with me was one of my beautiful and great friends, Victoria. We both competed in the Miss America circuit in 2013 and bonded through a journey to win the Arizona title where we placed in the Top 10. I knew I could trust her when I asked her to help me with my makeup during competition night and she didn't sabotage me haha! Anyways, four years later she helped me with my makeup again during PHXFW to obtain a glam look.

Phoenix Fashion Week "Suits and Sneakers"

The event took place at the W Scottsdale's terrace, with the runway built over the pool. The show began and Victoria and I found ourselves in the front. I had the best view of capturing Glenn Plaid's collection which was styled with sneakers, hence the theme "Suits and Sneakers." Among the models included athletes from the Arizona Cardinals and Arizona Coyotes teams. They worked the runway well and strutted their ensembles with great confidence. Some looks included a more street-style look with jeans and a nice button-up and jacket.

Phoenix Fashion Week "Suits and Sneakers"

Phoenix Fashion Week "Suits and Sneakers"

Phoenix Fashion Week "Suits and Sneakers"

Phoenix Fashion Week "Suits and Sneakers"

Phoenix Fashion Week "Suits and Sneakers"

Phoenix Fashion Week "Suits and Sneakers"

Phoenix Fashion Week "Suits and Sneakers"

Phoenix Fashion Week "Suits and Sneakers"

Phoenix Fashion Week "Suits and Sneakers"

Phoenix Fashion Week "Suits and Sneakers"

Phoenix Fashion Week "Suits and Sneakers"

Phoenix Fashion Week "Suits and Sneakers"

Phoenix Fashion Week "Suits and Sneakers"

After the fashion show, Nelly performed multiple favorites ranging from "Ride Wit Me" to "Hot in Herre." He definitely pumped up the audience, and showed his abs and songs continue to make an impact on the stage. What was even better was to see how much he engaged with his fans by coming up to everyone who surrounded the stage and personally interacting with them. I found it rather endearing, and he even took a selfie with me during his musical break ha! (Disclaimer: I look like a mad woman in the selfie ha ha.)

Phoenix Fashion Week "Suits and Sneakers"

Phoenix Fashion Week "Suits and Sneakers"

Phoenix Fashion Week "Suits and Sneakers"

Phoenix Fashion Week "Suits and Sneakers"



Victoria and I ended the night with a bottle of Dom PĂ©rignon I picked out for table we were invited to. I would say it was a pretty, great Friday night!


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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Kendra Scott Preview

Kendra Scott Preview

Every time I go into Kendra Scott, I am greeted with bright smiles and a team who is equally excited to help me find the perfect jewelry piece, whether it is a gift or for myself.

This time around I met with their event coordinator, Chelsee, to help style me with their fashionable jewelry for Phoenix Fashion Week's event "Suit and Sneakers" hosted by multi-Grammy winner, Nelly. I was looking for something a little more edgy as opposed to my usual classic style, and Chelsee immediately found the perfect set! I don't want to reveal it just yet, but I will hint with one word: gunmetal.

Thank you to Kendra Scott for styling and gifting me with beautiful jewelry and I can't wait to blog the details tomorrow!

Kendra Scott Preview

Kendra Scott Preview

In the meantime, I highly-recommend checking out Kendra Scott's iconic Color Bar to customize jewelry with your choice of metal, setting and gems! My best friend and I had such a fun time picking out our necklaces.

Don't forget to come back tomorrow to see my Kendra Scott gunmetal set!


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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Warrior Woman Wednesday: Leila Shevins

Warrior Woman Wednesday: Leila Shevins

While under a full-ride scholarship, Leila involved herself in leadership roles for multiple clubs, fashion internships and two jobs! As the end of the semester approaches, she prepares for graduation this May. Meet Warrior Woman Wednesday, Leila Shevins!

Having an East Coast mentality always influenced Leila; she was born in NYC and raised in New Jersey. Growing up in a large city impacted her

"Maybe, it’s the water. Maybe, it’s the fact that my dad is a lifetime New Yorker," Leila joked. "But, having my favorite city in my backyard exposed me to fashion, creativity, individuality, and expression from a very young age."

Leila originally planned on attending two schools to study fashion and supply chain management, but then shifted her plans when she received a full-ride scholarship to to the University of Arizona for being a National Hispanic Recognition Program scholar. She flew out to visit UA and discovered she could study both information systems and retailing on the same campus.

"It was really easy to fall in love with the campus," Leila said. "I remember driving through campus, eating on University, and falling head-over-heels with the environment."

Leila spent the last four years at UA triple majoring in Management Information Systems, Entrepreneurship, and Retailing and Consumer Sciences.

"I took nine classes at once, which was crazy, but I've sworn by a to-do book since high school and that's how I get through it all," Leila said with an encouraging smile.

Some of her semesters were tougher than others which required her to take more than twice a normal course load. Education alone wouldn't have been so difficult but Leila also held involvement in clubs, activities, and work.

"I think taking so many classes was the toughest because it forced me to forge actual relationships with my professors because I sought out help more often, but I was also able to learn more by seeking the help," Leila said.

Warrior Woman Wednesday: Leila Shevins

She takes on anything she is passionate about, which also included two jobs. She found growth in each but most of all, enjoyed the impact her work made on others.

Leila's first job is through Take Charge Cat, an organization whose mission is to teach personal financial literacy to middle and high school students in Southern Arizona. Most schools do not require personal financial literacy despite it is important to receive from an early age. Leila said she's proud to take part in an initiative that cares about it so much.

Her second job is a Student Coordinator for Diversity Initiatives in the Eller College of Management. She works with the diversity clubs and their students to fulfill their goals and missions throughout the college.

Warrior Woman Wednesday: Leila Shevins



Leila only continues to excel outside of the classroom and her jobs. She pursued multiple internships across the country. She said she's been more than fortunate to work for incredible names in retail over the summers through internships:

  • Gilt.com: Her freshman year she received an internship at Gilt.com for the following summer. She was greatly inspired by Alexandra Wilkis Wilso.
  • Walmart: Leila landed the competitive Walmart internship in Arkansas her sophomore year, an internship mostly juniors and seniors receive.
  • Fung Global Retail and Technology, a subset of Li & Fung: Leila continued to use her work ethic as she hustled during her internship. I remember when I lived in NYC last year she would tell me about how much time she was putting in. She succeeded in working hard to make a lasting impression. 
"As much as I have loved every single second as a Wildcat, and I will continue to love it as a Wildcat for life, I am looking forward to heading back east after graduation," Leila said.

Leila hopes work in New York after graduation, and hopefully around the world, as fashion is a global industry with much to offer.

"I want to work with the best emerging designers to help them bring their visions to market," Leila said. "I will help them with their execution and use my knowledge about big data and information to monitor how the market is responding to their offerings."

Warrior Woman Wednesday: Leila Shevins

Q&A with Leila Shevins
1. What motivates you to succeed? 
Being a role model to others motivates me to succeed. I wish to be a positive role model and I hope that my successes will inspire others to persevere. Through positivity, I am able to continue forward towards success because there is nothing greater or more satisfying than a positive chain of people supporting and motivating each other to greater heights.

2. Who inspires you? 
My biggest inspiration over the last few years has been Alexandra Wilkis Wilson. I met her my freshman year and had the chance to watch her work up close at my internship at Gilt.com. Alexandra is a serial entrepreneur, board member, mother, and mentor. She is doing it all, and with style and grace! I hope to one day follow in her footsteps, beginning with attending Harvard Business School.

3. Your biggest achievement?
My biggest achievement was getting my black belt. It took me eight years to get to the big test, and it was the biggest lesson that I have had in the power of perseverance. Regardless of how long it takes, you can achieve anything you set your mind to.

4. Goals for the future?
I really want to move abroad. Both of my parents are extremely well-traveled - my mom was raised in Peru and lived in France for many years before moving to the US - and I want to have my chance to explore the world and its cultures.

5. What advice would you give to others?
Stop making excuses. I am sometimes guilty of making excuses; many people are. But, instead of crafting reasons why not to do something, you should do it. You only need one reason in support of an action to pursue it. Would you rather make excuses or live your life?

6. What do you do for fun?
I absolutely love dancing. I recently took up salsa dancing and I always have the best time when I am dancing, so I jump at any chance I get to go out dancing with friends.

7. Favorite quote or Bible verse? 
“Give light, and the darkness will disappear of itself.” - Desiderius Erasmus


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