“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.
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.
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.”
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.