Leslie Samaniego had grown up smaller in stature than her classmates. At an age when children are looking for any difference to ridicule others, she was bullied ruthlessly. Her self-confidence vanished. She tried to gain muscle and weight by joining sports teams. But she struggled. So Samaniego decided to go to the gym to work with a personal trainer.

Samaniego started to feel better about herself and began to gain confidence through fitness. Her boyfriend worked at the 24 Hour Fitness club she attended, and she began to notice how happy his fellow team members were. Her boyfriend recommended she apply for a job. Six years later, Samaniego is a General Manager and she continues to gain inspiration from her team and her club’s members.

Samaniego participated in our 2021 brand shoot, where we asked about her journey and how it led her to feel better about herself.

24Life: What or who got you started on your career path at 24 Hour Fitness?

Leslie Samaniego: I was always petite, so growing up, there was a lot of bullying about my weight. I would try to join sports teams as my way of gaining confidence, which did help—but after my first year of high school, I decided to join a gym. I started to gain muscle, and even though I was small, I felt strong. I realized I liked the positive environment of the gym. My boyfriend at the time (who is now my husband) worked for 24 Hour Fitness and I would bring him lunch, and everyone seemed so happy. So I talked to the General Manager about what it would be like working for the company, interviewed for a position and was hired.

That was more than six years ago. Since then, I’ve learned a lot about myself. Everyone who walks through the door is trying to be a better person either mentally or physically and seeing them every day really motivates me.

24Life: Your fitness journey has played a part in your personal development, and not just in the physical sense. Tell us more.

LS: My fitness journey really progressed to the next level when my husband introduced me to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

I started taking the format more seriously when my husband started coaching at a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu school. I was training four to five times per week. My training teammates encouraged me to sign up for a tournament, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. Being in a stadium full of people with the same passion for the sport—and being on that mat—was such an exhilarating experience. Just thinking about it right now makes me feel the adrenaline rush from the tournament! I didn’t place in that tournament, but it lit my fire and passion for that sport even more.

On the drive home, I told my husband, “I have to start training harder.” That’s when we established I definitely needed a strength training program so my performance could grow to the next level. My husband surprised me with some training sessions. That was one of the biggest reasons why I started training with Brian, my personal trainer at 24 Hour Fitness in Mission Hills..

What I learned on the mat applies to everyday life. It has taught me to stay calm in difficult situations, and it taught me that for every action there is a reaction.

24Life: Clearly, you care about your impact on those around you, and whether or not we’re aware of it, when we go to the gym we’re part of a community. What are some of your observations about that community?

LS: I was working at the Santa Monica location, which is a really busy club. You don’t have a lot of time to get in deep conversation with members. But we had one team member, Charles, who went above and beyond to connect with everyone. He told everyone to have a “blessed day” and “enjoy your workout.” When he was in that club, everyone mattered. Just having him in the gym made a difference.

One day, Charles introduced me to a member who was 90, who would drop his wife off for group fitness. He’d come in to say hello. I encouraged him to come in and exercise, and to work with a trainer, too. That helped us achieve greater fitness goals for him. When we became closer, he said all the other friends he made at the gym had died, so he was so grateful to have that connection with us. You meet amazing people, working at 24 Hour Fitness.

Photo credits: Tom Casey, box24studio.com; Leslie Samaniego